About Britain | Government

Government

People and politics

The British Government is the source of our laws, practices, and lots of our traditions. Find out all about our government here, from who's involved to famous state events.

Parliament

Parliament is made up of 3 elements: The Queen, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. They meet together only on occasions of symbolic significance such as the State Opening of Parliament, when the Commons are summoned by the Queen to the House of Lords.

The agreement of all 3 elements is normally required for legislation, but that of the Queen is given as a matter of course.

House of Commons

The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament. It’s a democratically elected body consisting of 646 members called Members of Parliament (MPs).

Each member is elected by and represents an electoral district of Britain known as a constituency. The Prime Minister is an MP, and part of the House of Commons.

The House of Commons is where the MPs meet to debate Bills and issues affecting the country.

House of Lords

The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament, and here members called ‘Lords’ meet to debate, change Bills and scrutinise the work of the Government.

Members of the House of Lords aren’t elected; they either inherit their title or are appointed by the Government or shadow cabinet. The members consist of 2 archbishops and 24 bishops of the Church of England ("Lords Spiritual") and 692 members of the Peerage ("Lords Temporal").

At the moment, the members of the 731 seat House of Lords currently outnumber the members of the 646 seat House of Commons.

Both the House of Lords and the House of Commons are situated in the Houses of Parliament in London’s Westminster.

The main functions of Parliament are:

  • to pass laws;
  • to provide, by voting for taxation, the means of carrying on the work of government;
  • to scrutinise government policy and administration, including proposals for expenditure;
  • to debate the major issues of the day.

Scotland has its own parliament, and Wales an elected Assembly, which sit in Edinburgh and Cardiff respectively. Both Scotland and Wales remain part of the United Kingdom and have continued representation in the Parliament at Westminster in London.

The State Opening of Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament is a grand affair full of tradition. Britain’s Parliament closes over the summer months and the Houses of Parliament open to the public. Our government goes back to work in November, and Parliament officially opens again. The State Opening for the 2009-2010 session takes place on 18 November.

For over 500 years, the ceremony has served as a symbolic reminder of the unity of Parliament’s 3 parts: the Queen, the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

First off, the Queen arrives at the Houses of Parliament. She goes to the House of Lords, where she’ll make her speech. Members of both the Lords and the Commons must be present for the Queen’s Speech, but the Queen can’t enter the House of Commons due to its independence from the Sovereign.

Next, one of the Queen’s officials called Black Rod (because of the black baton he carries) has to summon the members of the Commons. He walks from the House of Lords through the Central Lobby, which links the 2 Houses.

When Black Rod reaches the House of Commons, the door is slammed in his face and not opened again until he has banged on the door with his baton and states his name. This is a symbol of the Commons’ independence from the Queen.

The MPs then join Black Rod and walk through the Central Lobby to the House of Lords, where the Queen gives her speech, setting out Parliament’s business for the coming year. Although the Queen gives the speech, it’s actually the Government that draws up the content.

Once she’s finished her speech, the Queen leaves the Houses of Parliament and the government goes back to work. After the ceremony, each House meets separately to discuss and debate the contents of the Queen’s speech. 

More information:
State Opening, visit Parliament UK – State Opening of Parliament.


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