AS Government and Politics - Unit 2

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The UK constitution

Terminology

  • Constitution: A set of laws, rules and practices providing the framework for the political system and specifying how a state should be governed; a practical expression for the principle of limited government. Eg: The UK has an uncodified constitution, US has codified.
  • Sovereignty: The ultimate power in a state. Eg: In the UK it lies within Parliament but the location has changed due to devolution and influence of the EU. 
  • Unitary State: Sovereignty is held in one place by government and no decisions can be made which bind that central power, any power given to lower bodies can be taken away
  • Federal State: Sovereignty is divided between different levels, some areas of sovereignty are held by central, federal government and some are held by individual states, on certain issues the government cannot impose their views.
  • Quasi-Federalism: A division of powers between central and regional government that has some features of federalism without possessing a formal federal structure. Eg: UK.
  • Pooled Sovereignty: A departure from unanimous decision making and a sharing of decision making between states in systems of co-operation.

Functions and Features of the UK constitution

Functions – 

  • 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 – 

  • It is uncodified- Not contained in a single document so has a variety of sources. Unlike the American constitution. 
  • It is not entrenched and can be changed easily and quickly by Parliament. No restrictions on how Parliament can amend the British Constitution. 
  • Statutes that can amend the constitution; This mean any laws passed in parliament that affects how the country is to be run or citizens’ rights or any other functions of the constitution is considered to be an amendment. E.g. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 established a new judicial body, the Supreme Court & 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’). Another growing convention is that 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.

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