1. Nature of the Constitution:
i. unwritten Constitution
ii. product of history
iii. involved with time
iv. Ivor Jennings in his ‘The Law of the Constitution says “the British Constitution has not been made but has grown and there is no paper”
v. Streachey has labeled British Constitution as ‘Child of Wisdom and Chance”
vi. Based on custom, conventions, statutes, charters etc.
vii. Thomas Paine and De Tocquiville does not consider British having a Constitution
Sources of the Constitution:
i. Charters, Statutes etc. It includes Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Rights (1628), Bill of Rights
ii. Decisions of the judges. The Parliamentary sovereignty was established in Brand laugh Gossett (1884)
iii. Common Law
iv. Usage or Conventions
v. Commentaries by Writers A.V. Dicey’s Law of the Constitution is important one
Features of the Constitution:
1. Mostly an unwritten Constitution.
2. Parliamentary Supremacy.
3. A flexible Constitution Parliament is empowered to make or unmake a law and it does not require special procedure for this purpose.
4. A Unitary Constitution.
5. Two Party System.
6. Hereditary Character.
7. Rule of Law and Civil Liberties.
2. The King and the Crown:
The history of British political system is one of gradual transfer of power from hereditary monarch to the democratically elected Parliament. Till the Glorious Revolution (1688), the king ruled as well as reigned. But now the King reigns but does not rule.
King is a person while Crown is an institution, to whom the power of the King has been continuously transferred.
The Crown is an abstract concept which has assumed the powers and rights of the King. It is an association of King, Ministers and Parliament. The distinction between King and the Crown evolved with King John.
Powers of the Crown:
The powers of the Crown are nominally powers of the king but exercised by the Ministers who are responsible to the Parliament.
i. Crown is the executive head
ii. Directs the administration of Britain
iii. Appoints higher officials
iv. Supervises the works of local government (boroughs and Counties)
v. Has Supreme command over armed establishments.
i. Crown is an integral part of the Parliament
ii. Summons, prorogues, and dissolves the Parliament
iii. Each opening session is greeted by speech from the throne Judicial Power
iv. Judges are appointed by Crown
v. A member of Cabinet (Lord Chancellor) exercises supervision over them.
vi. Grants pardon to persons convicted on Criminal charges
3. Privy Council:
i. A descendent of the King’s council, the Curia Regis
ii. In earlier days kings consist of advisors.
iii. With passage of time, it has given way for Cabinet
iv. Cabinet is an inner committee of the Privy Council
v. It consists of Cabinet Ministers of the past as well as present, Prince of Wales and the Royal Punkes, the Archbishop and Bishop of London and a number of distinguished persons.
vi. Its member enjoys life long tenure.
vii. It provides form for interaction to various committees.
It consists of following elements:
i. A closer and small body within the ministry which carries out the affairs of the country.
ii. It meets as a collective body.
iii. Usually every member is head of one or more departments.
iv. They head the government.
v. A Committee of the ministry.
Ministers of Cabinet Rank:
i. came into existence in Attlee’s government
ii. not members of the Cabinet
iii. head administrative department
iv. accorded the status of Cabinet minister
v. attend the meeting of the Cabinet not in their own right, but only when invited by the Prime Minister.
Minister of State:
i. usually does not head department
ii. they are deputy ministers.
i. members of the Parliament
ii. do not have any power
iii. help their senior ministers in parliamentary proceedings and departmental activities.
Up to ninety one ministers can be from House of Commons. Any increase in their member would require inclusion of peers.
5. The Cabinet:
i. Bagehot labels it as a “hyphen that joins, the buckle that binds the executive and legislature departments together.”
ii. Barker says “co-ordinates and controls the whole of the executive government, and integrates and guides the work of the Legislature.
iii. A.L. Lowell “Keystone of the Political arch.”
iv. Marriot “the pivot round which the whole political machinery revolves.”
v. Ivor Jennings “provides unity to the British system of government.”
vi. Ramsay Muir “the steering wheel of the ship of the state.”
The beginning of the Cabinet system is traced from the Wing Junto of 1696. In 1714 King did not participate in Cabinet meetings. George I did not attend Cabinet meetings because he did not understand English.
As a consequence, the members started seeking unanimity in their decisions which was conveyed to the King. Later on their developed the principle of ministerial responsibility
Strafford was the first minister to answer to parliament. However, the Cabinet system in its present form came into existence in the reign of Queen Victoria.
i. not enjoy a legal status
ii. consists of most active people within the party
iii. a small body
iv. marked by unity of purpose and speedy delivery
v. works under leadership of the Prime Minister
vi. support of Party ensures majority in the Parliament
vii. works on the principle of collective responsibility
viii. it functions secretly and its secrecy is safeguarded by law and convention
i. Usually meets at the official Residence of the Prime Minister.
ii. During sessions of the Parliament, it meets twice and once a week otherwise.
iii. Cabinet Secretariat prepares the agenda of the Cabinet meeting.
iv. Issues are decided unanimously.
v. There is no voting.
vi. Work through Committees.
vii. Committees of the Cabinet can include non- cabinet members also.
i. Determines policies, o Deliberates in the Parliament.
ii. Controls the legislation.
iii. Directs the functioning of different departments.
iv. Acts as co-coordinator between the various departments.
v. Ensures implementation of policies.
vi. Spends government money and raises revenue for its programmes.
vii. Appoints officials at home and abroad.
The terminology of Cabinet Dictatorship has gained ascendance on account of ability of Cabinet to get all its measures passed by the legislature. The disciplined two party systems have enormously empowered the Cabinet.
The influence of party ship is nowhere as enormous as in Britain. Moreover the growth of delegated legislation is seen as threat to Rule of Law and liberty of citizens.
However, this fear need not threaten as long as franchise remains the weapon in the hands of people. The governments that hope to assume authoritarian terms can do so only at the cost of losing power. Moreover, the changing socioeconomic conditions and problems have led to increase in power of the executive all over the world.
There should not be any scepticism with it, so long as it threatens the fundamental law of the land or people’s expectations from the government.
6. The Prime Minister:
i. Most powerful person.
ii. Greaves says “is the master of the country and master of the government.
iii. Morley “keystone of the Cabinet arch.”
iv. For the first time office of the PM is recognized by Ministers of the Crown Act, 1937.
v. Must be a member of either house of the Parliament.
vi. Powers are derived from conventions.
i. Head of the government.
ii. Selects ministers.
iii. Presides over Cabinet meetings
iv. Ask for resignation of ministers.
v. Advice dismissal of a minister.
vi. Leader of majority party.
vii. Co-ordinates the work of several departments.
viii. Initiates and intervenes in all debates of general importance.
ix. Can ask for dissolution of the Lower House.
x. Acts as channel of communication between the Ministry and the Crown.
xi. Acts as the Chief advisor of the King.
Lord Morely described him as the first among equals. But Ramsay Muir in his “How Britain is governed” holds than he wields too much power, even more than the President of United States.
Ogg and Zink in their “Modern Foreign Governments” compares him to “inter stellas luna minores” or a moon among lesser stars. But, Ivor Jennings in his “Cabinet Government” considers him a sun around which planets revolve.
However, it is because of disciplined two party system and his own personality and prestige that any Prime Minister can hope to retain the stature that have been outlined above. That explains why people like Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Attlee were different.
Prime Ministers B.E. Carter in his “The office of the Prime Minister” is of the opinion that the power of the Prime Minister and his senior colleagues is substantially greater than that of the American President. But he is not the wholesale man and accountable to the electorate, party, his team and others.
A deliberative and legislative body where people talk about the affairs of the nation. In British political system, its origin is traced to need of money by the king.
The first Parliament is supposed to be summoned by Simon de Montford in (1265). But Glorious Revolution (1688) led to supremacy of Parliament. Then followed the period of gradual democratization of the parliament which still continues
Supremacy of the Parliament:
According to A.V. Dicey “under the British constitution the Parliament enjoys the right to make and unmake any law whatever and no person or body is recognized by the law as having a right to override and set aside the legislation of Parliament.” There does not exist any distinction between constitutional and other laws in England.
The Parliament consists of the King and the two Houses, viz; House of Lords and House of Commons.
House of Lords:
i. Also called upper chamber.
ii. G.H. Adams in his “Constitutional History of Britain” points out that bicameralism became evident by the end of Edward-III reign.
iii. Organised on the principle of heredity.
iv. Lord Chancellor is the Presiding Officer.
v. Lord Chancellor is the minister of the Cabinet.
1. Influence Governmental policies.
2. Delay legislation except financial ones (for one year).
3. Participates in impeachment cases.
4. Act as Supreme Court of Appeal in Civil cases.
Proposal for Reform:
i. Introduction of limited system of election of members.
ii. Doing away with exclusive insistence on heredity.
iii. Including women.
iv. Provision for disqualification of members not participating regularly or being absent without a genuine cause.
House of Commons:
i. Lower Chamber
ii. An elective body
iii. Total seats—635
a. 516 England
b. 36 Wales
c. 71 Scotland
d. 12 Northern Beeland
iv. Normal tenure is for 5 years
v. Must meet once a year.
vi. Speaker is most important official.
i. Elected official
ii. Presides over the meetings
iii. Sir Peter de la Mare was first speaker
iv. Unanimously elected
v. Belongs to party in power
vi. Expected to be impartial
vii. Once elected, continues in office for the whole life of Parliament
viii. Continues in office even after new Parliament, if he so desires
ix. Re-elected unopposed
x. Acts as link between the House and the King.
xi. Keeps the house and members in order and select the speaker in debate
xii. Does not vote except in case of a tie.
Decline of Parliament:
There has been a criticism of Parliaments inability to check the growing encroachment by executive and other agencies. Such apprehensions have arisen’ due to following factors.
i. Delegated legislation
ii. Well established party system
iii. Complexity of administration and technical nature of modern legislation
iv. Emergence of Social Service State
However, it must be noted that Parliamentary system is more democratic as it makes the government accountable to elected representatives of the people.