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How is Britain Governed

Updated on April 17, 2014

Britain’s governmental structure is one that has taken centuries to develop and to nurture into, passing by changes in policies, agreements, coalitions and rule. The governing consists primarily of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which combine together to form the Parliament of Britain. Parliament is accompanied by the Cabinet, and also the Prime Minister in the British government.

Britain's overall political system is included within Parliament and Her Majesty's government. The Prime Minister is effectively at the head of Her Majesty’s government, as well as the head of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister's roles are vast and numerous, but he is the overall representative of the country. He governs the country, with the help of the Cabinet and of Parliament, but he is who the people hear and see. He represents the country in foreign political matters and is therefore in charge of many of the country's aspects. He or she attains both executive and legislative powers, but is not an absolute leader, or a totalitarian dictator.

At the centre of British politics is the Cabinet. It is composed of roughly 20 members (even though today there are 220, who are not all equals. For instance, there are Cabinet Ministers who spearhead the Cabinet. However, the main purpose of the Cabinet is to create a sense of equality, as the Cabinet and the Prime Minister constantly work together. The Prime Minister appoints or banishes members of the Cabinet but otherwise, he is more or less considered as an equal beside them. If he would be superior then he would attain the status of president, but he is traditionally known as being "the first among equals". In this sense, the Prime Minister is a member of a collective decision making group that is embodied by The Cabinet. Also, even though the Cabinet and the Houses of Parliament are not directly linked, the Prime Minister often chooses the leading members of the Houses to be a part of the Cabinet. They are the supreme governors and directors of the political world, and they work independently, organising and leading other governmental groups.

The Cabinet assembles regularly, when it is called upon by the Prime Minister, to discuss about current affairs and politics in general; they discuss about the agenda that is made by the Prime Minister. The place of assembly has been since 1856 and continues to be to the present day at 10 Downing Street, the headquarters of the Prime Minster. Each discussion or debate is summarised by the Prime Minister, who is also in charge of dividing and deciding on the speech of the Cabinet members.

Parliament is comprised of two different houses, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, as well as the Sovereign. Both of these houses meet in the Palace of Westminster. The House of Commons is known as the lower house, but it is also the part of Parliament which is primarily in charge of running the country. The House of Commons is democratically elected, and subdues a regular 5 year change whereas the members of the House of Lords stay in power for their entire lives, unless they resign or are dismissed. Since the General Elections in 2010, the House of Commons is comprised of 650 MPs, who are Members of Parliament. These members are elected through a consistency; and they represent 65000 votes in Parliament. Unlike the members of the House of Lords, the MPs hold their seats for a maximum of 5 years, until Parliament is dissolved. Furthermore, the MPs are elected by a first-past-the-post system, and it is not a form of proportional representation, meaning that a party may not have the majority of votes throughout the entire nation whilst having a majority of the seats in the House of Commons.

Throughout the centuries that have passed through British history, the power between the two houses has shifted. At their origin, the House of Lords possessed much more power than the House of Commons, being nobler and of higher stature. But, with the evolution of the British political system, the upper house of Parliament tended to lose more and more power. As the House of Commons is essentially elected by the people, its legislative powers surpass those of the House of Lords even though this was not always the case. Moreover, government is primarily responsible for the House of Commons as for the Prime Minister to maintain power; he must have the full support of the House of Commons. Almost all of the government ministers and even Prime Ministers are drawn from the House of Commons. This House of Parliament embodies an absolute feeling of democracy as it is purely elected by the people.

Although the House of Commons does not explicitly elect and put into house the Prime Minister, the position of the Prime Minister’s party in the House of Commons stays essential and fundamental; it is important to re-highlight that to be in power, the Prime Minister must maintain the support of the House of Commons. Consequently, whenever the Prime Minister’s post becomes void or inactive, the Sovereign appoints the person who will most likely have the support of the House of Commons, this person being the leader of the largest party in the House. The leader of the second largest party becomes the “Leader of the Opposition”, as he is leading an opposing party, which holds the second highest amount of seats. However, even the leader of the House of Commons who seems to logically possess the support of the House by being the leader of the largest party may not stay in power. This lower house has the right to show and express its feelings about the government, either by refusing a “Motion of Confidence” or by showing a “Motion of No Confidence”. If the ruling Government ever loses the confidence of the House of Commons, the Prime Minister is therefore obliged to resign, by duty, and therefore gives his post to another leading MP of the Commons or must otherwise demand the Sovereign to dissolve Government, which would have the consequence of a new General Election. Lastly, the House of Commons previously had the power of Impeachment, meaning to impeach ministers for their crimes. However, even though the power still remains, its last use dates back to 1806 and today, the House of Commons shows its view of the current government and of current ministers through Motions of Confidence.

Both Houses of Parliament have a legislative function that consists in declaring and blocking new bills, and therefore essentially declaring and blocking potential laws that are formed from the creation of these bills. Again, the power of the House of Commons currently surpasses the power of the Lords in this aspect, as the Commons may present new bills or, modifies existing bills whereas the Lords may simply delay them for a specific time period, depending on the bill. However, when the House of Commons plan on extending or simply changing the Parliamentary term, the consent of the House of Lords is needed.

The House of Lords is independent from the House of Commons, simply complementing its work, in the legislative aspect for example. In this domain, the House of Lords shares the responsibility of making bills and laws, and surveying government action. However, it is possible to acknowledge many differences between the two Houses. Firstly, the House of Lords possesses far less power than the House of Commons today than it did in the past centuries. This is due to the fact that the House of Commons is elected by the people of Britain, in a democratic fashion whereas the members of the House of Lords as simply appointed, and may possibly even keep their place in this house for the entire course of their lives. This House is made up of “Lords Temporal” and “Lords Spiritual”. Today, there are 26 “Lords Spiritual” who sit in the House of Lords by agreement with the Church of England. On the other hand, the “Lords Temporal” is for the majority appointed by the Monarch, with the advice of either the Prime Minister or the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. In previous centuries and governments, being a member of the House of Lords was a simple birth right to hereditary peers. After many reforms and changes, there are today only 90 members who take up 788 of the places in the House of Lords. This total number of members is unfixed, whilst the number of seats in the House of Commons if currently strictly fixed to 650.

The House of Lords reads and debates the bills which have already been passed through the House of Commons, and the members have the power of stopping a certain bill for a certain amount of time, having the right of highlighting what issues concern them and must be changed. After this function, the House of Lords also governs Britain through the domain of law and crime; the Lords sit as the highest appeal court in Britain. A group of the House of Lords, named law Lords, sit at the supreme court of appeal, having a jurisdictional purpose. This is partially linked to another function of the House of Lords, which is to sit on select committees. The Lords once again debate the rights and wrongs of a variety of subjects and proclaim their judgment about it.

To briefly summarize and conclude how Britain is governed, it is necessary to point out that even though the Prime Minister is not a absolute leader having infinite powers, he is although the person who represents the people. He is in charge of the Cabinet, whilst partly being a member and an equal, and is also in charge of Parliament, which is split into two Houses, both having different functions and values . However, to insure democracy, the Prime Minister must have the support of the House of Commons, which is elected by the people, in order to stay in power.


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    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent Hub and explanation about the British form of parliamentary government, Gauldur. You probably have a much more democratic government than my American one. probably more efficient also.

    • someonewhoknows profile image


      4 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      Without freedom of the press any government can be controlled as along as the people are controlled by what information they get from the media. As long as the people really believe what the media and the people who run the media say.


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