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Summary

The United Kingdom’s Parliament took centuries to develop into the institution that it is today, and its role continues to evolve.  Created initially as a way to allow the Crown to collect taxes from his or her subjects, the powers of Parliament gradually expanded to supplement and then act on behalf of the Crown in almost all areas.  Parliament has met at Westminster, in London, for centuries.

The electoral process is heavily regulated by legislation and the “first past the post” system was recently affirmed by a national referendum.  The frequency that Parliament must call elections was recently affirmed in statute as being every five years. 

I.  Background

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) is the collective name of four countries—England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.  The four separate countries were united under a single Parliament in London, known as the Parliament at Westminster, through a series of Acts of Union.[1]  The UK has undergone a period of devolution over the past twenty years with the creation of a Scottish Parliament, a National Assembly in Wales, and an Assembly in Northern Ireland.

The UK does not have a formal written constitution; thus, there is no provision that specifically allocates responsibilities and powers to the legislative or executive branches.  Instead, the distribution of responsibilities is governed by long-established custom and conventions.  It is customary law that the Crown, as the head of state, acts on the advice of the relevant Ministers.[2] 

A.  Establishment Of The Legislature

The year 2015 marked the 750th anniversary of the Parliament that was summoned by the baronial leader Simon De Montfort in 1265.[3]  While this was not the first Parliament seen in England, as “there is no date that marks the exact beginning of parliament,”[4] this Parliament is seen as the prototype for Parliament as we know it today,[5] in that it included representatives from counties and towns across England, demonstrating to the King that he could no longer make decisions for the entire country without input from a wide group of people. [6] 

B.  General History and Development

The Magna Carta of 1215 limited the methods by which the King could collect monies, and this limitation on money-collection methods was reaffirmed by the Magna Cartas issued in 1216 and 1217.  This limitation forced the King to turn to taxation, which required the consent of his subjects.  In 1265, King Henry III was held captive and a revolutionary regime headed by Simon de Montford confirmed the Magna Carta in a Parliament comprised of elected knights and townsmen.[7]  The Magna Carta was confirmed again by Edward I, Henry II’s son, in the Parliaments of 1297 and 1300.[8]  

The centuries that followed involved power struggles between the Crown (the King—see Part II, below) and Parliament.  In the year 1376, the Parliament known as “The Good Parliament” showed for the first time that it had the potential to limit the powers of the Crown by prosecuting royal officials through a newly created procedure of impeachment.[9]

The sixteenth century saw the Reformation, where King Henry VIII rejected the Catholic Church and established a national, royal church, later to become known as the Church of England, which served to enhance the standing of Parliament.[10]  Parliament was still summoned primarily to provide the King with the ability to tax his subjects, the revenues from which were commonly used to conduct wars.[11] 

By the early seventeenth century, Parliament had become a prominent part of the political landscape, which led to confrontations between the King and leading Members of Parliament[12] and the outbreak of two civil wars, the latter resulting in the beheading of King Charles I on January 3, 1649.[13]  The period 1649–60 was known as the Interregnum, when England was ruled as a Republican nation.  Power was vested mainly in the “Rump Parliament,” which abolished both the House of Lords and the Monarchy.  In 1653, Oliver Cromwell forcibly dissolved the Rump Parliament, and army commanders appointed 140 members to a new assembly, known as the “Barebones Parliament.”  This Parliament appointed Cromwell as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland.  The Protectorate Parliament succeeded the Barebones Parliament; however, it was not a success and paved the way to military rule, which was extremely unpopular.  The Rump Parliament was later reinstated and, voted that the government should be led by a king, returned Charles II, the son of Charles I, to the throne.[14]  The return from republican state to monarchy became known as the Restoration.  Charles II called few Parliaments and was succeeded by James II.  James II was unpopular and was eventually overthrown by Prince William of Orange, the leader of the Dutch Republic.  With William’s consent, a new Parliament was called in 1689 and offered the Crown to William and his wife, Mary.[15]

The Act of Union of 1707[16] united the country of Scotland with England and Wales to form the country of Great Britain.  This Act was followed almost one hundred years later by the Act of Union 1801, which united the entire country of Ireland with Great Britain.[17]  Later, the majority of Ireland would become an independent country,[18] leaving a small section of the north, known as Northern Ireland, as part of Great Britain, to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  

The government continued to evolve over the next three centuries, and its powers steadily expanded while the powers of the Crown were diminished, to the extent that, today, the role of the Monarch is largely ceremonial.

C.  Moving Parliament

The British Houses of Parliament are located at the Palace of Westminster.  Members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons sit in separate chambers within the building.  Parliament is assembled by a writ of summons from the Crown that names the day and place of the meeting, which has traditionally been at the Palace of Westminster.[19]

There are no specific laws that grant or deny Parliament the authority to continue its responsibilities if it cannot meet due to some event or emergency situation, although decisions can be taken only with a quorum of forty.[20]  Despite this restriction, the number of House Members present cannot formally be counted;[21] however, there are a number of ways a quorum can be ascertained, notably through a division.[22]  If a quorum is not met, the business before the House stands over to another sitting, and the House proceeds to the next item of business.[23] 

There was a confidential plan for the evacuation of Parliament to a secret location (later revealed as Stratford-upon-Avon) prior to the commencement of World War II, although this plan was never used.[24]  During the war, Parliament was forced to convene outside of its traditional setting after the chambers of the House of Commons were destroyed during an air raid.  Until it was rebuilt in 1950, the House of Commons sat at Church Road House, which was made an annex of Westminster.  This adjustment resulted in the meeting place of the House remaining technically unchanged.[25]  The House of Lords made its chambers available for use by the House of Commons and moved its sittings to the King’s Robing Room.  For the remainder of the war years there was a ban on disclosing the location of Parliament.[26]

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II.  Constitutional Status and Role

The UK is a constitutional monarchy.  The Crown is the Head of State and has legal powers, although these are now largely ceremonial.  The Crown must act upon the advice of its Ministers, who form the executive and are appointed by the Prime Minister.  Ministers are typically elected Members of Parliament and thus are required to answer for their actions in Parliament.[27]  The term “Crown” often refers interchangeably to either the Monarch or executive, although as the powers of the Monarch have been drastically reduced, the term is used primarily to refer to the executive branch of the government, which is deemed to act on the Monarch’s behalf. 

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III.  Structure and Composition

The UK has a bicameral Parliament consisting of the House of Lords (the Upper House composed of both hereditary and life peers[28]) and the House of Commons (the elected Lower House).  The legislature debates issues and votes upon bills.  A bill is generally first debated in the House of Commons and, if passed by a majority vote, continues to the House of Lords, which debates it and recommends changes or amendments.  The bill then passes back to the House of Commons, which considers any amendments.  If both Houses agree, the bill receives Royal Assent and becomes law. 

There are currently 650 Members of the House of Commons and 790 Members of the House of Lords who are eligible to sit.[29]  The number of Members of the House of Commons has varied, and section 11 of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 reduces the number of Members to six hundred, although this provision has yet to come into effect.[30]

The major parties within the UK, in order of seats won in the 2015 election, are the Conservative party, the Labour Party, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, the UK Independence Party, the Green Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales), Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionist Party, and the Independent Party.[31]  There are a number of smaller parties, such as the Monster Raving Looney Party, but these are niche parties that are often not represented in Parliament.

As there are 650 seats in Parliament, 326 seats are needed to obtain a majority of the House.  The party that gets the majority of votes goes on to form the government.

A.  Committees

There are numerous parliamentary committees that discuss the reform or creation of new laws and policies and are pivotal to the development of new legislation.  The committees generally consist of between ten to fifty Members of Parliament who examine government expenditure, policy, and laws in detail, and make recommendations and proposals regarding steps that should be taken to correct any issues.[32]  There are Joint Committees, which consist of Members of both Houses—the Commons and the Lords.  General Committees work within the Commons and consider proposed legislation.  These General Committees include those that used to be known as Standing Committees.  There are three Grand Committees that consider questions on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.[33]

B.  Leadership and Whips in the House of Commons

The House of Commons is led by the Speaker of the House, who is responsible for chairing and leading debates, and keeping order in the Commons.  This is the highest role within the House of Commons, and the Speaker of the House must remain impartial.[34]

Parliamentary Whips serve a number of important roles in Parliament.  They work to get the government’s business through Parliament, by securing majority votes on the government’s legislative policy and programs.[35]  The Chief Whip also has an advisory role, informing the Cabinet about the “acceptability of its legislative proposals to the parliamentary party.”[36]  The Chief Whip must also work to set out the schedule for the government’s program of business[37]  and is directly responsible to both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House.  The Chief Whip must also liaise with Ministers regarding parliamentary business that affects their departments.[38]

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IV.  Elections

Parliamentary elections were first introduced in medieval England as a solution from the Crown, who was required to obtain consent from Parliament to directly tax his subjects.[39]  These elections evolved over time to have a detailed set of rules and procedures that continue to be refined today.  

National elections are known as General Parliamentary Elections.[40]  The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 established five-year fixed-term Parliaments, with the election occurring on the first Thursday of May, five years after the last election was held.[41]  The political party that wins the most seats during this election goes on to form the government.   
A principle of the British system of government is that the government of the day must have the confidence of the House of Commons.  As noted above, the government is formed by the party that wins the majority of seats during the general election.  A “hung Parliament” results when no party wins a majority during the election.  A report from the House of Commons states that “there are four likely outcomes.  These [are] . . . (a) a minority government; (b) a coalition; (c) a failure to produce a government at all; or (d) two or more of these things during the lifetime of a parliament.”[42]   A hung Parliament occurred during the 2010 election, and the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats went on to form a coalition government.[43]

Prior to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, the maximum duration of a Parliament was five years, at which point Parliament automatically expired.[44]  This rarely happened, however, and elections would generally occur after Parliament was dissolved, either through Royal Proclamation[45] or upon the advice of the Prime Minister.[46]  The effect of the Proclamation was to vacate all the seats in the House of Commons and require a general election for the Commons.  Because there was no set timetable for when an election should be held, other than it should occur within the five-year maximum term of Parliament, the Prime Minister had a political and tactical advantage of deciding the date of the general election, although generally the election was announced in the spring in which the Parliament was due to expire. 

The last general election was held on May 7, 2015, and the Conservative party won 330 seats, accounting for 36.9% of votes.  This secured a majority in the House for the Conservatives by twelve seats, the first time this party has secured a majority government since 1992.  The next election will occur in accordance with the requirements established by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, and will take place the first Thursday in May 2020.[47]

A.  Electoral System

In the UK, the electoral system used is that of a simple majority (plurality) for each constituency, more commonly known as the “first past the post” system.  The candidate who wins the largest number of votes from his or her constituency is to Parliament.  The political party that wins the most votes goes on to form the government.  A referendum was held in 2011 in which voters were asked if they wished to change the electoral system from the first past the post system to an alternative voting system.  Voter turnout was higher than expected at 41%, with an overwhelming majority of 67.9% of voters rejecting a change in the electoral system.[48]

Eligibility to vote in general elections in the UK is subject to a number of criteria.  Primarily, the individual wishing to vote must be registered in the register of parliamentary electors for his or her relevant constituency.[49]  To be able to register his or her name in the register of parliamentary electors, the individual must be a British subject, which includes Commonwealth citizens,[50] or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland residing in Britain,[51] and be eighteen years or older.  A British citizen residing overseas can vote for up to fifteen years after he or she leaves the country.[52]

Individuals who are disqualified from voting are Members of the House of Lords, legal or illegal immigrants, individuals of unsound mind, individuals guilty of corrupt or illegal practices in elections, and prisoners detained while serving their sentence.  This latter restriction is currently under review as a result of a successful challenge before the European Court of Justice, although the current government has stated it has no plans to provide prisoners with a vote.[53]

B.  Electoral Districts

Electoral Districts in the UK are known as parliamentary constituencies, with each constituency electing one Member of Parliament.  There are currently 650 constituencies in the UK, with the average population represented by a Member of Parliament being 68,000.[54]  The breakdown of Members of Parliament representing the countries of the UK is as follows: 533 in England, 59 in Scotland, 40 in Wales, and 18 in Northern Ireland.[55]  The distribution of these seats is under continuous review by four nondepartmental government bodies, known as the Boundary Commissions.  The Boundary Commissions recommend changes to the boundaries of the constituencies they are responsible for reviewing to ensure that each Member of Parliament represents a proportionate number of constituents who are eligible to vote.[56] 

C.  Registering to Vote

Provisions for the registration of voters in the UK are made through regulations under the Representation of the People Act 1983.[57]  In the UK, local councils maintain voter registration lists (commonly known as the “electoral roll” or “electoral register”).  The information held on the electoral roll is used for general elections, European Parliament elections, local government elections and, depending upon the persons’ place of residence, elections to the National Assembly for Wales or the Scottish Parliament.[58]

Voter registration is not automatic and requires positive action (registration) on behalf of the individual wishing to vote.  The electoral roll is compiled from three main sources:

  • An annual canvass conducted by the Local Council between August and November.  Voter registration forms are delivered to homes in the Local Councils area.  Households are required by law to complete and return the form listing all their residents who are eligible to vote on October 15 of that year.[59]  If the information on the form received by the household is accurate, registration can be renewed by phone or the Internet.
  • Rolling registration by individual voters, who can register at any time by completing a registration form and sending it to the local electoral registration office.
  • Online registration by individual voters, who can register at any time by completing and submitting an online registration form.[60]

The penalty for failing to complete the voter registration form or for providing false information is a fine of up to £1,000 (approximately US$1,500).[61]  Additionally, failure to register results in the individual not being able to vote in any election, and also has a negative impact on his or her ability to obtain credit, as credit reporting agencies use the electoral roll to verify names and addresses of credit applicants.[62]

The electoral register can be updated on a rolling basis with additions, deletions, or amendments.  Individuals who move out of the voting district can submit a new voter registration form to be listed on the electoral register in their new district.  Applicants must provide their old address so that the Electoral Registration Officer of the new district can notify the old district of the move.[63]

D.  Voter Turnout

There were 45,325,100 UK parliamentary voters in 2014;[64] 66.1% of the electorate voted during the general election in 2015, the highest turnout in eighteen years.[65]

E.  Replacing Members of Parliament

Once elected, Members of Parliament cannot directly resign their seat.[66]  The only way that a seat can be vacated is through death, disqualification, dissolution, expulsion, or elevation to the Peerage.  When a parliamentary seat becomes vacant, a writ for a by-election is issued.[67]  To prevent long-standing vacancies of seats, these writs are normally issued within three months of the vacancy.[68]  If the vacancy occurs during a parliamentary recess, the Speaker of the House is permitted to issue a writ for election during this time.[69]

There appears to be no legislation or procedure to replace a large number of MPs.  It is likely that the normal procedure for appointing MPs through by-elections would be followed in these circumstances.  For example, in 1985, fifteen members of the Unionist Party vacated their seats in protest over the Anglo-Irish Agreement.  As technically Members of Parliament are not permitted to reign from their seats, a legal loophole was used by these members, whereby they were appointed to an office for profit under the Crown, which disqualified them from sitting an am MP.   By-elections were subsequently held to fill the vacancies.

During World War II, many seats were left vacant when MPs were involved in government services or became active members of the armed forces.  The government formed a coalition in 1940 and agreed upon an electoral truce, during which the parties agreed not to contest by-elections.  Instead, the local constituency association of the party that had won the seat in the last election nominated a candidate.[70]  However, despite this agreement, some elections were still contested when parties considered that the candidate was too radical.  

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V.  Legislative Process

Legislative powers in England and Wales are vested in Parliament.  Like the US, the legislature is bicameral.  Passing an Act of Parliament requires the consent of both Houses of Parliament—the House of Lords and House of Commons—and then the Act must be given Royal Assent.[71]  There are many stages that a Bill must pass through in each house of Parliament before it will receive Royal Assent and enter into law.  The various stages occur in each House.  The bill is first introduced and read and then debated.  It then passes to the committee stage, where it is examined in depth.  Once the committee stage is completed, the bill goes to the report stage and then back to be read and debated again before it is passed over to the other house, where this process occurs again.

It is a principle that the supreme authority of the Queen in Parliament is sovereign, which means that Parliament alone has the authority, with Royal Assent, to enact or repeal legislation.[72] 

Some argue that this sovereignty has been eroded as Parliament no longer has exclusive legislative control over many areas now that the UK has joined the European Union (EU) and permits it to directly impose enforceable rights and obligations.[73]  In addition, the courts have ruled that EU law has precedence over the national law of the UK when there are inconsistencies.[74]  Despite a ruling from the House of Lords stating that it could not overturn an Act of Parliament and grant “rights directly contrary to Parliament’s sovereign will,”[75] in cases where national law directly conflicts with obligations imposed by EU law, the European Court of Justice has “affirmed . . . that a national court which, in a case concerning [European] Community law, was precluded from granting interim relief by a rule of national law, must set aside that rule.”[76]

Private Members’ bills may also be put forward by Members of Parliament who are not Ministers.  These bills are afforded significantly less time in Parliament for debate and discussion and, as a result, are rarely enacted, but they frequently serve to raise awareness of an issue.[1]

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VI.  Executive Branch

The Crown is the Head of State and has legal powers, although these are now largely ceremonial.  The Crown must act upon the advice of its Ministers, who form the executive and are appointed by the Prime Minister.  Ministers are typically elected Members of Parliament and thus are required to answer for their actions in Parliament.  The term “Crown” often refers interchangeably to either the Monarch or executive; because the powers of the Monarch have been drastically reduced, however, the term is primarily used to refer to the executive branch of the government, which is deemed to act on the Monarch’s behalf and is responsible for policy making.  The actual role of the executive is not defined in legislation and, in response to a question in the House of Commons calling on the Prime Minister to define his role, Prime Minister Tony Blair noted that the Prime Minister’s roles “including the exercise of powers under the royal prerogative, have evolved over many years, drawing on convention and usage, and it is not possible precisely to define them.”[1]

One of the most important powers vested in the executive is the power to send forces into armed conflict.  In Britain, this power rests with the Prime Minister, who may technically exercise it without formal parliamentary approval.  The government has recently conducted a public consultation on its powers to go to war and has stated that it

believes that the ability to exercise the prerogative power to deploy the armed forces without requiring any formal parliamentary agreement is an outdated state of affairs in a modern democracy.  It has proposed that a detailed House of Commons resolution should set out the processes Parliament should follow in order to approve any commitment of Armed Forces into armed conflict.[1]

One major contrast with the US system of government is that the English courts can challenge the constitutionality of legislation only with regard to its compatibility with EC law.  The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into the national law by the Human Rights Act 1998 gave British citizens a number of directly enforceable rights.[80]  However, owing to the sovereignty of Parliament—the principle that Parliament is legislatively supreme and thus there are no legal restrictions on the matters it may legislate—judges cannot strike down an Act of Parliament if it finds it to be unconstitutional or invalid, even if they find it to be incompatible with the Human Rights Act.  When the House of Lords does declare an Act to be incompatible with the Human Rights Act, the result is that Parliament must determine how to address the incompatibility.

The operation of this procedure substantially altered the relationship between the executive and judiciary, and initially caused some friction, particularly with regard to the government’s robust antiterrorism legislation.  In 2004 the House of Lords declared that the government’s system of “preventive detention” for terrorist suspects was not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, resulting in a period of open hostility from members of the executive towards the judiciary, with the Secretary of State reportedly claiming they were “fed up with having to deal with a situation where Parliament debates issues and judges overturn them.”[81]  The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales was allegedly referred to by a member of the executive as being a “muddled and confused old codger.”[82]  In a statement that demonstrates a significant difference between the role of the courts in the US and the UK, a member of the British executive claimed that “if public policy can always be overridden by individual challenge through the courts, then democracy itself is under threat.” [83] The position of the principle of parliamentary sovereignty was reiterated by the executive, which stated that “it is ultimately for Parliament to decide whether and how we should amend the law.”[84]

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Prepared by Clare Feikert-Ahalt
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
January 2016


[1] Stat Wallie 1284, 12 Edw. 1 (repealed); Union with Scotland Act 1706, 6 Ann c. 11, as amended; Union with Ireland Act 1800, 38 & 40 Geo. 3 c. 67; Government of Ireland Act 1920, 10 & 11 Geo. 5 c. 67 (repealed), http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1920/67/pdfs/ukpga_19200067_en.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/F2S6-ZX5S.  

[2] “There is a well-established rule that the making of a treaty is an Executive act, while the performance of its obligations, if they entail alteration of the existing domestic law, requires legislative action.”  Att’y Gen. for Canada v. Att’y Gen. for Ontario [1937] A.C. 326 [347] (H.L.).

[3] History of Parliament Trust, The Story of Parliament, foreword (2015). 

[4] Id. at 8.  Page 12 of this book notes that the first Parliament could be dated to the reign of King Athelstan (924–39), but this “Parliament” was a royal assembly of nobles and churchmen rather than a parliament as would be recognized today. 

[5] Id,. foreword.

[6] Id. at 9. 

[7] Id. at 15. 

[8] Id

[9] Id. at 20.

[10] Id. at 34.

[11] Id. at 38.

[12] Id. at 35.

[13] Id. at 35.

[14] Id. at 63.

[15] Id. at73.

[16] Stat Wallie 1284, 12 Edw. 1 (repealed); Union with Scotland Act 1706, 6 Ann c. 11, as amended.

[17] Union with Ireland Act 1800, 38 & 40 Geo. 3, c. 67.

[18] Government of Ireland Act 1920, 10 & 11 Geo. 5 c. 67 (repealed), http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1920/ 67/pdfs/ukpga_19200067_en.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/F2S6-ZX5S.

[19] Erskine May’s Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament 59 (C.J. Boulton et al., eds., 24th ed. 2011).

[20] House of Commons Standing Order No. 41 states as follows:
41.–(1)If it should appear that fewer than forty Members (including the occupant of the chair and the tellers) have taken part in a division, the business under consideration shall stand over until the next sitting of the House and the next business shall be taken.
(2)The House shall not be counted at any time.
The text is available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmstords/614/body.htm#BABEJHIHA, archived at https://perma.cc/CZP8-CMG9.

[21] Id. 41(2).

[22] A division is the way the House “ascertains the number of Members for and against a proposition when the Chair’s opinion as to which side is in the majority on a Question is challenged.”  Paul Evans, Handbook of House of Commons Procedure 196 (1st ed. 1997).

[23] House of Commons Standing Order No. 41(1).

[24] Jennifer Tanfield, House of Commons Library, In Parliament 1939–50: The Effect of the War on the Palace of Westminster, 1991, House of Commons Library Document No. 20, at 5.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Sir William Wade, Administrative Law (8th ed. 2000). 

[28] See House of Lords Act 1999, c. 34, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1999/34, archived at https://perma.cc/ 485K-VQLR.  This Act provided for the gradual abolishment of hereditary peers.

[29] Who’s in the House of Lords, Parliament.uk, http://www.parliament.uk/business/lords/whos-in-the-house-of-lords (last visited Dec. 23, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/9UKY-S2P8.

[30] Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 c. 1, § 11, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/ 2011/1/enacted, archived at http://perma.cc/XH5U-35EJ.

[31] Political Parties in Parliament, Parliament.uk, http://www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lords/members/parties (last visited Dec. 28, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/K7EG-FDDX.

[32] Robert Rogers and Rhodri Walters, How Parliament Works 306 (7th ed. 2015).

[33] Committees, Parliament.uk, http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/committees (last visited Dec. 28, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/74KG-2VHV

[34] Office and Role of a Speaker, Parliament.uk, http://www.parliament.uk/business/commons/the-speaker/the-role-of-the-speaker/role-of-the-speaker (last visited Dec. 28, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/4R33-NND4

[35] Jennifer Walpole & Richard Kelly, House of Commons Library, Parliament and Constitution Centre, The Whip’s Office, Oct. 10, 2008, Standard Note SN/PC/02829, at 4, http://researchbriefings.files. parliament.uk/documents/SN02829/SN02829.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/7RGV-E6VM

[36] Id. at 5.

[37] Erskine May, supra note 19, at 51.

[38] Id.

[39] History of Parliament Trust, supra note 3, at 22.

[40] “Parliamentary Election” is defined as “the election of a Member to serve in Parliament for a constituency.”  Interpretation Act 1978, c. 30, § 5, sched. 1, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1978/30, archived at https://perma.cc/BC4D-EK57.

[41] Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, c. 14, § 1, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/14/contents/enacted, archived at http://perma.cc/2ERZ-8KFS.

[42] Lucinda Maer, House of Commons Library, Parliament and Constitution Center, Hung Parliaments, Mar. 17, 2010, Standard Note SN/PC/04951, http://dotat.at/tmp/hung.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/4SBB-YYGU (citing Lord Norton, The Perils of a Hung Parliament, in No Overall Control? The Impact of a “Hung Parliament” on British Politics (Hansard Society 2008), http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/ 2012/10/No-Overall-Control-2008.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/GGJ2-P3CX). For an updated and expanded version of this Standard Note (which does not contain Lord Norton’s quote), see Lucinda Maer, House of Commons Library, Hung Parliaments in the Twentieth Century, May 8, 2015, Briefing Paper No. 04951, http://research briefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN04951#fullreport, archived at https://perma.cc/9QJC-6NUK.

[43] Election 2010: First Hung Parliament in UK for Decades, BBC News (May 7, 2010), http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/ 8667071.stm, archived at https://perma.cc/9C64-DS6T.  

[44] Septennial Act 1715, c. 38, 1 Geo. 1. St. 2, repealed by Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, c. 14, § 1, http://www. legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/14/contents/enacted, archived at http://perma.cc/2ERZ-8KFS.

[45] Representation of the People Act 1983, c. 2, sched. 1, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1983/2, archived at https://perma.cc/7T5X-2ZTU.

[46] The average term of Parliament since 1945 has been three years and seven months.  Robert Rogers & Rhodri Walters, How Parliament Works 22 (5th ed. 2004).

[47] Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, c. 14, § 3.

[48] Vote 2011: UK Rejects Alternative Vote, BBC News (May 7, 2011), http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-13297573, archived at https://perma.cc/CD52-JNA5

[49] Erskine May, supra note 19, at 40. 

[50] Representation of the People Act 1983, c. 2, § 4(6), http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1983/2, archived at https://perma.cc/KUW9-PCZX.  Commonwealth citizens are individuals who do not require leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom.  See also British Nationality Act 1981, c. 61, §§ 37 & 51(2), http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ ukpga/1981/61, archived at https://perma.cc/8KW5-XDVX.

[51] Ireland Act 1949, 12, 13 & 14 Geo. 6, c. 41, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo6/12-13-14/41, archived at https://perma.cc/BS3C-23T8.

[52] Representation of the People Act 1983, c. 2, § 4(1), http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1983/2, archived at https://perma.cc/KUW9-PCZX.

[53] Electoral Commission, Who is Eligible to Vote During a General Election?,http://www.electoralcommission. org.uk/faq/voting-and-registration/who-is-eligible-to-vote-at-a-uk-general-election (last visited Dec. 23, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/3VDP-HEQT

[54] House of Commons Library, Department of Information Services, Total Number of MPs, Peers and Staff, Mar. 15, 2012, Parliamentary Information List, Standard Note, SN/PC/02411, http://researchbriefings. files.parliament.uk/documents/SN02411/SN02411.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/93L2-MZ4W.

[55] Westminster Parliamentary Constituency, Office for National Statistics, http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/geography/beginner-s-guide/electoral/westminster-parliamentary-constituencies/index.html (last visited Dec. 8, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/TX28-BGZD.

[56] Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, c. 56, sched. 2, as amended, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/ 1986/56, archived at https://perma.cc/8RWM-SLDD.

[57] Representation of the People Act 1983, c. 2.

[58] Registering to Vote,gov.uk, https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote (online registration site for voting; last visited Dec. 23, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/H72B-MCNH.

[59] Representation of the People Act 1983, c. 2, § 10.

[60] gov.uk, supra note 58.

[61] Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations, 2001, SI 2001/341, ¶ 23, http://www.legislation. gov.uk/uksi/2001/341/made, archived at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2001/341/made.

[62] Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2002, SI 2002/1871, ¶ 114, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2002/1871/made, archived at https://perma.cc/DW6X-G2F4.

[63] gov.uk, supra note 58.

[64] Electoral Statistics for UK, 2014, Office of National Statistics (Apr. 16, 2015), http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/ rel/pop-estimate/electoral-statistics-for-uk/2014/stb---2014-electoral-statistics.html, archived at https://perma.cc/W23P-PM28.

[65] Sarah Knapton, General Election 2015: Highest Turnout Since Tony Blair Landslide, Telegraph (May 8, 2015), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11592557/General-election-2015-highest-turnout-since-Tony-Blair-landslide.html, archived at https://perma.cc/7X7L-9WR4.

[66] House Resolution, 2 March 1623, Commons Journal (1547–1628) at 724; see also Hilaire Barnett, Constitutional and Administrative Law (2000).

[67] The process of obtaining a writ is through a warrant from the Speaker of the House being directed to the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery.  On the receipt of the Speaker’s warrant, the writ is issued by the Clerk of the Crown and transmitted in pursuance of the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983, ch. 2.  Neglect or delay in the delivery of the writ, or any other violation of the Act, is an offence; and in the event of any complaint being made the House will also inquire into the circumstances.  Erskine May, supra note 19, at 33.

[68] Speaker’s Conference on Electoral Law, 1973, Cm. 5500.

[69] Recess Elections Act 1975, c. 66, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1975/66, archived at https://perma.cc/ XX5D-WPYP.  

[70] Tanfield, supra note 24,at 9.  Tanfield states that there were seventy-five contested by-elections and sixty-six uncontested elections.

[71] Parliament Act 1911, 1 & 2 Geo. 5, c. 13, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo5/1-2/13, archived at https://perma.cc/F9JT-76TL.

[72] Tanfield, supra note 24,at 19.

[73] 1 House of Commons, European Scrutiny Committee, The EU Bill and Parliamentary Sovereignty: Tenth Report of Session 2010–11, Dec. 7, 2010, HC 633-I, 2010–11, ¶¶ 18–19, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201 011/cmselect/cmeuleg/633/633i.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/SP5D-P6D3.

[74] Macarthys Ltd. v. Smith, [1981] 1 All E.R. 111 [120].

[75] R v. Sec’y of State for Transp., ex p Factortame, [1990] 2 A.C. 85 [142]–[143].

[76] R v. Sec’y of State for Transp., ex p Factortame, [1991] 1 A.C. 603.

[77] Private Members’ Bills, Parliament.uk, http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/laws/bills/private-members (last visited Jan. 6, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/EMF2-WY58.

[78] House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration, Fourth Report, Mar. 4, 2004, § 43 (Lord Hurd citing Prime Minister Tony Blair, 15 Oct. 2001, Parl Deb HC (2001) col. 818W, http://www. publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmpubadm/422/42205.htm#note40, archived at https://perma. cc/VP8V-VUGX.

[79] House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, Waging War: Parliament’s Role and Responsibility, 15th Report of Session 2005–6, HL235-I, ¶ 103, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ ld200506/ldselect/ldconst/236/236i.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/J7BR-AJE3.

[81] Michael Kallenbach, Yesterday in Parliament, Telegraph (Mar. 7, 2003), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uk news/1423930/Yesterday-in-Parliament.html, archived at https://perma.cc/6W5N-NQTC.    

[82] Francis Elliot, Britain’s Top Judge Forced Out by Bullying Blunkett,” Independent (Oct. 30, 2004), http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/britains-top-judge-forced-out-by-bullying-blunkett-7906421.html, archived at https://perma.cc/LP35-F5EY

[83] Rachel Sylvester, Blunkett Accuses Judges of Damaging Democracy, Telegraph (Feb. 21, 2003), http://www. telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1422661/Blunkett-accuses-judges-of-damaging-democracy.html, archived at https://perma.cc/C2AN-LU2E

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Last Updated: 02/16/2016