Chapter 2 Guidance to answering the end-of-chapter questions

Constitutional Organizations, Institutions, and Roles

1. What are the main institutions of the UK?

  • Think about the main powers of the state: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
  • Do you remember what ‘the crown’ refers to? Aside from the object placed on the monarch’s head as part of the ritual of coronation, what else can we be referring to when we use the term ‘the crown’? If you are not sure, you can remind yourself by looking back at pp. 18–20.
  • What are the bodies or offices that make use of these state powers, or carry out the work of these powers?
  • For example, what is the work of the legislature and can you name the body that carries out that work in the UK?
  • Now ask yourself the same questions for the executive and the judiciary.
  • If you are struggling to name these, try taking your lead from the headings at 2.3, 2.4, and 2.5.

2. What are their roles and their memberships?

  • What is the main role of the UK Parliament? Think back to what you know about the role of the legislature in the state.
  • Other than making law, can you think of other important work carried out by Parliament, perhaps in relation to one of the other powers or bodies of state? Look back to p. 22 and p. 29 if you are unsure.
  • What is the membership of Parliament? Recall that the UK Parliament has a bicameral structure. What are the two chambers of Parliament and what are the titles of the people that work in them? Can you remember how people come to work in either of these chambers (for example, are members elected or appointed)? Then try to remember if Parliament is only made up of the two chambers or if anyone else has a role. Hint: remember the head of state.
  • What is the role of the executive? Think about how the executive differs from Parliament. If Parliament makes law, what is the job of the executive in relation to the law? Look back to p. 38 if you are struggling with this.
  • What is the membership of the executive? Remember that the executive is an umbrella term that is used to describe two different entities: the political government, sometimes referred to as the ‘political executive’; and the wider machinery of government. Can you recall how these are different and what the membership of each is? This was summarised at p. 32 if you need a reminder. When thinking about this, make sure that you are clear about how the ‘executive’ is different from ‘the government’.
  • What is the role of the courts? You might already have understood the private law role of the courts which is to decide disputes between private citizens, or between individuals and companies. Have you understood the public law role of the courts? If you are not sure what this means, have another read of p. 41.

3. How do they relate to each other?

  • To answer this, recall the powers of the state and think about how they balance each other and work together.
  • For example, where does the executive get the authority to make decisions about how to run the country?
  • What is the membership of Parliament and do the executive form any part of it?
  • How do Parliament and the courts each make sure that the executive is held to account?
  • Remember to think about the limits of these roles. For example, do the courts have the legal power to overturn primary legislation?
  • If you are struggling, try going back at Figure 2.3 on p. 47.

4. To what extent are the people involved in the state?

  • What influence do you have, or will you have, over how the state works?
  • Apart from the possibility that you might one day take up a role in one of the institutions of state, what happens every few years that gives the people a role in deciding who works in a particular institution of state?
  • Is anyone excluded from participating in these decisions? For example, it was only about a hundred years ago that women were permitted to vote in parliamentary elections. Are there any other groups of people, now, that are not permitted to vote?
  • Do you remember the name of the legislation which determines when general elections take place?
  • Can you describe what the ‘first past the post’ system is and how it is different to other electoral systems, such as proportional representation? Do you know which one is used in the UK?
  • If you need help with any of these points, refer back to pp. 43–47.

5. How do the various House of Lords’ reform proposals affect the relationship between the two parliamentary chambers and what consequence may that have for the electoral system?

  • To start with, list all the House of Lords’ reform proposals that you have learned about. Do they propose that members of the House of Lords should be elected, appointed, or a mixture of the two?
  • If it were to be decided that members of the House of Lords should be elected, what might be the consequences for the balance of power between the House of Lords and the House of Commons?
  • More specifically, can you think of any risks in using a more representative electoral system to elect members to the House of Lords than is used to elect Members of Parliament to the House of Commons? For example, imagine if a system of proportional representation were used for the House of Lords while the first past the post system were retained for the House of Commons?
  • What about the timing of elections? Think about the risks involved in electing members to the House of Lords and House of Commons at different times. Would a more recently elected House of Lords be able to claim greater democratic legitimacy than the House of Commons?
  • If you are not sure how to answer these questions, it is worth going back to read Bogdanor’s explanation about reform of the House of Lords at p. 27.