The British parliament has its origins in the thirteenth-century baronial councils. It is now a bicameral chamber that includes the monarch or the monarch’s representative. Currently its full name is ‘The Queen in Parliament’, and it is a sovereign body that covers England, Wales, Scotland (since 1707) and Northern Ireland (since 1922). Under a variety of treaties, some of its powers have been ceded to the European Union. Some of its prerogatives have also been ceded through international treaties such as the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.
   The House of Commons is the primary democratic chamber. It is composed of 651 directly elected representatives who must seek re-election at not more than five-year intervals. The House of Commons is presided over by the Speaker, whose responsibility it is to make certain that the conduct of business in the House is in accordance with its own conventions and rules.
   The second chamber is the House of Lords. This is composed of approximately 1,200 peers, both life and hereditary. In addition, the two archbishops (Canterbury and York) and twenty-four bishops sit, as do the Law Lords. The House is presided over by the Lord Chancellor. The House of Lords can amend and delay bills that have been passed in the House of Commons. By convention, it will not delay the Finance Bill or any bill that was included in the manifesto of the governing party in the House of Commons. Should the House of Lords delay any bill (as with the lowering of the age of consent for homosexual sex to sixteen in 1998), the Commons can ultimately reject this delay.
   There have been many calls to abolish the House of Lords. Hitherto such calls have been rejected, as there is a clear democratic advantage in having a revising chamber. It is likely that the constitutional reform currently under discussion will retain the second chamber while removing the voting rights of hereditary peers. It is unlikely that any reform will significantly strengthen the legitimacy of the second chamber, as that would weaken the House of Commons, a move that is likely to be politically and culturally unacceptable.
   Further reading
    Punnett, R.M. (1994) British Government and Politics, 6th edn, Dartmouth: Aldershot.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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