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British Legislature


Parliament is the legislative organ and is constitutionally composed of the Monarch, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The Queen in Parliament represents the supreme authority within the United Kingdom. The Parliament at Westminster legislates for the United Kingdom, for any one of the constituent countries, or for any combination of them. It may legislate on certain ‘expected’ and ‘reserved’ matters for Northern Ireland, subject to the provisions of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, 1973. It may also legislate for the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, under certain conditions, although these islands possess their own ancient legislatures. The Parliament Act, 1911 provides that the life of one Parliament may not exceed five years.

Parliament consists of two Houses: the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The House of Lords is for the most part still hereditary body. It consists of the Lords Temporal and the Lords Spiritual. The Lords Temporal include hereditary peers and peeresses under the Peerages Act, 1963; life peers and peeresses created by the Crown under the Life Peerages Act, 1958 in recognition of public service; and the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary. The House of Lords is presided over by the Lord Chancellor who is ex officio chairman of the House. The Lords Spiritual include the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the senior bishops of London, Durham and Winchester, and 21 most ‘senior diocesan bishops’ of the Church of England.

The House of Commons is an elected and representative bode; members (at present 659) are elected by almost universal adult suffrage to represent constituencies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The law relating to Parliamentary elections is contained in substance in the Representation of the People Act, 1949, as amended. Any British subject 21 or over, not otherwise disqualified (as for example, members of the House of Lords, certain clergy, undischarged bankrupts, civil servants; holders of judicial office, members of the regular armed services and the police forces) may be elected a Member of Parliament (MP). Members are paid a salary and an allowance for secretarial and office expenses; after a Parliament is dissolved all seats are subject to a General Election. By-elections take place when a vacancy occurs during the life of a Parliament, as when a member dies, is elevated to the House of Lords or accepts an ‘office of profit’ under the Crown.

The Speaker of the House of Commons is elected by the members from their membership to preside over the House immediately after each new Parliament is formed. He is an impartial arbiter over Parliamentary procedure and the traditional guardian of the rights and privileges of the House of Commons.

The supremacy, or sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament is probably the most basic principle of British constitutional law. Parliament has of its own will settled the duration of the life of a Parliament, acts in such a way as not to bind its successors in the manner or form of their legislation, in the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 has provided that in certain circumstances a Bill may become law without the concurrence of all the component parts of Parliament. These two Acts have clarified the supremacy of the House of Commons over the House of Lords, which can only delay the passage of Public Bills for a maximum period of one year and cannot delay at all the passage of Money Bills (financial measures).


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