Topic 63 – The british institutions. The parliament chambers. The government. Political parties and electoral system. The crown

Topic 63 – The british institutions. The parliament chambers. The government. Political parties and electoral system. The crown


-> 1066 the Anglo Saxon kings consulted the Great Council before taking major decissions.

1066 – 1215 the king ruled alone

1215 the nobles forced King John to accept the Magna Carta.

1264 the 1st paliament of nobles met together. Since then the rules which govern the system are customs or conventions which have become established, and others are written laws.

This system is one of the most successful in the world, without violent changes since the “bloodest revolution” of 1688. The English parliament invited William of Orange, from the Low Countries to become the 1st constitutional monarch. The Bill of Rights (1689) prevented the monarch from making laws or raising an army without parliament´s approval.

The power in the UK is divided as follows:

Parliament, which makes laws

Government, which puts laws into effect.

Law Courts, which interpret laws.

The Queen is officially the head of all 3 branches, although she has little direct power.


The Queen is the official Head of State, and, for many people, a symbol of the unity of the nation. The hereditary principle operates in the sucession to the throne.


Opening and closing of parliament

Approving the appointments of the PM

Giving royal assent to Bills

Giving honours such as peerages, knighthoods, and medals.

Head of the Commonwealth

Head of the Church of England

Commander in Chief of the armen forces

Supposed impartial in politics and any advice she may offer the PM is kept secret.


Composed by the PM and all other ministers, 4 legal members, about 12 Government Whips and professional civil servants, (non-political).

The PM is the leader of the party which wins the general elections and he lives at 10 Downing Street.


Leading the majority party

Running the government

Appointing Cabinet Ministers and other ministers.

Representing the nation in political matters

The Cabinet: It is a committee of leading ministers. It consists of the heads of the most important deparments plus a few ministers without departments. It acts as one body with “collective responsibility”


Formulate government policy

Make certain executive orders and proclamations.


The government is matched by the Opposition. The leader of the opposition is paid a special state salary, and the government Cabinet is matched by a Cabinet in the shadow.

Civil Servants:

Proffesional servants of state. They run the various government departments, advise the ministers and carry out their policies.


-> 1920 The two main parties were the conservatives (tories) and liberals (whigs).

After 2WW, the Labour Party took the place of the Liberals, although the liberal party has not disappeared.

In 1981 the labour party split and a new party, the Social Democratic was created.

Any kind of parties are permited. There´s a communist party, but has never won a seat since 1945. There is also an English branch of the National Front.

The conservatives:

Opposed to great changes in society.

They support private enterprise and economic freedom from state control.

They stand for the maintenance of order and authority at home.

They stand for the protection of the national interest in foreign relations.

The party of the rich and privileged.

The labour party:

In favour of social changes.

They support the intervention of the state in economic affairs.

In foreign matters, they are more internationalist than nationalist.

The party of the poor and deprivileged.

Liberal party:

Party of the left, pragmatic rather than doctrinaire. It has occasionally attracted remarkable waves of support but the voting system prevents it from winning seats at general elections.


They are held, according to law, in a period of time which can´t be longer than 5 years. Within these 5 years,, the PM may choose the date for a general election.

Any British, man or woman over 18 can vote in parliamentary elections.

Any British, man or woman over 18 can be a candidate with the exception of:

Civil servants

Clergymen of the church of England

Ministers of the church of Scotland

Roman Catholic priests can´t be candidates.

The electoral systems tend to encourage the domination of the scene by 2 parties. (the total votes don´t correspond faithfully to the seats in parliament. They are distributed on the basis of territorial divisions.) The UK is divided into 650 constituences (electoral districts), each elects one member for the House of Commons. The party that wins the most seats in a general election forms the government and the leader of the party becomes the PM.

A few days before the elections supporters of candidates go from house to house asking people for whom they intend to vote. This is called canvassing.


The 2 Houses of Parliament share the same building, the Palace of Westminster.

The life of Parliament is divided into periods called sessions. Aq session begins in November and, with recessions at holiday periods, lasts for about 160 days.

The sittings last for about 8 ½ hours from Monday to Friday.


Making laws

Providing money for government through taxation.

Examining government policy, administration and expenses.

Debating political questions.

The house of commons:

The 650 members of the House of Commons meet in a chamber which is sometimes called St Stephen´s Chapel, a replica of the original one destroyed during 2WW. The members sit on 2 sides of the chamber, one side is occupied by the government and the other, facing them by the opposition. Between them sits Mr Speaker, who acts as a chairman in the debates. He is elected among the MPs in the House of Commons. His job is to keep order. He acts as speaker in its relation with the Crown, House of Lords and other representative bodies and organizations. He has to give up all party loyalties and he never votes except when the votes are equal.

Anyone can visit the Houses and sit in the Stranger´s Gallery.

The House of Lords:

Its members sit there by hereditary right or conferred privilege. There is a 70% of hereditary peers and a 30% of life peers.

It meets on 3 afternoons each week and uses the old part of the palace. There is no speaker or president in the usual sense. Where the presiding officer´s chair might be, is the royal throne, occupied by the Queen once a year, when she comes to make a speech at the opening of a new session of Parliament. Below the throne is the Woolsack, where the Lord Chancellor sits.

Passing of a Bill

A bill is a proposal for a new law.

Bills may be introduced in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords by any member. Most bills are proposed by the government. After being discussed and perhaps changed, the bill is sent to the other House to go through the same process. When both agree on the content of the law, the bill is sent to the Queen for her signature at which point it becomes an Act of parliament. No sovereign has refused a bill since 1707. About 50 bills become laws every year.

Public bills: Introduced by the Government

Private bills: introduced by local authorities

Private member bills: introduced by MPs or peers not in government


1ST READING: Publication is announced

2nd READING: General debate on principles, sometimes with proposals for amendment.

COMMITTEE STAGE: Detailed discussion in committee.

REPORT STAGE: Committee reports to the house

3rd READING: Formal review of the contents of the bill

ROYAL ASSENT. The bill is signed by the queen and becomes a law.


Local divisions: although the UK is a unitary state, the local systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland are not the same as in England and Wales.

England has been traditionally divided into counties for over 1000 years. Most of them have the word shire in their names. The County Council is the most important unit of local Government. It´s in charge of the county as a whole.

Parishes are the oldest and smallest units within the counties. They were established with a church as a local point during the middle ages.

Wards are electoral sections within each district with no other administrative purpose.


The courts: England and Wales have a single system of law and courts, while Scotland has a system of his own.

The law consists of Statutes or Acts of Parliament and of Common Law, based on previous judgements and customs.


every district has a magistrate court, which seats at least twice a week. the magistrates , or judges of peace are well known and respected in the district. unpaid. counselled by a clerck (professional lawyer). they can only try minor offenses, can´t give prison sentences totalling more than 12 months and fines of more than 2ooo pounds.



It only appears in civil courts. There´s only one judge.


Is divided according to the nature of the business:

Chancery division. Contentious probate

Family division. Divorces matters of custody, non contentious probate

Queen´s bench division. Finances, economy, professional bodies.

INDUSTRIAL TRIBUNALS It deals with the employers.


CROWN COURT: It deals with the most serious offenses. The supposed criminals are tried by a circuit (travelling) judge and a jury composed of 12 members. The jury decides if the accused person is guilty or not, and the judge decides which the punishment for the accused person will be.


Appeals are dealt with by the Court of Appeal, a tribunal of 3 judges (Lord Justice). It the appeal is refused there can be a final appeal to the House of Lords, with 3 judges (Lord White).