House of Lords

'BE IT ENACTED by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:-' preamble to all Acts of Parliament

It is the settled constitutional position of the United Kingdom that sovereignty rests with Parliament. This means that, except in certain circumstances, its laws cannot be challenged and its authority cannot be undermined. In practice, power is exercised by the executive (the Government) with the approval of Parliament.

Technically, Britain is ruled by the Crown in Parliament. This means that laws and decisions are made by the monarch as represented and advised by her government with the support of both Houses of Parliament. The centre of power in this relationship has shifted over the centuries from the monarch to the House of Lords to the House of Commons.

The House of Commons is now the focus of power and authority in the United Kingdom and, by convention, an MP is chosen by the monarch to be prime minister and exercise her authority. The dominance of the House of Commons is derived from its position as the only elected element of Parliament. As such, it can claim popular sovereignty as well as the right to rule.

More theoretically, the absolute sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament in tempered by the willingness of the people to obey the laws it passes and the decisions it makes. In recent years, membership of the European Union and human rights legislation has suborned its power inasmuch as it must comply with EU treaties and directives and with the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

There is no codified constitution for the United Kingdom but that does not mean that its constitution is unwritten. Documents from the Magna Carta right up to the 1998 Human Rights, Scotland and Government of Wales Acts express powers and rights that define the shape of British politics and the actions of government.

Similarly, there is no codification of the procedures of Parliament, although certain publications are cited as authorities. Parliament's functioning is characterised by historic convention and the 'sedimentation' of hundreds of years of practice, although recent efforts to modernise have changed this somewhat.

Housed in the Palace of Westminster, the UK Parliament is a bicameral legislature, deliberative body and chief scrutineer of the Government.

House of Lords

The House of Lords is the second chamber of Parliament and is also called the Upper House. Because it is not elected, it does not have the same powers as the Commons, but it retains the right to revise and scrutinise the Government's actions and legislation. Its independent minds and extensive expertise form a crucial check on the power of the executive in Parliament but it is much more likely to wield this power by asking Ministers to think again than to veto whole pieces of legislation.

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