Managing Parliaments in the 21st Century

EGPA Yearbook


Falconer, P.,
Smith, m,
Webster, C.W.R.

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This book reports on the endeavour, undertaken by EGPA, to make the discipline of public administration fruitful for the management of parliaments. The theme was deemed appropriate, not only because Scotland, the host country, once again after almost 300 years has its own legislative assembly, but also because of the importance of revisiting the role of legislative institutions as we move into the 21st century. If parliaments are to re-assert themselves vis-a-vis the ever growing dominance of ‘executive government’, their work has to be managed and organised in a systematic way. It also has to be supported and administered appropriately by human and instrumental capacities and facilities.
In this respect there are tasks to be fulfilled by managers, albeit though they are not elected. Tasks that are usually the remit of managers, such as, priority setting and allocating time, money and effort are typically the domain of political representatives in parliamentary settings. Whilst politicians are keen to introduce managerial practices into public services they are less enthusiastic about the idea of introducing managers and management styles into parliamentary work. Perhaps this is because they reject the view that legitimate representatives of the public should be managed. So, if public administration has a role to play in supporting parliamentary work it will have to reflect critically on its foundations of efficiency, effectiveness and user (client) friendliness - key features of managing in the public sector but not necessarily political values. The discipline of public administration will therefore have to identify a clear demarcation between political and technical aspects of parliamentary activity.
There are two further ways in which parliaments have a stake in a public administration discipline which focuses on parliaments:

First, parliaments need an ‘insight for oversight’. As the invitation brochure to the EGPA conference indicates: ‘the legislative function does not cease with the passage of a bill. Only by monitoring the implementation process, can members of the legislative uncover any statutory defects and act to correct agency misinterpretation or maladministration. In this sense, oversight exists as an essential corollary to the law making function’. For this to be achieved effective parliamentary oversight requires the effective implementation of the techniques and mechanisms of public administration.
Second, the contexts in which parliaments are fulfilling their legislative function are changing dramatically. The once hierarchical approach of governments towards society is being replaced by new so-called ‘governance’ relationships in which networks of not-for-profit organisations and private enterprises are playing a major role. By stimulating outsourcing, autonomization, the creation of agencies, and privatisation, parliaments are increasing the complexity of the environment in which they have to operate. The discipline of public administration has a role to play in orientating parliamentarians in this new environment.

It is not only parliamentarians who hesitate in involving public administrators and managers in organising their work. The public administration discipline itself has tended to neglect the administration, organisation and management of parliaments as a valid area of study. This book is an attempt to redress this imbalance. Hopefully it will attract the attention of parliamentarians as well as public administration practitioners and academics.