The ‘powerless parliament’? Agenda-setting and the role of the UK parliament in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008

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  • University of Cambridge


This article uses a case study of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act
2008 to examine the legislative role of the UK Parliament. Parliament is often considered to be a weak legislative actor, although this view has increasingly been challenged by legislative scholars. In this case, Parliament exercised agenda-setting powers at the pre-legislative stage that produced a significant impact on legislative outcomes. The article demonstrates the value for legislative studies of disaggregating the legislative timeframe and thereby examining the power of legislatures beyond the formal decision-making process. It also
identifies a set of enabling conditions – for example, extended pre-legislative scrutiny, low political salience, and synchronisation of committee timelines with the legislative process – under which legislatures might exercise agenda-setting power in other areas of policy. The case study finds that those parliamentarians who engaged with policy in the agenda-setting phase exerted greater influence over policy outcomes than those who engaged at the decision-making


Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Politics
Early online date20 Jul 2015
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Jul 2015


  • Agenda setting, Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, Parliament, Power, Morality Policy