Unit 2, Government and Politics for Edexcel notes on The Consitution

complete set of notes for edexcel exam board, unit 2 of politics AS

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The UK Constitution:
Constitution = a set of rules by which a country is run. This set of principles can either be written or
unwritten and establishes the distribution of power within a political system, relationships between
political institutions, the limits of government, jurisdiction, the rights of citizens and the methods of
amending the constitution itself.
Role and purposes of a constitution:
Rules of how to amend the constitution
Assert the rights of citizens against the state
Establish the rules by which nationality is established
What the limits of government power should be
Determine how political power should be distributed within the state
Determine the balance of power balance between government and Parliament ­ 2 chambers
Establish the political processes that make the system work
How laws are made and enforced
The principles upon which the constitution is based (e.g. ­ rule of law)
Features of the UK constitution:
It is uncodified
Not contained in a single document
Has a variety of sources
It is not entrenched
Not entrenched
Can be changed easily and quickly by Parliament
No restrictions on how Parliament can amend the British Constitution
Statutes that can amend the constitution
E.g. ­ The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 established a new judicial body, the Supreme Court
E.g. ­ The Human Rights Act 1998 forced all public bodies (except the UK Parliament) to abide by
the European Convention on Human Rights
Conventions that can amend the constitution
Unwritten practices and rules develop over time, and these unwritten rules are adhered to by
everyone in the politics system
Over the past 70 years there have been a number of changes as a result of new conventions
E.g. ­ the House of Lords should not obstruct any proposals contained in the governments
most recent election manifesto (`Salisbury Convention')
E.g. ­ any important constitutional changes require the approval of a referendum
Referendums that confirm amendments to the constitution
Referendums are increasingly used to confirm constitutional change
E.g. ­ 1997: 2 referendums to decide whether power should be devolved to Scotland and
E.g. ­ 2011: a referendum to decide whether to adopt the alternative vote system for
general elections in the UK
Constitutional monarchy and royal prerogative
Prerogative powers of the monarch have been eroded
All law making passed to Parliament
Office of the PM instead of monarch
A sense that the monarch is constrained by constitutional principles
Monarch still has powers as Head of State but the PM carries out most of her functions
It is unitary
legal sovereignty in the UK lies with Parliament

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Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments can all be
restored to Westminster
Parliamentary sovereignty
Parliamentary sovereignty is critical to how the political system works
1. The nature of the constitution is in the hands of Parliament; it can amend the constitution by
simple passage of a statute
2. Government owes all its power to the authority of Parliament. A government (or any other
public body) can exercise power only if it receives the approval of Parliament
3. The constitution is unitary
4.…read more

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Sources of the UK Constitution
Source Description Examples
Human Rights Act 1998 ­ bringing the ECHR into British
Parliamentary Statutes Laws passed by the UK Parliament The Freedom of Information Act 2000 ­ Granting
citizens rights to view most official documents
The Salisbury Convention ­ the HoL does not obstruct
proposals contained in the governments most recent
Unwritten rules, considered binding manifesto
Conventions on members of the political Collective cabinet responsibility ­ establishes that all
community members of the government must defend all official…read more

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Should the UK have a codified constitution?
Flexibility: Human rights:
Constitution can adapt to a changing world without Safeguards individual and minority rights
major upheavals In a codified constitution, Parliament would not
Britain's constitution is `organic' ­ rooted in society, so be able to pass any legislation that offended
when society and its values change, the constitution human rights protection
can do so automatically
Executive power: Executive power:
Constitutional safeguards are weak/absent so May prevent an over-powerful executive (which
governments can be more…read more

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With the people during a referendum
With the government when it controls its own majority in the UK Parliament
With devolved governments, since it is unlikely that their powers will be removed
With devolution, sovereignty resides in a central authority, but certain powers are handed down to
sub national bodies ­ the Westminster Parliament retains the right to alter these powers or to
abolish the sub national bodies entirely.…read more

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Party nominated: in proportion to the make-up of the HoC and chosen as a reward for
long-standing supporters of a party
Politically neutral: Independent of any party, "life achievers" , "cross benchers" and appointed
by Independent Appointments Commission
Hereditary Peers:
Inherited their titles
Only a maximum of 92 may be in the HoL
Tended to be Conservative
In the long-term, they will disappear
25 Bishops/Archbishops from Church of England
(Lord Spirituals)
Socially Homogeneous
Male, White,Older age group
What are the functions of the House of…read more

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More expertise issue of detention
though its ability to influence policy is legislation without trial for terror
limited suspects
The Lords often amends legislation Weaker: Stronger: In 2008, the Lords
from the Commons.…read more

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The government forced
the measure through by using the Act
A good example of when the Lords has delayed legislation is when the Lords blocked the
proposal to ban hunting with dogs (mainly fox hunting). Time ran out for the bill because of the 2001
election.…read more

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Further attempts at reform have failed
Reform of the judiciary
In 2005 the Constitutional Reform Act was passed: it's main element was the creation of the
Supreme Court which replaced the system where the highest court of appeal was made up of
12 judges who were members of the HoL
The separated Supreme Court is designed to be more independent from political influence,
and so hopes to be more effective in protecting individual rights and in controlling excessive
government power
It was also established that…read more

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Leads to more open and This has made them more Exceptions to FOIA for
transparent government likely to be called to justify matters of national
Freedom of allows the public to actions and held security/damaging the
Information Act scrutinise those in accountable public interest
power (e.g.…read more


Old Sir

An excellent overview of the UK constitution and the issues surrounding it. Students might find the sections relating to devolution, reform of parliament and the judiciary especially useful as starting points for the development of their own discussions in readiness for exam questions.

Beth Pridding

This is the best Constitution revision document I've come across. Thank you!

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