In the UK, we live in a democracy: people have the power. The UK, or more formally, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is, as its name suggests, made up of Northern Ireland and Great Britain: England, Scotland and Wales. In order to maintain a democracy, new laws are made by parliament, which consists of the elected House of Commons and the House of Lords. Parliament can also scrutinise government. We can say that the UK is bicameral, it has two law making chambers; though if we involve the Queen in her formal capacity, this adjective may have a more diluted meaning.
The House of Commons
The House of Commons is a key contributor to the law making process. It also controls the UK’s finances; scrutinises government policy and debates the major issues of the day.
The House of Lords
The House of Lords, although not elected, also contribute to the law marking process. Since the 14th century, they have been known as the upper house. The Lords also conduct specialised investigations through committees. Prior to 2009, the law lords also sat in the House of Lords as the highest appellate court in the UK. They have since moved to a new Supreme Court.
The Crown, or the Queen in this instance, is the head of state of the UK. She also contributes formally to the law making process. It is argued that she now has a minimal constitutional role today, though the extent of her prerogative powers may undermine this argument.
Government and Parliament
The government is made up of members of the political party who occupy the majority of the seats in the House of Commons. This includes the prime minister, the cabinet and ministers. Most members of government sit in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords.
The Cabinet is the inner circle of Government, the forum of policy discussion usually. The Prime Minister is the head of the Cabinet.
The passage of legislation
- The bill is proposed by the government or another source, such as an MP or an EU directive
- First reading – the title of the bill is read and a date set for the second reading
- Second reading – the main debate
- Committee/report stages – line by line examination of the bill
- Third reading – opportunity for more debate
- Other house – the process is repeated in the other house and passed back and forth until both houses are agreed
- Royal assent – the Queen officially enacts the bill into an Act of Parliament