Parliament and the Monarch

In the past Britain’s kings and queens were incredibly powerful. They controlled the decisions that affected everyone in the country. Today, most of the important decisions that affect us are made by MPs and Members of the House of Lords.

The Monarch

Monarchy is the oldest form of government in the United Kingdom, with a king or queen as Head of State. The British monarchy is known as a constitutional monarchy. This means that, while The Sovereign is Head of State, the ability to make and pass legislation resides with an elected Parliament.

Although the British Sovereign no longer has a political or executive role, they continues to play an important part in the life of the nation.

As Head of State, The Monarch undertakes constitutional and representational duties. In addition, The Monarch has a less formal role as ‘Head of Nation’ fulfilling the following roles:

  • acting as a focus for national identity, unity and pride
  • giving a sense of stability and continuity
  • officially recognising success and excellence
  • supporting the ideal of voluntary service

In all these roles The Sovereign is supported by members of their immediate family.


The main functions of the UK Parliament are to:

  • Scrutiny – Check and challenge the work of the Government
  • Legislation – Make and change laws
  • Debating – Debate the important issues of the day
  • Budget / Taxes – Check and approve Government spending

Parliament is made up of three central elements:

  • the House of Commons
  • the House of Lords
  • the Monarchy

The main business of Parliament takes place in the two Houses. Generally the decisions made in one House have to be approved by the other.

Any changes to the country’s laws must be approved by Parliament. The government proposes most of the changes to the law and makes its case to MPs in the House of Commons, who vote on whether to approve the change or not. Parliament’s other ‘house’ – the House of Lords – must also approve.

Members of Parliament

Members of Parliament (MPs) are your ‘elected representatives’. They have a lot of responsibility and make the laws that you have to follow.

In a democracy like the UK, citizens elect other citizens to make decisions about how the country should be governed. Every MP in the House of Commons got his or her place by winning an election in their area of the country, called a ‘constituency’.

Nearly every MP belongs to a political party. A political party is a group of people who share the same ideas about how the country should be governed. A party’s guiding principles help voters decide who to vote for during elections. Most MPs belong to a political party, but a few do not. Those who do not are called ‘independents’.


Some MPs are selected by the Prime Minister to join the government, they are called ‘ministers‘. The Prime Minister leads the government, and chooses MPs who support his or her party’s plans for governing the UK.

MPs who belong to political parties that oppose the government’s plans are known as the opposition. And, like the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition chooses a group of MPs to become ‘shadow ministers‘. Shadow ministers question and challenge the work of the government’s ministers.

Most MPs are known as backbenchers, which means they do not hold a job as a government minister or as an opposition shadow minister. They got the name because they sit on the back benches of the House of Commons chamber. Ministers and their opposition counterparts sit on the front benches.

The Role of the Monarch in Parliament

When it comes to politics, the monarch is ‘neutral’. The Queen doesn’t get involved in running the government, nor does she publicly say what she thinks about political issues.

MPs and Lords don’t meet in Parliament every day of the year, there are some breaks. It is the role of  the monarch to open each new meeting – or ‘session’ – of Parliament.

The Prime Minister is officially appointed by the Queen after a general election, although she doesn’t choose the Prime Minister herself. By tradition, she appoints the leader of the political party that wins a majority of the seats in Parliament.

Queen Elizabeth must sign her name to every Act of Parliament before it can become the law of the land, it would be very unusual for her to refuse to sign. It has been over 300 years since a monarch refused Parliament’s wishes.

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