Chapter 5 The UK Government, the law, and your role -Part 2 Revision

The System of Government

– The government in the UK is a parliamentary democracy.
o The UK is geographically divided into parliamentary constituencies, or areas. This area may be a town or city, a part of a town or city, or a certain area of countryside.

Every area of Britain is part of a constituency.
o Voters in each constituency elect their MP, or member of Parliament, in a general election. This MP will represent these voters in the House of Commons.
o Most MPs belong to a political party, and the party with the most MPs will form the government.
o If one party does not get enough MPs to form a majority, then two or more parties may join together to form a coalition. – The House of Commons

o The House of Commons is considered the more important house, as its members are democratically voted on by the people.

o The Prime Minister and almost all cabinet members are members of the House of Commons.

o MPs have a number of responsibilities including:
 Represent everyone in their constituency.
 Help create new laws.
 Oversee and comment on what the government is doing.  Debate important national issues.

– The House of Lords
– Members of the House of Lords are known as peers. They are not elected by the people and

do not represent any constituency. Membership in the House of Lords and the role of the peers has changed over the last 50 years.

o Before 1958:
 Hereditary, which means they inherited their title, or  Were senior judges, or
 Were bishops of the Church of England.

o Since 1958

  •   The Queen has the power to nominate peers to serve for their own lifetimeand no longer. These are called “life peers”. Life peers cannot hand down their titles to future generations. These peers usually have had an important career in politics, business, law or another profession.
  •   Nominations for life peers are usually made on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, or head of another major political party. There is also an independent Appointments Commission for potential peers who are not a member of a political party.

o Since 1999
 Hereditary peers have lost the right to attend the House of Lords. Instead, they elect a few of their group to represent them in the House of Lords.


o The House of Lords is usually more independent of the government than the House of Commons. Some of its duties are:

  •   It suggest new laws or propose amendments, which the MPs in the House of Commons then discuss.
  •   It checks laws that the House of Commons has created to ensure that they are fit and legal.
  •   It holds the government accountable to ensure that it is operating in the best interests of the people.
  •   The House of Commons has the ability to overrule the House of Lords. This happens rarely.

o The Speaker
 The Speaker is the chair of the House of Commons.

  •   They oversee and keep order during debates.
  •   They are neutral, and do not represent any one political party,however they are MPs with a constituency of their own.
  •   They represent Parliament during certain ceremonial events.
  •   The Speaker is elected by MPs in a secret ballot.

– UK Elections
o MPs are elected during a General Election, which is held every five years.
o If an MP dies or resigns a special election is held in that person’s constituency. o The system for electing MPs is commonly known as “first past the post”. In any specific constituency, whoever gets the most votes wins the position. The government is formed by the party who has the most MPs elected.
o If no party wins a majority, two parties may band together to form a coalition.

– European Parliamentary Elections
o Elections for the European Parliament are also held every 5 years.
o Elected officials are called MEPs (Members of European Parliament). o Unlike the UK elections, these elections use a system of proportional representation. Seats are distributed in proportion to the total number of votes won.

– Contacting Elected Members
o All elected members have a responsibility to represent their constituents. You can contact all of your representatives and their parties via phone, letter, or online. Contact details can be found:

  •   At your local library.
  •   Online at
  •   MPs, Assembly members, MSPs (members of Scottish Parliament), andMEPs are listed in the Phone Book and in Yellow Pages.

  •   All MPs can also be contacted at the House of Commons. The address is:The House of Commons,
    Westminster, London
    SW1A 0AA
    The telephone number is 0207729 3000
  •   In addition, many MPs hold local public meetings or “surgeries” in their constituencies on a regular basis. Citizens can go and talk publicly to their MP about matters of interest to them. The date and time for these surgeries are often advertised in the newspaper.