BFI logo











Screenonline banner
KS4 Citizenship: The New Statesman (1987-1992)

This biting satire can introduce the work of the House of Commons

Main image of KS4 Citizenship: The New Statesman (1987-1992)
AuthorPoppy Simpson, BFI
TopicThe work of Parliament: The House of Commons
Show full lesson spec

The spectacularly corrupt Conservative MP Alan B'Stard steals a colleague's speech before speaking in the Commons in support of arming the police.

Rik Mayall's Alan B'Stard, a devious and self-promoting Conservative MP, is the antithesis of the ideal civic-minded politician. Nevertheless, this satirical sitcom is an excellent way of engaging students before looking at the role of MPs and the Commons in a little more detail.

This lesson idea builds on what students will be able to gather from the clip regarding the conventions, layout and purpose of the House of Commons and encourages them to think about and take part in their own debate, modelled on contemporary parliamentary practice.

Lesson Objective

  • To learn about the work of the House of Commons and consider the importance of debate in the legislative process.
  • To consider why politics is a popular subject for television sitcom and other formats.


Watch the clip through once with no introduction. Once it is finished, lead a quick discussion - What's happening? Where does the action take place? Have you seen debates like this before? - to get students thinking about the House of Commons and its role in passing legislation.

If you want to focus students' attention a little more ask them to look out for the following objects and suggest their function/symbolism:

  • Speakers Chair (seat of Speaker of the House, who chairs all debates).
  • Despatch boxes (either side of the Table of the House, often leaned on and thumped by cabinet/shadow cabinet members during debates and contain the bible and other items used when MPs take the oath).
  • The Mace (a symbol of Royal Authority that lies on the Table in front of the Speaker when Members are debating. Without the Mace in position, the House cannot sit and debate).
  • the Table of the House (lies between the Government and Opposition Front Benches).
  • Front/backbenches

Main Attraction

What do students know about the House of Commons? Collect students ideas on the board - students should be made aware of the four main functions of the House - to pass laws, vote on tax to keep the government going, to scrutinise the work of government, to debate the major issues of the day.

In this clip, Alan B'Stard is arguing in favour of arming the police, at some point in the various stages of a fictional Bill. Delve a little deeper into the clip - what does it imply about the nature of debate in the Commons? Does it correspond with students' exposure to similar debates on TV? Why is debate important - consider the motion being discussed in the clip? How have the filmmakers used the setting to add to comedic value and what stereotypes or cliché's have they employed?

Explain that once Bills have been prepared they go through 5 main stages in the House of Commons (before moving the House of Lords).

  • First Reading - Bill is introduced to the house; no debate
  • Second Reading - Bill's purpose explained by Minister in charge, MPs questions are answered, time for debate followed by a vote for Bill to pass to next stage
  • Committee Stage - Standing Committee (small committee of MPs) from each party, examines details of the Bill, amendments can be suggested and voted on
  • Report Stage - If amendments have been added Bill is reprinted for members of the House. Further changes can still be suggested
  • Third Reading - House considers the whole Bill (it cannot be changed at this point), debate, the Bill is either accepted or rejected.

Divide the class into three groups - the government, the opposition, the minority party - and ask them to prepare their ideas for a debate on arming the police (or another topic of your choice). At least one side of the House will need to be FOR and AGAINST - with students generating their own arguments. Encourage students to experiment with their language - thinking about the most persuasive or powerful way of delivering their points. Higher ability students should be encouraged to use their own knowledge of party political beliefs and the current political climate to inform their arguments.

Debates in the House of Commons are subject to time limits - it might be wise to set one here! With teacher (or a student) acting as Speaker of the House, debate the issue, using the same conventions as the Commons as far as possible (if you are feeling very energetic you might pull together a set of rules for students to abide by...). Once the debate is finished, ask students to vote - counting the Ayes and the Nos. Students need to be made aware that they do not always have to vote in line with their party!


End Credits

Revisit the question of the significance of debate in the legislative process. How did the activity add to students' understanding of the role of individual MPs and the nature of the House of Commons? Why do they think that bills go through the various stages outlined above? What do they think is the most significant stage of a bills evolution?

Take this opportunity to consider the representation of politics on the television. Can student's think of any other sitcoms about politics? What about dramas? Why do they think politics is such a popular topic in the media?


External Links

Video Clips
3. Alan's maiden speech (2:27)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of New Statesman, The (1987-92)New Statesman, The (1987-92)

Read more about this programme

See also