Subject Material

Parliament and Government in the UK

Published: 08.03.2012, Updated: 04.03.2017
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In a parliamentary democracy, the government of the country is elected by the people (from the French, parler - to speak and the Greek, demo - people and kratia - rule of). The UK is a parliamentary democracy, which started with the Magna Carta in 1215.

This amusing presentation on British political history will give you an overview of the history of the British Parliament and politics.

Here you can find more information about the Magna Carta, The Magna Carta.

The UK Parliament

Today, the seat of the UK government is the Houses of Parliament at Westminster in London, but many powers for regional government have been devolved to Wales, N. Ireland and especially Scotland (see The Devolved Parliaments - Tasks ). The main units of the UK Parliament are the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Monarch.

Watch the video below for a brief explaination of parliament and government in the UK.

The House of Commons is the seat of the Members of Parliament (MPs), who are elected by the people. Each MP represents one area of the country called a constituency and most belong to a political party. The few who do not are called "independents". There were 650 seats in the House of Commons, but this is now being reduced to 600.

The House of Lords is under restructuring. At the moment, there are about 753 members. These are the Lords Spiritual (2 archbishops and 24 bishops) and the Lords Temporal (peers). Some of the peers are hereditary peers. These are fewer than before and they are no longer able to pass on their seat to their descendants. Life peers are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. They are individuals who have in some way made an important contribution to society.

Since 2009, the UK has had a Supreme Court, which is the final court of appeal for all civil cases and for criminal cases in Wales, England and N. Ireland. Judicial authority has been transferred from the House of Lords to this new Supreme Court. It has twelve Justices.

The Monarch: What are the duties of the monarch with respect to the UK Parliament? Does she/he have any power? Go to The Monarch and Parliament and note down the duties and powers of the monarch.

The UK Government

The government is formed by the party which wins a general election and it is led by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The Cabinet consists of government ministers. Each minister is responsible for one area of government administration, such as the Foreign Secretary (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), the Home Secretary (Secretary of State for the Home Department), the Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance),  the Secretary of State for Health, Chief Whip (makes sure party members vote as the party desires), etc. Members of the ruling party who are not in the government are called backbenchers.
The political party/parties which do not form the government are called the Opposition. It has a parallel Shadow Cabinet, Shadow ministers and backbenchers.

The Work of Parliament

As shown in the video about parliament and government, the main work of the Parliament is to make laws and to discuss topical issues and how to spend our taxes.

Watch the videos about the process of making laws and answer the questions.


  1. Who proposes new laws?
  2. Which pressure groups are shown in the video?
  3. Which new laws are mentioned?

 

Suggested Solution
  1. A political party, a single MP or someone outside Parliament with a sponsor.
  2. Jamie Oliver, Greenpeace
  3. In connection with terrorism, driving and mobile phones
Hide

  1. What is a bill?
  2. What different types of bill are there? 
  3. What is a White Paper?
  4. What are the stages a bill must go through to be approved?
  5. What is Royal Assent?
  6. After a law is approved by the Monarch, what is it called?

 

Suggested Solution
  1. A written proposal for a new law
  2. Public bills (government bills and private members bills) and private bills
  3. The basis of a bill which is introduced into Parliament
  4. First and second readings, vote, commitee, report, third reading in each House, then backwards and forwards between the Houses until both approve, and finally to the monarch
  5. Approval of the monarch
  6. Act of Parliament
Hide

 

Elections

In a general election the people choose whom they would like to govern the country. A general election takes place every 5 years, in May, but Parliament can decide to have one earlier than this. The three largest political parties in the UK are the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Before a general election, each party presents its policies and then the candidates from each party campaign across the country, each in his/her own constituency, where they do their best to persuade the people to vote for them and their party’s policies.

Watch the videos about voting and then explain the terms.

  • electorate
  • constituency
  • MP
  • dissolve parliament
  • Conservatives
  • Labour
  • Liberal Democrats
  • Green Party
  • UK Independence Party
  • election manifesto
  • polling station
  • electoral register
  • ballot paper
  • ballot box
  • Downing Street
  • House of Commons
  • Cabinet
  • minister

 

For more information: UK Parliament - online resources

Vocabulary

Try the interactive tasks in the link collection.

Research

Find out about the present UK government. Work in pairs/groups and make a radio interview with either the present Prime Minister and/or the leader of the Opposition. You could include information about the last election, the composition of the government, the Opposition, political parties, the Cabinet, the most important ministers and some of the main issues and bills under discussion. You can record the interview using audacity.

Wikipedia and Home page of the UK Parliament are useful sources of information.

 

Tasks

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