The United Kingdom of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the constitutional monarchy. The head of the state is the Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen is the personification of the U. K. By law, she is the head of the executive branch, an integral part of the legislature, the head of the judiciary, the commander-in-chief of all armed forces of the Crown and the temporal head of the established Church of England. But I want to emphasize that in practice, as a result of a long evolutionary process, these powers have changed. Today, the queen acts only on the advice of her Ministers which she cannot constitutionally ignore.
In fact she reigns but she doesn’t rule. However, I want to add that the monarchy has more power than is commonly supposed. There remain certain powers in the hands of the monarch, known as the Royal Prerogative. The organs of government in the Great Britain are: 1. The legislature, which consists of the Queen in Parliament and is the supreme authority of the realm. 2. The executive, which consists of the Cabinet and other ministers of the Crown, government departments, local authorities. 3. The judiciary which determines common law and interprets statues.
Parliament In principle, the “Crown in Parliament” is supreme. This means that legislation passed by Parliament, which consists of the House of Commons (elected directly by the people) and the House of Lords (made up of hereditary peers and appointive members—archbishops, senior bishops, law lords, and life peers) becomes law upon royal assent. In practice, legislation is dominated by the prime minister and the cabinet, who initiate all proposed bills and who are politically responsible for the administration of the law and the affairs of the nation.
The main functions of Parliament are: to pass laws; to provide, by voting taxation, the means of carrying on the work of government; to scrutinise government policy and administration; to debate the major issues of the day. In carrying out these functions Parliament helps to bring the relevant facts and issues before the electorate. By custom, Parliament is also informed before all-important international treaties and agreements are ratified. A Parliament has a maximum duration of five years, but in practice general elections are usually held before the end of this term.
Parliament is dissolved and rights for a general election are ordered by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. The life of a Parliament is divided into sessions. Each usually lasts for one year – normally beginning and ending in October or November. At the start of each session the Queen’s speech to Parliament outlines the Government’s policies and proposed legislative programme. The houses of Parliament in London, known also as the Palace of Westminster is the place where members of Parliament gather to make laws.
The members of each Houses meet in sessions which begin at the end of October and last for about one hundred and sixty days. The sittings usually begin at 10 o’clock in the morning and end in the late afternoon. All the time Parliament is in session, a flag can be seen over the building. The members of the House of Commons sit on two sides of the hall. The Speaker is the chairperson at all the debates in the House of Commons, and it is duty to keep order. The Speaker is elected by all the members of the House of Commons.
He belongs to one of the political parties in Parliament, but he never votes. The chairperson of the House of Lords is Lord Chancellor. He sits on the Woolsack, a large bag of wool covered with red cloth. The House of Lords is composed of hereditary peers and peeresses, 2 Anglican archbishops, and 24 bishops and life peers whose titles are not hereditary. Life peers include lords of appeal, who make up the court of last resort on matters that can be brought to the House of Lords. Bills from the House of Commons are passed to the House of Lords for discussion.
Although no vote from the House of Lords is necessary to pass legislation, the body often suggests revisions and provides a forum for debate free from party politics. Members of the House of Commons are elected from geographical constituencies. The voting age for British subjects was lowered to 18 in 1969. Total membership of the Commons now numbers 651. Once the British Empire included a large number of countries all over the world ruled by Britain. The process of decolonisation began in 1947 with the independence of India, Pakistan and Ceylon.
Now there is no Empire and only few small islands belong to Britain. In 1997 the last colony, Hong Kong, was given to China. But the British ruling classes tried not to lose influence over the former colonies of the British Empire. An association of former members of the British Empire and Britain was founded in 1949. It is called the Commonwealth. It includes many countries such as Ireland, Burma, the Sudan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and others. The Queen of Great Britain is also a Head of the Commonwealth, and also the Queen of Canada, Australia, New Zealand.
Now some words about the British Constitution. The British Constitution is a product of many historical events. Unlike the constitutions of most other countries, it is not set out in any single document. Instead it is made up of statute law, common law and conventions. The constitution can be changed by Act of Parliament, or by general agreement to alter a convention. Cabinet of ministers The Cabinet is a small body (of about 20 persons) of ministers selected by the Prime Minister. Cabinet never votes – the Prime Minister’s decision is final.
The Prime Minister is appointed by the Queen, and all other ministers are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Most ministers are members of the Commons, although the Government is also fully represented by ministers in the Lords. The Prime Minister is, by tradition, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service. The Prime Minister’s unique position of authority derives from majority support in the House of Commons and from the power to appoint and dismiss ministers.
By modern convention, the Prime Minister always sits in the House of Commons. The Prime is responsible for the allocation of functions among ministers and informs the Queen at regular meetings of the general business of the Government. The Prime Minister’s Office is situated at 11 Downing Street. The functions of the Cabinet are initiating and deciding on policy, the supreme control of government and the co-ordination of government departments. The Cabinet meets in private and its proceedings are confidential.
Its members are bound by their oath as Privy Counsellors not to disclose information about its proceedings, although after 30 years Cabinet papers may be made available for inspection. So Great Britain is the constitutional monarchy. Monarch is the Head of the State. But Queen or King rules with the support of the parliament. And practically monarch has no real political power. The main political decisions are made by the Parliament and Cabinet. And the House of Commons are more powerful.
Courtney from Study Moose
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