The British Political System

By André Mathiot; Jennifer S. Hines | Go to book overview

Chapter Two PARLIAMENT

PARLIAMENT in Great Britain still, strictly speaking, means the Queen, the Lords and the Commons meeting and agreeing together. Today, however, the term is increasingly widely used as in other countries to refer to the two chambers of the legislature.

Parliament, in the strict classical sense of the term, is legally sovereign and has unqualified juridical supremacy. The will of Parliament is not open to question by any other body, save possibly by the people when called upon to elect a new House of Commons. 'Parliament . . . has . . . the power to make or unmake any law whatever; and . . . no person or body is recognised by the law of England as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament.' In theory it is still quite true, as Genevois de Lolme put it, that 'Parliament can do everything but make a woman a man and a man a woman', and an Englishman would be inclined to add that there is no legal obstacle to prevent it doing even this. At all events, as there is no rigid constitution, there is nothing to stop the most revolutionary changes from being brought about by a simple Act of Parliament.

The Cabinet not only, as we have seen, dominates the whole political life of the country. It also stands in a very close relationship to Parliament, and nowadays to the House of Commons in particular. We must therefore examine the respective rôles of the two Houses, and try to see just how much influence Parliament can exert under the British system of Cabinet government.


I. THE HOUSE OF COMMONS

The history of Parliament or of the House of Commons, which has gradually emerged as the dominant organ in this composite institution, is really no less than the entire political history of Great Britain. Here we shall not attempt to do more than give a brief account of how the present parliamentary

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