Parliament is the primary law making body within the UK political system. The UK parliament is bicameral, meaning that it consists of two chambers, namely, the House of Commons, and the House of Lords, through which a proposed law (known as a bill) must pass before it becomes binding legislation. In addition to law making, the UK parliament performs the following functions:
- The government is drawn from the houses of parliament - the Prime Minister from the House of Commons
- Scrutinises bills and proposes amendments before they are passed into legislation
- Provides a forum for debate between the governing party and the opposition
- Monitors and approves government spending and taxation
The House of Commons is a democratically elected body, whilst the House of Lords is not. Under the UK’s current constitutional arrangements, the House of Commons is the dominant chamber of parliament, with the House of Lords possessing only limited powers. The unelected House of Lords was historically the dominant chamber, however its powers have been eroded throughout the 20th century as the rise of democracy allowed the elected House of Commons to confidently assert its authority.
Prior to the 1950s, all members of the House of Lords were entitled to their seat simply by virtue of possessing an aristocratic hereditary title. Nowadays, the vast majority of Lords are appointed for life by the Prime Minister, and include experts from wide ranging fields such as business, the legal professions and academia. Although the House of Lords does not have the power to directly block legislation approved by the House of Commons, it can delay the law making process and suggest amendments to each bill. By doing so, it can force the House of Commons to reconsider its decisions.
Currently there are 650 seats in the House of Commons, which are contested every 5 years at general elections. The House of Lords, on the other hand, currently consists of 800 seats, although there is no limit to the number of Lords which can sit at any one time.