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There can be no state without a constitution. A constitution consists of those fundamental

rules which determine and distribute functions and powers among the various organs of the
government as well as determine the relations of the governing authorities with the people.
The Britain has led the modern world in the development of civil rights and modern
constitutions. Since the 17th century, British have been the chief model of representative
government. The British government was a model for people everywhere seeking political
modernization. It has unique ability to adopt without violence. In the modern times, the
British have been extraordinary able to adopt their political institutions to new needs and
new ideas within a framework of legality.

Salient Features of the British constitution:

Following are the salient features of the British constitution:
1.Unwritten constitution: (partly written as well)
The British constitution is unwritten because it is not derived from a single source. The
French writer De Tocqueville once remarked that: England has no constitution.
British constitution is a mixture of charters, statutes, judicial decisions, common law, usages
or traditions, customs, conventions, precedents etc. The first constitutional document was
the Magna Karta of 1215, then the bill of rights 1689, then the parliament Acts of 1911,
1949 etc. The British constitution was not framed at a single time. It is still in the process of
2.Evolutionary constitution:
The British constitution has developed through a process of gradual evolution. It is still
going through the process of growth. It was not framed by a person or a king for his own
advantage. The British people have developed their constitution from precedent to
precedent and from past experience of law and practice.
3.Flexibility of the constitution:
one of the most important features of the British constitution is its flexibility. This means
that it can be amended by the parliament. In England there is no difference between the
ordinary law and the constitutional law. The British constitution is different from that of
Americas or Pakistans. In America or Pakistan his constitution is considered to be a
supreme document in which amendment is very rare. The Englands constitution is always
under the process of growth.
4.Unitary constitution:
The Englands constitution is a unitary constitution. All the powers of the state are
concentrated in the hands of a single government for the whole country. All the local
governments are the servants of the central authority which has created them and can

dissolve them also.

5.Its unreality:
one of the unique features of the British constitution is what is called its unreality. There is a
great difference in its appearance and its reality. In other words there is a great divergence
in its theory. It is an absolute monarchy while in reality it is a democratic state ruled by a
parliament elected by the people.
6.Its organic nature:
The nature of the British constitution is organic. It is constantly growing. There is much in it
which remains the same and there is much also which changes according to the needs of
the time. It is continually developing. Thus, an improvement will always occur in the British
constitution after some time and a new constitutional document will be added afterwards.
The change from monarchical system to parliamentary democracy is an example of its
organic nature.
7.Parliaments sovereignty:
Parliament is sovereign. The British parliament can do everything except making man a
woman and vice-versa. The sovereignty of the parliament is a source of flexibility of the
constitution. Bagehot remarked that the English parliament can abolish monarchy and
establish republic in the country.
8.Party System:
The British political system has been working successfully due to the existence of two major
parties. In England the existence of two major parties has contributed to the strengthening
of political traditions. When one party forms the government the other sits in opposition.
The party in power always looks after the interest of the opposition party because they
know that if today they are in opposition, tomorrow they can be in power.
9.Nature of conventions:
Another very important feature of the British constitution is the existence of a large number
of conventions in it. No one can understand this constitution properly without studying these
conventions carefully. These are a part of the constitution but they are not laws, because as
such these conventions cannot be enforced by the courts. They are well known to all those
who run the government.
Examples of the conventions:
The Prime Minister must sit in the House of Commons
Parliament must meet at least once in a year
The above study brings forth a unique feature of the British constitution that not only the
constitution is revolutionary but the evolution is still continuing. There are a large number of
conventions in the British constitution which are respected like laws. Thus, on the whole the
British Government has shown a unique ability to adopt itself to the changing

Q.No.3. Sources of the British constitution.


The British constitution is the child of wisdom and chance.

There can be no state without a constitution. The constitution consists of fundamental rules
which determine and distribute functions and powers among the various organs of the
government as well as determine the relations of governing authorities with the people.
Most of the modern constitutions are written, the British constitution is the only constitution
which is unwritten.
Lord Bryce wrote:
British constitution works by understanding which no writer can formulate.
French writer De Tocqueville once remarked:
England has no constitution, Because he did not found it in a written form. But the British
constitution is the chief model for all the countries. It has shown a unique ability to adopt
without violence.

The sources of the British constitution can be divided into two parts:
The laws of the constitution
The conventions of the constitution

A) The laws of the constitution:

The laws of the constitution are based on the written documents. These include Historic
documents, acts of the parliament, judicial decisions and common laws.
1. The Historic constitutional documents
The historic constitutional documents form a very important source of the British
constitution. The importance of these documents can be judged from the fact that the
transition process from absolute monarchy to constitutional government in Britain was
triggered by these elements e.g.:
Magna carta (1215)
The petition of rights (1628)

The bill of rights (1689) etc.

2. The acts of the parliament:

The laws made by the parliament from time to time have also contributed and furthered the
transition to constitutional government in Britain e.g.

The act of Habeas corpus (1679)

The act of settlement ( 1701)
Reform acts of ( 1832,1867,1884,1918,1928)
Acts of parliament ( 1911, 1949)
Indian independence act of 1947 etc.

3. Judicial decisions:
These are also important sources of the British constitution. Judicial decisions explain and
interpret the rules and statutes passed by the parliament. Here it is to be noted that these
rules cannot be challenged by any court in Britain.

4. Common law:
Common laws are also a very important source of British constitution. Especially these
relating to the liberty of the subjects i.e. many basic rights of the people e.g. jury trial,
freedom of speech and assembly are based on common law as practiced by various courts
in the country.

B) The conventions of the constitution:

The conventions are not recognized or enforced by any court. These are highly respected by
the British electorate and leadership. The conventions of the British constitution are actually
of unwritten character. They form an important part of the constitution. They are important
because they have enabled the British political system to adopt itself to the changing needs
of the time. Some of these conventions are:
1. The British monarch cannot veto the bills passed by the parliament.
2. The sovereign invites the leader of the majority party in the House of
Commons to form the cabinet.
3. The Prime Minister and Finance Minister both are taken from the House of commons
4. The money bills originate in the House of Commons.
5. The cabinet remains in power as long as it enjoys the confidence of the majority party in

the House of Commons, otherwise it has to resign.

6. All the civil servants are tried in the same court like any other citizen ( Rule of Law)

Professor Munro writes:
The British constitution is not to be found in a definite and precise document. It is a
complex amalgam of institutions. It is a complex compendium of charters, statutes,
decisions, precedents, usages and traditions. Some of them are living only in the
understanding of the people.
Thus the study of the sources of the British constitution reveals the fact that if on one hand
it consists of laws which are written, it also has an unwritten part in the shape of
conventions. Two factors that have definitely contributed to the ability of the British
constitution to adopt itself to the changing needs of the time are
Its evolutionary nature
The conventions of the constitution

Q.No.4 Conventions of the British constitution.

The British constitution is the child of wisdom and chance. There exist a large number of
conventions or usages and customs in the British constitution. These conventions are not
recognized or enforced by the courts. These conventions are actually the unwritten part of
the British constitution. They form a very important part of the constitution. Most of the
work of the British government system depends upon the conventions rather than laws,
statutes and judicial decisions.
Lord Bryce says:
British constitution works by understanding which no writer can formulate.
Conventions are:
Those customs and understandings by which the rulers or the members of the British
government exercise the discretionary powers of the executive.
Ogg defines them as:
They are the customs, habits , usages or practices by their sole authority regulate a large
portion of the actual day-to-day relations and activities of the most important of the public


Features of the conventions:

a. They are unwritten
b. They are not a part of the British legal system
c. They are the political traditions which to some extent determine the working of the British
political system.
d. They are not laws but are respected as if they are laws.
e. They are not recognized by the courts in Britain.

Sanctions behind the conventions.

Therefore, the conventions are not enforced by the courts, then the questions arises why do
the people obey them? These are the sanctions behind the conventions:
Force of law
Respect for conventions
Public opinion

A. Force of law
According to Dicey, the conventions are observed because they are based on and sanctioned
by law. The power behind them is the power of law. If , says Dicey, the conventions are not
observed, it will almost immediately bring the offenders into conflict with the courts and the
law of land. Dicey gives the following example:
As the parliament has to meet at least in a year, suppose if the Prime Minister does not
summon the parliament for two years, then no budget will be passed and no taxes will be
collected. Therefore, although it is a convention but now it has the force of law behind it.
Hence disregarding it will force the public official to commit illegal acts.
B. Respect for conventions:
Lowell says that conventions are observed because they are a code of Honor .They are
the rules of game and the single class which has hitherto had the conduct of the English
Public life almost entirely in its own hands, is the one which is peculiarly sensitive t such
conventions. Thus, the respect for the conventions by the ruling class of Britain is the force
behind them.
C. Public opinion:

Ogg says that the force behind the conventions is the force of the public opinion. The public
wants their observance and it will not tolerate their violation e.g. public expects a cabinet
defeated in the parliament to leave office when it has lost the confidence in the parliament.
Dr. Jennings says that the force behind the conventions is the same as behind the law.
Important conventions:
The some of the important conventions in the British constitution are as follows:
1. Regarding the Queen:
The queen invites the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons to form the
All the bills passed by the parliament are sent to the Queen for Royal assent.
The Queen dissolves the House of Commons on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The Queen conducts all the political affairs normally on the advice of her Ministers

2. Regarding the cabinet:

When the Prime Minister and his cabinet have lost the confidence of the parliament, they
are left with only two options:
The Prime Minister and his cabinet resign.
The Prime Minister seeks the dissolution of the House of Commons through the Queen.
The Prime Minister is always from the House of Commons.
When the parliament shows its lack of confidence in any minister, the whole cabinet
resigns. The cabinet is collectively responsible to the parliament.

3. Regarding the Parliament:

The British parliament meets at least once in a year.
All the money bills originate in the House of Commons.
A speech from the Govt. benches is followed by a speech from opposition benches.
Only the law lords take part in the judicial proceedings of the House of Lords.
The speaker of the House of Commons is above party politics.

The conventions help the constitution to work smoothly. These enable the ministers to
exercise the powers of the sovereign.
As dicey says:
They are the rules for determining the mode in which the discretionary powers of the crown
must be exercised.
These give the constitution the quality of flexibility for adopting itself to new needs and new
ideas. G
Dr. Jennings puts it as:
The conventions provide the flesh which clothes the dry bones of law.


The house of commons is the lower chamber of the British parliament and is more powerful
than the House of Lords.
When a minister consults parliament, he in fact consults the House of Commons; when the
Queen dissolves parliament, she dissolves the House of Commons. A new parliament is
simply a new House of Commons. Says Walpole.
In power, prestige and authority the House of Commons has indeed become the first
chamber of the British parliament. The House of Commons is the most remarkable
legislative assembly of the world.
It is , as Gladstone said, The center of the English political system; the sun around which
all other bodies revolve.

For electoral purposes the United Kingdom is divided into as many constituencies as there
are members of the House of Commons. Its membership has varied from time to time; at
present it is 646 members (529 from England, 59 from Northern Ireland). One member is
returned to the House from each constituency .The members of the House of Commons are
presided over by Mr. Speaker.

Tenure of the House of Commons is five years and Quorum is 40 members.


Anyone, male and female, who is a British subject aged 21 or over and is not otherwise
disqualified can strand as a candidate in any constituency at an election of the House of


Those who are disqualified include the clergy; UN discharged bankrupts, holders of judicial
office, civil servants, members of the armed forces and the police force and directors of the
nationalized commercial companies.

According to the representation of people Act of 1969, all the British subjects who are 18
years of age on above have the right to vote at an election of the House of Commons.

Powers and Functions:

a) Legislative Powers:
For all intents and purposes, the parliament means the House of Commons because the
House of Lords is merely a feeble delayer. The House of Commons has the power to make or
repeal laws and amendments. An ordinary bill passed by the House of Commons can be
delayed by the House of Lords for one year maximum. After this it is sent to the Queen for
Royal Assent. A money bill can be simply delayed by the House of Lords for one month only.
Thus, the House of Commons has a monopoly over the legislative functions and the House
of Lords has virtually no legislative powers.
b) Financial control:
The House of Commons has exercised full control over the financial resources for more than
250 years. In exercising its financial powers the House of Commons performs the following

Approving finance bills

Voting supplies and estimates of proposed expenditure of the government departments.
Authorizing the expenditure
Granting money and appropriations under the appropriation bills.
The yearly circle of control begins with the introduction of annual budget in the early days
of April, the beginning month of the financial year in Britain.
c) Control over the executive:
The third great function of the House of Commons is its control over the executive. This is of
the essence of the mechanism of the British cabinet system. This makes the cabinet
responsible to the parliament and more responsive to the will of the nation. Firstly, the
Houses constantly demands information about the various actions of the government and
secondly it constantly criticizes the actions and policy of the government.
Dr. Finer says:
The commons, spearheaded by the opposition possesses substantial opportunities for
control of the government.

Question time:
Every day the House of Commons begin its session (for four days a week) with a question
time of about an hour. During this time any member can ask any question to a minister
regarding any matter, provided they are supplied 24 hours in advance.

d) Lack of confidence:
The house can indicate its lack of confidence in the cabinet by:
Rejecting a govt. bill
Rejecting the budget
Approving a private members bill opposed by the cabinet.

e) Rigidity of party discipline:

With the extension of suffrage the numbers if voters has increased. They can be organized
only by a party which seeks to know their opinion to win the elections. The party also
imposes a strict discipline on its members so that they do not vote against the government
policy once elected in the parliament. This makes the government worse.
If a government knows that Sane or Silly, right or wrong, drunk or sober, it can force its
proposal through the House by virtue of this disciplinary set up, it is under a lessened
necessity to exercise its powers with the maximum of care and responsibility.

f) Redress of Public Grievances:

The House of Commons ventilates the public grievances but the party control and discipline
is so strict and the pressure of the government business is so great that no criticism or
redress of grievances can take place of these three functions:
Law making to regulate the life of people
Granting money to the government
To put the issues or matters before the electorate, the people

Speaker of the House of Commons:

Office of the speaker is one of great dignity, honor and power. The speaker is elected on the
party basis i.e. a member of the majority party in the House is elected to this office. But
once elected the speaker becomes absolutely neutral in party politics. There is a convention
of the English constitution that a former speaker would be elected again and again so long
as he is willing to hold this office.
The speaker performs a number of important duties and functions.
1. The speaker presides over the meetings of the House of Commons. He decides who
should address the House. A member who wants to speak must get the permission from
2. The speaker interprets and applies the rules. His decision is final. When a member raises
a point of order, the speaker has to give his own ruling according to the precedents already
set by the House. Once he has given his decision, it is considered to be final.
3. The speaker places the questions or motions before the house and announces its
decision. He decides the admissibility of the questions put to a minister.
4. The speaker of the House of Commons can cast his vote in case of a tie. He so gives his
casting vote so to maintain the status quo. The speaker does not take part in the debates.
5. Under the parliament Act of 1911, the speaker has been given the right to certify the
money bills.
According to R.G Neumann:
The sovereignty of parliament resides in the House of Commons.
Bagehot remarks:
In theory it enjoys vast powers. But in practice, it has become subservient to the cabinet.
The main reason for this is the rigidity of the party discipline.


Prime Minister of UK
The Prime Minister holds pivotal position rights from its formation till its ultimate fall in a
Cabinet form of government. Theoretically all Ministers stand equal but in practice, the
Prime Minister is most effective and powerful as he can ask any Minister to resign. According
to Sir William Harkot, Prime Minister is foundation stone of the Cabinet arch.
Origin: The office of the Prime Minister, like other English Institutions has an evolutionary
growth. Its origin can be traced back to the period of George I when the ruler abstained
from attending the meetings of the cabinet. Walpole has been regarded as the first Prime
Minister. This term appeared for the first time in public records in 1878. It was legally
recognized in 1937 Act, under which the salary of the Prime Minister was fixed.

Position in the Government:

1. As Cabinet Chief:
As head of the Cabinet, the Prime Minister supervises and coordinates the work of different
Ministers. He performs a pivotal role in the formation and working of the Cabinet. His
opinion carries weight in the Cabinet meetings and as such he can resolve the differences
among the ministers. Sometimes, he may take decisions in an independent manner or in
consultation with quite few ministers, as done by Mr. Eden in 1954. In collaboration with
French Government, he decided to attack Egypt.
2. As Leader of the House:
Being the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister
assumes the role of leader of the House. As such he issues policy statements and during the
sessions of the Parliament he remains in close touch with the leader of opposition. It is on
the advice of the Prime Minister that the Queen decides to summon, prorogue or dissolve
the Parliament. As leader of the House, the Prime Minister enjoys certain privileges on the
floor of the House. He is given more time to speak during the deliberations.

3. As a National Leader:
Leadership role of the Prime Minister is not confined merely within the Parliament he is
rather taken as a national leader due to his most prestigious position. His opinion on
important national issues is paid due heed. His statements and speeches are regarded as
the most effective channel for molding public opinion.
4. Link between the Queen and Cabinet:
British Prime Minister acts as a link between the Cabinet and the Queen. He keeps her
informed about all important decisions of the Cabinet. The Queen makes important policy
statements on the advice of the Prime Minister. The speech from the throne to be delivered
in the beginning of new session of the Parliament is also prepared by the Prime Minister.
5. Conduct of Foreign Affairs:
The opinion of the Prime Minister carries special weight in foreign affairs. Secretary of
Foreign Affairs, in particular, remains in constant touch with the Prime Minister. The Prime
Minister represents the country in important international conferences.
With the extension in the functions of the Cabinet, the role of Prime Minister has become
more domineering. A competent Prime Minister is expected to be a good administrator and a
symbol of leadership qualities. Mostly, before the assumption of his office, most of the Prime
Ministers had put in many years in parliamentary life. According to a political analysis,
America has produced very few Presidents of higher caliber as compared to British Prime

The House of Lords

The House of Lords which is the upper chamber of the Parliament, is a permanent chamber
and organized basically on hereditary principles. Split of Parliament into two Houses took
place during the period of Edward III when he convened the meeting of Model Parliament.
During the session of this Parliament, the clergy and Barons organized themselves to sit in a
second chamber different from the Commons.
House of Lords remained more powerful till, eighteenth century as the aristocratic classes
had firm grip over both the chambers. But a change occurred during 19th century along
with the introduction of electoral reforms and extension in suffrage. As a result, House of
Lords lost its significance and receded into the background. At present, the Commons
exercise, the supreme legislative authority while the Upper House has been reduced to the
position of a ratifying chamber.

Total strength of the House of Lords keeps on varying due to the death of old members and
the appointment of new ones. Basically it is a hereditary chamber since nine tenth of its
members are peers viz., who became members by virtue of hereditary rights. Some persons

are appointed for life time but their heirs have no right to succeed as peers.

1. Members of Royal Family:

Members of Royal family, who have attained specific age, are made the members of this
House. All persons having blood relations with the ruling family are not given membership.
The members of this category rarely attend its sessions and do not actively participate in
the deliberative process even if they happen to attend.

2. Hereditary Peers:
Hereditary members of the House of Lords are known as peers. It included three categories:
a) 75 members are elected by hereditary peers from among themselves
b) 15 office bearer peers are elected by the whole House of Lords
c) Two peers are Royal office Holders

3. Life Members:
Under the Life Peerage Act of 1958, any citizen can be appointed as member of House of
Lords for his life-time who rendered distinct services to the national cause.

4. Scottish Members:
The Scottish Peers used to return from among themselves sixteen persons to represent
them in the House for a term equal to the term of House of Commons i.e for five years till
1943. But under Peerage Act of 1943, all Scottish Peers were made permanent members.

5. Law Lords:
House of Lords is the highest court of appeal for all cases in England, as it has also
performed judicial functions. For the promotion of professional competence, few law experts
are also added to its membership for life time.

6. Spiritual Lord:
All the oft-quoted categories are known as temporal Lords while Lords spiritual are
appointed on the basis of religion. All Bishops of churches of England and Arch Bishop are
members of this House, numbering about 26.

Grant of Membership:
Generally, the former Speakers and the Prime Ministers who have served the nation for a
longer period are made Peers for their memorable services. Men of merit and distinction in
various fields of national life, are also appointed. The Queen is fully authorized to appoint as
many persons as she deems proper but in practice, she has to move with caution so as to
preserve the prestigious position of this illustrious Chamber.

Before the enactment of a law in 1963, hereditary peers were entitled to resign from the
membership of the House of Lords. But under this act they have been given the right to
resign within a period of twelve months after their appointment.

Legally the presence of only three members constitutes the Quorum of the meetings.
Normally, attendance is above three hundred. Many peers care a little to attend the sessions
for years together. On ceremonial occasions, however, there may be heavy attendance. Very
few Lords actively participate in its deliberations.

Lord Chancellor:
Lord Chancellor presides over the meetings of the House of Lords. He is an important
member of the Cabinet and head of the judicial establishment. Lord Chancellor supervises
the working of the courts and appoints judges of the High court. He presides over the
special sessions of the House when it sits as a court. He is also a member of the judicial
committee of the Privy Council. Being as important member of the Cabinet, he performs
vital role in the passage of all government bills in the House of Lords.

Powers and Functions

1. Legislation:
Before the enactment of the Parliament Act 1911, both the chambers of the Parliament
shared equal powers and the upper chamber could reject even money bills passed by the
House of Commons. The Liberal government after wining two consecutive elections got the
new law enacted after much struggle. The new law curtailed the powers of Lords.

2. Financial Legislation:
Before the Act of 1911, the upper chamber exercised equal powers with the Commons in
respect of financial legislation, with the sole exception that all money bills originated in the
latter House. But the role of House of Lords was minimized under 1911 Act of Parliament.

3. Judicial Powers:
House of Lords is the last court of appeal. Nevertheless, judicial powers of the House of
Lords are, in fact, exercised by the Law Lords. When the court conducts its session as a
court, only the Law Lords participate while the other members abstain from attending such

Reasons of Survival:
Two basic principles are generally set forth to judge the utility of a bicameral legislature.
First, the upper chamber should be constituted on different lines from the lower ones so as
to avoid duplication. Second, the upper chamber should revise the bills coming from the
popularly constituted chamber, it should not, however, be powerful enough to act as a rival
to the former.
This chamber has been organized on distinct principles from the one characterizing the
lower House. Such persons of outstanding ability and expertise, not active in politics, can be
made peers. Hence the nation can utilize the services of such talented people. It is an
undeniable fact that the members of this House are generally more seasoned
parliamentarians and as such the standard of debates on the floor of this House, is much
higher than that of its counterpart.

The very presence of a hereditary chamber in a democratic age seems awkward and
undemocratic. Personal traits of character are not based on hereditary principles. An
efficient and hardworking person may be succeeded by a son of worthless character. Most of
the Peers show indifferent attitude towards their duties and responsibilities as
Parliamentarians, and rarely attend its sessions. The tone of this House is generally
conservative and as such it stands as a bulwark in the way of progressive legislation.
It has also been observed that this chamber shows a leaning towards the Conservative
Party. When Conservative Party is in power this House is generally supportive and
cooperative while it develops a hostile attitude against the government of Labour Party. In
the presence of parliamentary system, the utility of the House of Lords becomes doubtful as
the Cabinet is accountable to the House of Commons and not to the House of Lords.
The main reason of its survival can be ascribed to the conservative temperament of the
English people. They would not like to depart with an institution which has been with them
for the last many centuries. This House has no doubt, served the nation in the past and is
expected to continue to perform its role I the future. People do not want to abolish it but
would support any move aiming at its reforms especially in its organization.