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This chapter looks specifically at the UK Parliament as this is the central institution of the UK political system. It describes the people in Parliament, its internal makeup, and the way in which it is changing. The chapter examines the roles of members of the House of Commons and House of Lords. It considers the four basic functions of Parliament: providing a basis of government, holding government to account, producing legislation, and interacting with the wider public. The chapter describes three practical examples to help illustrate some of its themes. These are the following: the 2010–15 coalition government’s attempts to reform the House of Lords; the 2009 Wright Committee proposals for parliamentary reform and their implementation; and the practice of pre-appointed hearings conducted by parliamentary committees.


This chapter evaluates the institution of the UK Parliament, where parliamentarians have a chance to debate issues of the day and to make laws. It reviews classic arguments about the power of Parliament in relation to the executive, before looking at the role of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The account is still influenced by the Westminster system of government, whereby the executive in the form of the government is sustained in power by having a majority in the House of Commons. The chapter then considers what Members of Parliament (MPs) and other representatives do in office, and how their behaviour links to other features of the political process, such as public opinion and constituency interests. It also compares other legislatures, such as the Scottish Parliament, with the UK Parliament.


1. The Starting Point  

Understanding the Political System

This chapter discusses what makes British politics distinctive and recognizable: its parliamentary democracy, uncodified constitution, and pattern of party government. It begins by outlining some recent events that have made British or UK politics so fascinating and controversial. The chapter then describes the political system, particularly the institutional rules that affect what happens and govern how politics takes place. Parliament, composed of the House of Commons, House of Lords, and the Crown, is the supreme legal authority in the UK. The chapter also provides a summary of the British constitution. It places the UK in a comparative context, to be studied alongside other nation states. Finally, the chapter sets out the information and concepts that help in understanding the nature of and limits to British democracy.