The Parliament is the highest legislative authority in the United Kingdom and is made up of three constituent parts: The House of Lords, The House of Commons and the Monarch. Parliament has gradually taken control over many of the powers previously exercised by the Monarch, and although the Queen acts as the head of Parliament, in practice, this role is merely ceremonial. The Crown will always act on the advice of the Prime Minister and other ministers, who are in turn accountable to the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
Parliament has a maximum duration of five years. At any time up to the end of this period, a general election can be held for a new House of Commons.
The major functions of Parliament are:
- To make all UK law (legislation). All three constituent parts of Parliament must agree before a new law can be passed.
- To scrutinise Government policy and administration. This work is carried out in debates, parliamentary questions and through Select Committees. These procedures compel the Government to publicly explain and justify their policies.
- To control finance. The House of Commons grants the Government permission to control taxes, decide what taxes are collected, and how this money should be spent.
- To protect the public and safeguard the rights of individuals. Parliament safeguards the interests of the public as a whole, and MPs can also help to protect the rights of the individual.
- To examine European proposals before they become law. The House of Lords and House of Commons both have committees that examine European proposals, which allows Parliament to prepare and alter its laws to bring the UK into line.
- To hear criminal and civil appeals in the House of Lords, the highest Court of Appeal in Britain.
- To debate the major issues of the day. Both Houses of Parliament hold general debates on matters of national and international importance.