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» British Parliament
Despite being one of the longest-established examples of a democratic society in the world, some immigrants to the UK might find the British government unusual in its lack of a written constitution. However, through its use of institutions, conventions and traditions, the same level of guidance is provided.
Of the two parliamentary houses, the House of Commons is the more important, with all its members being democratically elected representatives of one of the UK's 646 constituencies. Additionally, the Prime Minister and almost all members of the Cabinet are usually members of the House of Commons these days. Each MP has a variety of responsibilities; acting as a representative of their constituency, helping create new laws and generally scrutinising governmental behaviour and debating national issues.
The Prime Minister
The Prime Minister (PM) leads the political party in power. At the moment, this would be Gordon Brown, leader of the Labour party. The Prime Minister's responsibilities include appointing the members of the Cabinet and controlling many important public appointments. His or her official residence is 10 Downing Street, a residence in central London close to the Houses of Parliament.
The governing party has the right to change Prime Ministers while in power, or if the PM wishes to resign while still in office. However, it is more likely that this occurs following their party's defeat in a general election.
In addition to the PM, there are also around 20 senior MPs appointed to become departmental ministers. Some of these include the Chancellor of the Exchequer (who controls the economy), the Home Secretary (responsible for law, order and immigration) and so on, for further sectors including, but not limited to, education, foreign affairs, health and defence. Together, these appointed MPs form the Cabinet, a committee that would usually have regular meetings to discuss government policy and make important decisions that then have to be debated and approved by Parliament in order to take effect.
The party with the second largest number of MPs in the House of Commons is called the Opposition. At the moment, this would be the Conservative party, lead by David Cameron (or the Leader of the Opposition, as his official title). The Leader of the Opposition is responsible for leading his or her party and sparking debate by pointing out the government's failures and weaknesses. They are also the person who hopes to become Prime Minister, should their party win the next general election, and are responsible for assigning a Shadow Cabinet of senior Opposition MPs to act as a counter-point to the ruling party's cabinet.
Charged with chairing debates in the House of Commons, the Speaker is the chief officer of the House and assigned to be politically neutral. They will be an MP elected by fellow MPs to keep order during political debates and ensure that rules and protocol is followed absolutely. Some of these duties include ensuring the Opposition receives a guaranteed amount of time to debate issues of their choosing.
Members of the House of Lords, also known as peers, do not represent any constituency or granted their peership through democratic election. Prior to 1958, peers were either 'hereditary' (in the manner of the monarchy) or assigned to senior judges or bishops of the Church of England. However, since then, the Prime Minister has had the power to advise the Queen to appoint peers just for their own lifetime and experiences. This has lead to notable figures in politics, business and law (amongst other professions) being appointed to a peership status in order to lend a more informed, specialised view for debates.
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OISC No. F200600117 Authorised to Advise Sponsors
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