The Structure of the British Parliamentary System


British parliamentary democracy or system has been evolving for many centuries. From the Parliament of Simon de Montfort in 1265 to the outbreak of civil war in 1642, it was based upon the changing relations between the realms and the Monarch. 

After that with the introduction of many new acts and rights such as the Bill of Rights in 1689, Reform Act of 1832, Representation of the people act from 1867 to 1969, a recognizable modern democracy gradually emerged. 

The present-day result of this long evolution is that since the entry of the UK into the European Community in 1973, British politicians and people have lived in a parliamentary democracy which is a constitutional Monarchy with the EU (European Union). 

Currently, the Monarch is Queen Elizabeth II, who is the head of the state while the prime minister of the United Kingdom, currently Boris Johnson is the head of the Government. 

All the executive powers are exercised by the government on behalf and with the consent of the monarch and the legislative powers are vested into two chambers of the parliament of the United Kingdom, House of the Lords and House of the Commons. 

The judicial power is independent of the executive and the legislative power and the highest court of the country is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

Parliament of United Kingdom:

The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the ultimate legislative body of the state. It alone holds the supreme power over all bodies in the UK and overseas territory.

The parliament practices bicameralism but has three parts consisting of the House of the Commons, House of the Lords and, the Crown in parliament (Queen). Both the houses of the parliament meet at the Palace of Westminster in the city of London.

British Parliament is also called the “Mother of Parliaments” because it has shaped the political system of many countries due to the global expansion of the British Empire. 

Theoretically speaking, the power is vested in the hands of the Crown; however, the Crown acts on the advice of the Prime Minister, and also the powers of the House of the Lords are limited to see the only practical power is vested in the House of the Commons. 

Also, the members of the House of the Lords are legally barred from voting in the election to select the members of the House of the Commons.

a) House of the Lords:

The House of the Lords is formally known as “The Right Honourable, The Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament Assembled”. The Lord's spiritual represents the established Church of England. 

It consists of the five ancient sees and the 21 next- most senior bishops. The House of the Lords is currently midway through extensive reforms. The House of the Lords currently has the power to propose amendments and acts to review the legislation initiated by the House of the Commons. 

It can also exercise a super veto which allows it to delay legislation if it does approve it for the next 12 months. Continuous use of Veto can also be overturned by the House of the commons. However, due to the operations of the Parliaments act 1911 and 1949, the use of vetoes is limited.

The structure of the House of the Lords is as follows: Total 790 members

1 Lord Speaker

26 Lords Spiritual (Bishops)

Lords Temporal includes: 261 Conservative Party, 172 Labour Party, 86 Liberal Democrats, 5 Democratic Unionist Party, 2 Ulster Unionist Party, 2 Green Party, 1 Plaid Cymru, 47 Non- Affiliated, 187 Crossbench.

b) House of the Commons:

The four countries in the United Kingdom are divided into constituencies of an equal population by the four boundary commissions. 

A Member of Parliament is elected by each constituency to the house of the Commons. As of 2010, there are 650 seats but in the 2017 election all but one – Sylvia Hermon- was elected as the representative of the Party.

The structure of the House of the Commons is as follows: Total 650 members

364 Conservative Party, 198 labor party, 45 Scottish National Party, 12 Liberal Democrats, 8 Democratic Unionist Party, 3 Plaid Cymru, 2 Social Democratic and Local party, 2 Alba Party, 1 Green party, 1 Alliance party, 4 Independent, 1 Vacant, 7 Sinn Féin, 1 Speaker.

In modern times, all the Prime Ministers have been drawn from the House of the Commons and not the Lords and Because of the First past the post electoral system, one party tends to have a majority in the Parliament. 

The Monarch then asks the person commissioned to form a government which a majority party is expected to do.

Judicial System:

The parliament was the highest court in the realm for most purposes until the creation of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The jurisdiction of the Parliament arose from the ancient custom of coming to the houses to address the grievances of the normal people and to do justice. 

The House of the Commons stopped addressing the petitions from the lower house from 1399 which made the House of the Lords the only part of the parliament as a last resort to resolve issues. Other than these certain historical functions are being carried out by the House of the Lords.

Written by: Bhavish Doshi

Edited by: Gourav Chowdhury