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Political System

of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


The political system of the United Kingdom has provided stability and consistency since the 19th century
through a structure that has evolved rather than been designed. The United Kingdom is a parliamentary
democracy dominated by the monarchy which links the executive, legislature, judiciary, armed forces, and
Church of England.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy. Its constitution is partly unwritten and is flexible. Its basic
sources are parliamentary and European Union legislation, the European Convention on Human Rights, and
decisions by courts of law. Matters for which there is no formal law follow precedents that are always open to
development or modification.

Although in practice almost all responsibilities are


deferred, the monarch and the royal family are a
source of unity and national spirit. The reigning
monarch is permanent head of state. The United
Kingdom is governed by Her Majesty's
Government in the name of the Queen. Royal
powers are largely honorific; for instance, the right
to veto legislative acts has not been exercised
since the early 18th century. But there are still many
important acts which require the participation of the
Queen. The Queen summons, prorogues and
dissolves Parliament. Normally she opens the new
session with a speech from the throne which
outlines her Government's programme. The Queen
confers peerages, knighthoods and other honours.
She makes appointments to many important
state offices. An important function of the
sovereign is the appointment of a Prime Minister.
Queen Elizabeth

Legislative power is vested in Parliament, which


comprises the monarch, the House of Lords, and
the House of Commons.

British Parliament

The House of Commons

The members of the House of Commons are


elected to five-year terms, although the Prime
Minister may call general elections at any time.
Each member of the House of Commons (member
of Parliament; MP) represents an individual
constituency (district) by virtue of winning a
plurality of votes in the constituency.

There are 650 members in the House of Commons (most of them are professional politicians, lawyers, etc.)
Important members in the House of Commons are the Speaker who is the Chairma n of the House of Commons
and arranges each day programme in Parliament, and the so-called party whips. The Speaker sits in the
Speakers Chair at the end of the Table of the House. The Government sits to the Speaker's right and the
Opposition to the Speaker's left. It is the Speaker's duty to keep order in debate and to call MPs to speak. The
MP selected must address the Chair, and must refer to other MPs by their constituency or to Ministers by their
office. Whips are party organizers who enforce party discipline and secure the attendance of party members
at important sessions. There is seating accommodation (including the side galleries) for only 437 MPs, which is
why you may see MPs standing around the Speakers Chair during major debates and statement s. They come
and go because they are often wanted on business in other parts of the building, but during important debates
they remain in the House, and the sittings may go on until late at night.
The House of Commons examines and passes proposals for new laws known as "bills" presented to
Parliament by the Government. The Government cannot simply legislate on its own - it requires the approval of
the House of Commons and the House of Lords for new laws (though the House of Lords has no say in
financial measures).
Bills are usually amended during their passage through both Houses; the main stages of the bill's progress in
each House are known as "readings". Nowadays the first reading is a formality. Only the title of the bill is
mentioned, and then it is printed in full for members of the House of Commons to read and think before the
second reading. On the second reading if the House is not unanimous in favour of the bill, a vote has to be
taken. A bell is rung so that all the members may come and vote. The members leave their benches and walk
out into the appropriate "Aye" or "No" lobby. As they walk out, they are counted by four tellers - two for each
side - and it may take 10 or 15 minutes before the tellers announce the results of the division (vote) to the
Speaker or Chairman.
After passing the second reading stage the bill must go to a committee for a detailed examination mostly
carried out in Standing Committees. After proposals and amendments are made, the bill is ready for the third
reading. If the majority of MPs is for the bill, it is sent to the House of Lords for discussion. When the Lords
agree, the Queen signs, and the Great Seal is fixed. The bill becomes an Act of Parliament.
A major role of the House of Commons is to subject the policies and actions of the Government to public
scrutiny. The Government runs the country but Parliament holds the Government to account. When
Government Ministers make statements in the House of Commons, they are interrogated by the Opposition and
by individual Members of all parties. MPs can also question Ministers directly during the periods given over to
question time in the House of Commons. Written questions are also put to Ministers and the answers are
included in the published Official Report of proceedings.
MPs spend some time each week working in their constituency and dealing with constituents' problems. An MP
will often be able to advise on how to address a particular issue and may write to the relevant authority or
Minister on behalf of a constituent. MPs can also raise local or personal issues in a variety of ways in the
House of Commons

The House of Lords

One of the most familiar images of the House of


Lords is the State Opening of Parliament by Her
Majesty the Queen. This is a splendid and colourful
ceremonial occasion. The Queen's Speech (written
by the Government) sets out Parliament's working
agenda for the coming year. The House has existed
as a separate chamber of Parliament since the 14th
century, and is part of the oldest parliamentary
democracy in the world. It is also one of the busiest,
second only to the House of Commons in the
number of days and hours it sits.

Until 1999 the House of Lords consisted mainly of hereditary peers. In October 1999 decision was made to
decrease the number of peers to participate in lawmaking, to abolish hereditary peers, and to introduce elected
peers and new powers for the Lords to hold Cabinet ministers to account. The number of elected peers is to be
about 100. Existing life peers will remain until their death. The historic representation of the Church of England
in the Lords will be maintained but the number of bishops will be cut to 16. Unlike MPs, Lords are unelected
and unpaid, except for certain allowances to cover attendance which is voluntary. There is no upper limit on
the total number of members. Currently there are about 775 members
The House plays a key role in revising legislation sent from the Commons. The Lords spends about two-thirds
of its time revising or initiating legislation. It acts as a check on the Government. Members question the
Government orally or by written questions, they debate policy issues and scrutinise secondary legislation. It
acts as a final Court of Appeal.
The Chairman of the House of Lords is Lord Chancellor who sits on a special seat called the Woolsack, which
is stuffed with wool from England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the countries of the Commonwealth.
Lord Chancellor is also a Cabinet minister and Head of the Judiciary. Lord Chancellor is the Speaker of the
House but, unlike the Speaker of the House of Commons, has no power to control proceedings. The House
regulates itself under the guidance of the Leader of the House who, as well as leading the party in government,
has a responsibility to the House as a whole.
The sovereign is now restricted to the mere formal act of inviting the head of the Parliament's majority party to
form a gove rnment. The Queen appoints the leader of this party as Prime minister. Executive power is wielded
by the Prime Minister and the cabinet chosen by the Prime Minister from MPs in his or her party. The prime
minister ultimately determines government policy, and all measures decided upon at meetings of the Cabinet
must be approved by him. Finally, it is the prime minister who advises the sovereign to dissolve Parliament in
preparation for a general election, a step necessary if his legislative programs are decisively defeated in the
House of Commons.

10 Downing Street

Theresa May

The Cabinet is a kind of Inner government within the Government. The prime minister must put together a
cabinet that represents and balances the various factions within his own party (or within a coalition of parties).
Most cabinet ministers are heads of government departments. The cabinet plans and lays before Parliament all
important bills. While the cabinet thus controls the lawmaking machinery, it is also subject to Parliament; it
must expound and defend its policy in debate, and its continuation in office depends on the support of the
House of Commons. Cabinet members must all be members of Parliament, as must the prime minister himself.
The members of a cabinet head the principal government departments, or ministries, such as home affairs,
foreign affairs, and the Excheque r (treasury). Cabinet members can freely disagree with each other within
the secrecy of cabinet meetings, but once a decision has been reached, all are obligated to support the cabinet's
policies, both in the Commons and before the general public. The loss of a vote of confidence or the defeat of
a major legislative bill in the Commons can mean a cabinet's fall from power and the collective resignation of
its members. The cabinet usually meets in the prime minister's official residence at 10 Downing Street in
London.

Policies are carried out by government departments and executive agencies staffed by politically neutral civil
servants. They serve the government of the day regardless of its political complexion. About 295,000 civil
servants work in over 75 executive agencies.
The second largest party forms the official Opposition, with its own leader and 'shadow cabinet'. The
Opposition has a duty to challenge government policies and to present an alte rnative programme.