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House of Commons

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Parliament name Parliament
Structure of parliament Bicameral
Chamber name House of Commons
Related chamber (for bicameral parliaments) House of Lords
Type of political regime parliamentary / constitutional monarchy
Notes The Sovereign - Queen Elizabeth II - is the Head of State. The constitutional convention is that the Sovereign takes advice from or acts in accordance with the wishes of the Prime Minister.
Head of the executive Prime Minister
Notes The Prime Minister is the active Head of the executive branch. Officially, the Sovereign summons Parliament, and causes writs to be issued for a general election to return members to the House of Commons.
Method for appointing the executive The title of Sovereign is hereditary. The Sovereign is, by convention, expected to invite the leader of the party which gains the majority of seats in the House of Commons at a general election to take office as Prime Minister and to form a Government. Each party has its own internal arrangements for electing a leader. Government ministers are formally appointed by the Sovereign on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
Term of office of the executive and coincidence with the term of the legislature The Sovereign reigns for life. The Prime Minister must be re-elected by his/her constituency at each general election. A Prime Minister remains in office until the day following a general election. Depending on the election result, he/she either resigns office or is invited to form a new Government by the Sovereign. By statute, a general election must be held at least every five years. Subject to this limit, the exact timing of an election is at the Prime Minister's discretion. There is no limit on how many times a Prime Minister may be re-elected, but he/she can only normally continue to hold office with the support of the majority party in the House of Commons.
Incompatibility of the functions of member of the executive and member of Parliament No Convention dictates that the Prime Minister is an elected member of the House of Commons. Government ministers can be members of either House, although the convention is that most secretaries of state (i.e. heads of ministries) are drawn from the House of Commons. They remain members of Parliament. The party in Government chooses the majority of its ministers from among its members in the House of Commons, and a minority from the House of Lords. Very occasionally people who are not members of either House are appointed as ministers. Such ministers are normally expected to stand for election to the House of Commons or are appointed Members of the House of Lords.
Dissolution of Parliament Yes
  • Circumstances
This may be for a number of reasons, such as political reasons, the loss of a working majority in the House of Commons, or Parliament reaching the end of its five-year term. The Prime Minister determines when Parliament should be dissolved prior to a general election. If the Prime Minister refused to seek dissolution after a vote of no confidence, it would theoretically be open to the Sovereign to dissolve Parliament on his/her own account, or to dismiss the Government. This would, however, represent a major breach of constitutional convention unheard of in modem times.
  • Modalities
Having decided a date, the Prime Minister will ask the Sovereign to dissolve Parliament. It is the Sovereign who dissolves Parliament under his/her prerogative powers, by proclamation.
Accountability of Government to Parliament Yes It is a fundamental tenet of the Westminster system that Government is accountable to Parliament. This is illustrated in a resolution that was passed by both Houses in 1997. It stated that ministers "have a duty to Parliament to account and to be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments". Thus, Government is collectively accountable to Parliament, and its ministers are also individually accountable for the actions of their departments.
Modalities of oversight
  • Oral and written questions of parliamentarians
Members of the House of Commons may interrogate ministers on the policy, actions and intentions of Government by means of oral and written questions.
  • Government reports to Parliament
Annual reports of Government departments are generally laid before the House of Commons each spring. They summarise the Government's expenditure and achievements over the previous year, and its three-year forward programme of planned expenditure. Departmental select committees normally examine departmental reports, and may call ministers and officials to give evidence on spending plans. Ministers also come to the House to make statements on major items of Government policy, and can be questioned on these statements.
  • Vote of confidence on Government programs and/or legislative proposals
Members of the House of Commons have various opportunities to vote on the Government's legislative proposals. They may vote after the debate on the second reading of a bill; members of the Standing (legislative) Committee on the bill may vote on amendments proposed to the bill or on the clauses in the bill; there are further opportunities to vote on the bill when it has been reported from the Committee; and on the third reading of the bill. If the Lords make amendments to the bill the House of Commons will have the opportunity to accept, reject or amend those amendments. Some of those decisions lead to votes in the House.
Motions of censure and votes of no confidence (sub-report)
  • Circumstances
Members may theoretically table motions of censure or of no confidence in the Government, or motions critical of individual ministers, at any time.
  • Modalites
Any member of the House may table a motion criticising the actions of the Government or of an individual minister. In most cases these motions are set down for debate on "an early day" (that is, on no specified date). As the Government itself decides which motions are to be set down on the order paper for debate in the House, very few, if any, such motions are formally considered. If, however, a motion of censure is tabled in the name of the leader of the official opposition, convention dictates that Government will set it down for debate at an early opportunity. As with any other motion, a simple majority is all that is required for a motion of censure to be carried.
  • Consequences
No resignations immediately ensue as the result of a vote of no confidence being. carried but convention dictates that the Prime Minister will seek an early dissolution of Parliament and a general election. If the Prime Minister refused to seek dissolution, it would theoretically be open to the Sovereign to dissolve Parliament on his or her own account, or to dismiss the Government. This would represent a major breach of constitutional convention unheard of in modem times. In 1979 the House carried a motion of no confidence, moved by the then leader of the opposition, Margaret Thatcher, by 311 votes to 310. As a consequence the then Prime Minister, James Callaghan, sought the dissolution of Parliament. At the ensuing general election, the Conservative Party secured a majority of seats in the House and Mrs. Thatcher was invited to form a Government. Between 1991 and 2004, six motions of censure were tabled: two motions of no confidence in the Government, and four expressing criticisms of ministers. All six were opposition motions, and none was agreed to by the House.
Dismissal and/or impeachment of Government and other public officials (sub-report)
  • Circumstances and persons concerned
The House of Commons has never formally renounced its powers of prosecution of impeachments before the House of Lords. These powers have never been exercised in modem times and may be regarded as defunct.
  • Modalites and procedure
Not applicable
  • Consequences
Not applicable
  • Have these procedures been applied?
Oversight over the actions of the Government administration Yes Ministers are considered directly accountable to Parliament for the work of their departments. However, the power of both Houses to exercise scrutiny is in effect limited by the fact that the Government generally holds a majority in the House of Commons, and any action the House wishes to take over and above its normal scrutiny of Government must in practice have government approval.
Means and modalities of oversight
  • Hearings in Committees
Standing Committees on bills, and Committees of the whole House, generally operate according to the rules of adversarial debate, and do not hold hearings. A few bills have been committed to special standing committees, which have the power to take written and oral evidence from witnesses before carrying out detailed scrutiny of a bill.

In recent years draft bills have been considered by select committees of the House of Commons or by Joint Committees of both Houses. When a bill is referred to a select committee, the committee does not formally go through the bill but inquires into the merits of the bill or considers the proposals contained in it. The committee usually holds hearings on the bill.
  • Committees of inquiry and missions to Government departments
Departmental select committees of the House of Commons undertake detailed scrutiny of the expenditure, administration and policy of government departments. In addition there are a number of "cross-cutting'" select committees which examine the work of the Government in certain areas spanning departments, e.g., environmental audit or strategic export controls. While committees may call for "persons, papers and records", their exercise of these powers, in the final analysis, derives from the authority of the House alone. The Government maintains that individual civil servants may only give evidence to select committees with the leave of the minister concerned. Similarly departmental ministers may refuse invitations to give evidence on the grounds that a committee's inquiry does not deal with matters within their departmental sphere of responsibility. Committees' powers in relation to the Government are therefore circumscribed by the Government's inbuilt majority in the House. They may only be formally invoked through a motion and vote on the floor of the House.
  • Oral and written questions of parliamentarians
A period of approximately one hour (question time) is given over to oral questions to ministers at the start of each sitting day (except Fridays). Questions for oral answer must be submitted before 12.30 pm on a sitting day, three sitting days in advance of the question session for all but questions to the territorial departments and Advocate General, for which the deadline is five sitting days. Ministers are questioned orally on the floor of the House on average once every sitting month. Questions to major departments last between 45 and 55 minutes; those to other departments last between 10 and 30 minutes. The Prime Minister answers questions for half an hour, once a week. In addition, the Speaker may allow urgent questions, i.e., questions of an urgent character that relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business, to be taken after question time. In the case of statements and urgent questions the length of the questioning period is set at the discretion of the Speaker.

Questions for written answer may be tabled at any time when the House is sitting. Questions which have been put down for answer on or before the last sitting day before a recess may be answered during the recess. Members may specify that a question is for priority written answer on a named day (the minimum period of notice being three days) or for ordinary written answer, in which case departments are expected to answer within seven days. Departments may give initial "holding'" answers within the deadline, with a substantive answer to follow. There is no formal mechanism for enforcing a deadline for replies, but members who are dissatisfied with the timeliness of written answers may raise the matter on the floor of the House or privately with the Speaker or may table further questions.

Applications for urgent questions are submitted to the Speaker by specified times on the day they are to be asked. If the Speaker grants leave, the question is asked on the floor of the House immediately after question time. The responsible minister will answer and be questioned further, first by the member asking the initial question, and then by other members. Although the session may take on the characteristics of a debate, there is no question (proposition) before the House to be debated.

Once a Member of Parliament has received an answer to the oral question standing in his or her name on the order paper, the Member may ask one supplementary question: Opposition party leaders and spokespersons are also allowed to intervene with questions when called by the Speaker. There are no formal mechanisms for following up questions to the executive, in either oral or written form, although members regularly bring unsatisfactory oral and written answers to the Speaker's attention after question time as a means of placing their dissatisfaction on the record and embarrassing the Government. They may also table further questions. The rules of the House prevent members from tabling questions that are identical to ones already answered in the current session. Members may also give notice in the light of an unsatisfactory reply that they will seek to raise the matter on the adjournment. That prevents any further supplementary questions from being asked.

Around 60,000 oral and written questions were asked in the 2003-2004 session.
  • Role of Parliament in the appointment of senior Government officials
Parliament has no formal role in approving the appointment of government officials. Certain select Committees of the House of Commons (in particular the Treasury Committee) have adopted the practice of holding so-called 'confirmation hearings' in respect of certain appointments (most notably appointments by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the monetary policy Committee of the Bank of England), but the Government will not accept the opinion of the House or any Committee as restricting its right of appointment.
  • Activity reports of the Government administration and of public services or establishments
Many Government-funded bodies are required (under various acts of Parliament) to lay their annual reports and accounts before Parliament. Parliamentarians are free to question the Government about the content of these reports.
  • Representation of Parliament in governing bodies of the Government administration
The House of Commons does not appoint any of its members ex officio to outside bodies, although convention dictates that some parliamentarians are appointed to the boards of, for example, the British Council and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. Schedule I of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 sets out the positions that are considered incompatible with membership of the House. The schedule may be amended at any time by resolution of the House (and is often also amended by an Act of Parliament). Holders of any of these posts may not be elected Members of Parliament; Members who wish to be appointed to such posts must resign their seats.
Existence of an ombudsman Yes
  • Method for appointing the executive
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration is independent of Government. He or she is appointed by the Sovereign and may only be removed following a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. He or she is an officer of the House of Commons.
  • Relationship to Parliament
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration investigates allegations of maladministration by Government departments. He or she has a role in the Westminster Parliament as well as the devolved assemblies of Scotland and Wales (Northern Ireland has a separate Ombudsman). Complaints to the Ombudsman must be referred by a Member of Parliament, although he or she may also investigate allegations of maladministration in Government departments on his or her own account. The Ombudsman may also investigate complaints regarding failure to disclose information under various codes of practice. He or she makes an annual report to Parliament on the performance of his or her functions, and may make special reports as appropriate. Reports are examined by the House of Commons select Committee on public administration.
Consultation of Parliament in the preparation of the national budget No There is no formal provision for Parliament to be consulted in the preparation of the budget, but the House of Commons does have a role in scrutinising the Government's budgetary plans. Details of budget measures are, however, kept a closely guarded secret until the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes his or her annual pre-budget statement in the House of Commons, generally in November. This sets out the assumptions underpinning the Government's economic policy, and indicates measures which it plans to introduce in its budget, but on which it wishes to consult. The full budget statement is usually made in March. The Chancellor of the Exchequer may be questioned on each statement in the House of Commons.
Modalities of oversight
  • Examination of the budget / finance act by Parliament
The House of Commons is responsible for scrutiny of the finance bill, which gives legislative effect to the Government's fiscal strategy as set out in the budget. Under resolutions dating back to the 17th Century, the House asserts its sole right to initiate and amend `bills of aids and supplies', i.e. bills which confer upon the executive the right to raise taxation and make expenditure out of public revenue. The House of Lords by convention has respected this privilege and makes no attempt to amend the finance bill. Immediately after the budget is introduced, the House debates resolutions, which, when passed, authorise the introduction of the finance bill itself, and immediately give provisional validation, for a limited statutory period, to those proposals which the Government requires should come into force before they are given specific statutory authority in the finance act. The finance bill is formally introduced following passage of the budget resolutions, and is considered in much the same way as any other public bill. It proceeds through second reading, Committee, consideration on report and third reading. It is usual for certain major clauses of the bill to be committed to a Committee of the whole House for debate, rather than to a standing Committee.
  • Reports on the budget / finance act by Committees
The Treasury select Committee of the House of Commons is responsible for scrutinising the policy, functions and expenditure of the Treasury. its practice is to take evidence in public from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, officials, academic experts and commentators following budget statements. It has no role in the passage of the finance bill through the Commons, though some members of the Committee may be appointed to the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill and the Committee's reports on the budget are often referred to during debate on the Bill.
Fields overseen
  • Defence budget
The defence select Committee of the House of Commons has a standing remit to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Ministry of Defence (see Standing Order No. 152). In addition, the House gives formal approval annually to the Ministry of Defence Votes A, which specify the maximum number of personnel to be maintained in the army, air force and navy for the coming year. It is customary for the House of Commons to reserve two full days for debate on matters related to defence.
  • Budget of special departments
It has in the past been customary for the estimates and accounts relating to the security and intelligence services to be published in abbreviated form, leaving out details that might be expected to compromise national security. The disclosure of financial information relating to these services is now somewhat fuller, though the full estimates and accounts are not published. The intelligence and security Committee was established by the Security Services Act 1993. Its membership (appointed by the Prime Minister) is drawn from both Houses of Parliament, though it is not a parliamentary Committee - what powers it has derive from statute and not from the authority of Parliament - and its secretariat is located in the Cabinet Office. Its task is to examine the functioning and expenditure of the security services and to make confidential reports to the Prime Minister. The latter will publish and lay before Parliament as much of the report as he or she sees fit.
  • Role of Parliament in national development plans
Parliament has no set remit for the consideration of national development plans; but any such plan may be scrutinised at its introduction insofar as legislation is required to give it effect. The implementation of any national development plan may also be scrutinised by the appropriate departmental select Committee of the House of Commons, as well as by the National Audit Office.
Parliament's deadline for the examination and adoption of the budget / finance act In practice a finance bill introduced as part of the normal budgetary cycle must be passed by the House of Commons and receive royal assent by the end of the parliamentary session in which it is introduced, or by 5 August following its introduction, whichever is the sooner. The Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968 authorises the statutory collection of taxes as passed by budget resolutions until 5 August following resolutions passed in March or April, or four months after the passage of resolutions passed at any other time. After that point the provisions in the budget resolutions must have received permanent statutory authority in the finance act.
Consequences of failure by Parliament to adopt the budget / finance act As the House of Lords may only consider the finance bill formally, the question of a budgetary deadlock between the two Houses does not arise. If the Government is unable to secure passage of the finance bill through the Commons, having lost its majority, the only option open to the Prime Minister is to seek an early dissolution of Parliament and a general election.
Budgetary autonomy of Parliament Yes The House of Commons Commission (a statutory body chaired by the Speaker) is the body responsible for the personnel and financial management of the House of Commons. It is independent of the Government, although the Leader of the House (a minister) is a member of the commission ex officio. The Speaker presents the annual expenditure estimates of the commission in respect of the administration and fabric of the House to Parliament for scrutiny in the same accounting cycle as Government departments. The commission is voted money by Parliament out of the consolidated fund in the same manner as a Government department. A member of the commission answers written questions and also oral questions once a month on the floor of the House. Salaries of members of the House of Commons are, however, the direct responsibility of the Government. The Leader of the House presents an estimate to Parliament for scrutiny, and Parliament votes money to the Privy Council Office in respect of this `members' Vote'.
Evaluation of Government spending
Parliament approves Government expenditures annually Yes In the financial year 1999-2000, departments prepared and presented both cash and resource accounts to Parliament. As of financial year 2001-2002, appropriation accounts providing cash accounts of the expenditure of sums voted by Parliament ceased to be presented. Departments now present resource. accounts alone. The statutory deadline for resource accounts presented to Parliament is 31 January following the end of the relevant financial year. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), an officer of the House of Commons, audits the accounts and reports to Parliament on them.
Parliamentary oversight of public companies No Public corporations established by statute are generally required to present their annual reports and accounts to Parliament. They may also be obliged to submit their accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor General, who will audit the accounts and submit his or her report on them to Parliament.
Modalities of oversight
  • Body for auditing the Government's books and method for appointing
The National Audit Office (NAO) is established under the National Audit Act 1983 to scrutinise the accounts of Government. It is headed by the Comptroller and Auditor General, who is independent of Government. He or she is appointed by a resolution of the House of Commons, which is moved by the Prime Minister with the agreement of the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts (PAC). the Chairman of the PAC is also a member of the Public Accounts Commission, the statutory body that oversees the work of the NAO.

The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission is invariably a senior backbench member of the House of Commons. He or she is answerable to the House of Commons for the work of the NAO. He or she may be questioned in writing, and also answers questions on the floor of the House once a month.
  • Reports of the public auditor's office
The C&AG has a statutory duty to report to Parliament on accounts of Government departments and non-departmental public bodies in receipt of public funds and undertaking central Government functions. These accounts are generally presented annually, and include his or her report. In addition, the C&AG is empowered to report to the House of Commons on the `economy, efficiency and effectiveness' of public bodies, although he or she may not express an opinion on the merits of Government policy. These reports are colloquially known as "value for money"reports. On average 50 such reports are presented to Parliament each session.

The C&AG assists the Committee of Public Accounts in its inquiries. The PAC, which is by convention chaired by a senior member of the main opposition party, is charged by the House with examining the accounts laid before the House by the Government, and with examining such other accounts of public bodies as it sees fit. It also conducts detailed examination of the NAO's "value for money reports", taking evidence from government accounting officers as appropriate and reporting its conclusions to the House. Departmental select Committees are also able to call upon the expertise of the NAO as appropriate in pursuit of their inquiries into departmental expenditure. The NAO has occasionally seconded staff to work full-time for select Committees and, more recently, to the Scrutiny Unit, which provides support to Committees examining draft bills or expenditure matters.
  • Specialised committee
The Government publishes detailed estimates of proposed expenditure up to four times in a financial year. The main estimates are published in March, the summer supplementary estimates in May, and the winter supplementary estimates together with the votes on account in November. Spring supplementary estimates may also be published in February. Debate on the estimates in the House of Commons takes place on three occasions in the financial year. The current practice is for the liaison Committee of select Committee chairmen to recommend a subject, or subjects, for debate in the House, usually linked to a recent report of a departmental select Committee. Following the debate, the House is asked to vote the sums requested in the appropriate estimates. Consolidated fund bills are brought in on those resolutions and passed rapidly to give legislative effect to the Government's request, and to authorise expenditure.
Foreign Relations Committee (sub-report)
  • Functions of the Committee
The foreign affairs committee has oversight of the policy, administration and expenditure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the government ministry responsible for the conduct of foreign policy (see Standing Order No. 152).
  • Powers of the Committee
The Committee has the power to undertake inquiries into its area of responsibility; to call for persons, papers and records; to make reports to the House from time to time on its inquiries; and to appoint a subcommittee to undertake more detailed inquiries.
  • Composition of the Committee
The Committee comprises 14 members of the House of Commons. Its composition reflects the numerical strength of each party.
  • Bilateral visits of Parliament, inter-parliamentary conferences and information missions abroad
The Speaker and his or her appointed representative, and members of appropriate parliamentary Committees are all accustomed to representing the House in bilateral meetings and at inter-parliamentary conferences. The Prime Minister appoints members of both Houses to the delegations to several major international parliamentary or inter-parliamentary Assemblies. These delegations are supported by staff of the House of Commons, and receive additional briefing as appropriate from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Also, departmental select Committees of the House of Commons undertake overseas visits as appropriate in pursuit of their inquiries. The liaison Committee, principally composed of the chairmen of select committees, sets overall guidelines for overseas travel, and authorises individual bids for expenditure by committees, subject to an upper limit of expenditure set by the House of Commons' Commission.
  • Plenary debates on foreign policy issues
Government schedules debates on foreign policy issues from time to time. These debates do not normally arise on substantive motions, although it is procedurally possible for a vote to be held at the end of a debate that is not on a substantive motion.
Involvement of Parliament
  • Participation of Parliament in inter-governmental meetings
It is rare that Parliament will send a delegation to an intergovernmental conference on its own initiative, without intervention by the executive. The Government retains the right to nominate parliamentary representatives to attend intergovernmental conferences, although it may go through the formality of inviting both Houses to pass non-binding, advisory resolutions approving the nomination of representatives.
  • Modalities and procedures for ratifying international treaties and agreements (sub-report)
The Government enters into treaties under the royal prerogative. There is no requirement for parliamentary ratification or authorisation, save where the treaty requires that its provisions be incorporated into domestic law. Under a convention known as the "Ponsonby rule", the Government undertakes to lay copies of most treaties which do not come into force on signature, and which it proposes to ratify, before both Houses of Parliament for 21 sitting days before ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. Such treaties are accompanied by an explanatory memorandum setting out the Government's position.

The convention provides that the Government may undertake to provide time for discussion of the treaty on the floor of the House of Commons if a formal request is received. This is generally understood to mean a request from the leadership of the main opposition party or another party in the House. It is open to any member to table a motion requesting that a treaty not be ratified before the House, or a Committee of the House, has had an opportunity to discuss the treaty: but this cannot bind the Government. Since 2000 the Government has also undertaken to send copies of treaties laid before Parliament to the relevant departmental select Committee of the House of Commons for examination. If the relevant Committee cannot complete scrutiny of the treaty within the stipulated 21 days, it may make a case to the Government for an extension of the period. If the Committee recommends that a debate on a treaty of major political, diplomatic or military importance be held in the House of Commons, and the liaison Committee agrees, the Government has indicated that it will normally provide time for such a debate.
  • Other mechanisms for participation in foreign policy by Parliament
Since the United Kingdom is a member State of the European Union, the European scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons has oversight of the policy of the Government as a whole as it is exercised through the institutions of the European Union, in particular the Council of Ministers. The "scrutiny reserve" resolution, amended and reaffirmed by the House in November 1998, stipulates that, with a few exceptions, the Government may not agree to any proposal in the Council of Ministers unless it has previously been cleared by the Committee or the House has come to a resolution approving the proposal or the negotiating line to be taken by the Government. European Standing Committees consider legislative proposals and documents referred to them by the European scrutiny Committee, and come to resolutions that are subsequently voted on by the whole House (without debate).
National Defence Committee (sub-report)
  • Functions of the Committee
There is no national defence Committee.
  • Powers of the Committee
Not applicable
  • Composition of the Committee
Not applicable
Parliamentary oversight of public arms manufacturing companies The Government makes an annual report to Parliament on the grant of arms export licences. Since 1997 four of the departmental select Committees have met together as a quadripartite Committee to examine the reports. Government has refused requests by select Committees for parliamentary scrutiny of arms export licences prior to approval.
Circumstances and involvement
  • Modalities and procedures in case of war, an armed attack or a state of emergency
Not applicable
  • Role of Parliament in sending troops abroad
There is no specific requirement for approval, although often the Government will arrange for a debate in Parliament. The secretary of state for defence has a statutory duty to report to Parliament on the call-out of members of the reserve forces.
  • Other mechanisms for participation in national defence policy by Parliament
The House of Commons has a departmental select Committee that scrutinises the work of the Ministry of Defence. Other than that there are no specific mechanisms for scrutinising defence policy. However members of both Houses may table questions to the minister and table motions on defence issues. The secretary of state for defence is questioned for an hour each month on the floor of the House of Commons, and may be required to answer an urgent question if an application is granted by the Speaker. The secretary of state will also make statements to the House on defence issues, and answer questions on them. The House of Commons is asked to approve a resolution no later than 18 March each year on the maximum numbers of personnel in the armed forces, as set out in the Ministry of Defence Votes A. It is also customary for defence policy to be debated annually in the House of Commons.
Circumstances Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (replacing the Emergency Powers Act 1920) the Sovereign may proclaim a state of emergency if events have occurred that may threaten serious damage to the health and welfare, environment or security of the United Kingdom or any part of. it. A state of emergency is declared by proclamation of the Crown. In practice this will only be done on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Can parliament take the initiative to declare a state of emergency No
Consequences of a state of emergency for Parliament Parliament is immediately informed of any proclamation of a state of emergency. If Parliament is adjourned or prorogued for more than five days, a proclamation is issued requiring Parliament to meet within five days. Parliament functions as normal during a state of emergency. If there is a need to extend the term of Parliament beyond five years, then a bill extending the life of the Parliament must be passed by both Houses. This was done, for example, during the Second World War, when the Parliament summoned in November 1935 was not dissolved until June 1945. Under the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949, the House of Lords can only delay bills, not veto them. However, any bill extending the life of a Parliament is excluded from the Parliament Act and must be passed by both Houses.
Modalities of oversight
  • Body ruling on the constitutionality of laws
Parliament or one of the Chambers Parliament is sovereign, and its acts are by definition constitutional. Decisions by public authorities are increasingly subject to judicial review (review of the lawfulness of a decision or action of a public body).
  • Means and procedures
Where the courts have ruled that a legislative provision is defective or insufficient, Parliament may pass an act rectifying the situation. The introduction of such legislation is generally on the Government's initiative. The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporated the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The minister in charge of each government bill presented to Parliament must, before the second reading of the bill in each House, state whether he/she believes the provisions of the bill are compatible with the convention. The joint Committee on human rights also scrutinises bills for these implications and makes reports to both Houses on bills involving human rights issues.

The House of Lords has established a Constitution Committee with the remit to "examine the constitutional implications of all public bills coming before the House; and to keep under review the operation of the Constitution". The Committee examines legislation which has a clear constitutional significance and reports to the House prior to the second reading of the bill. The joint Committee on statutory instruments scrutinises legislative instruments made, or proposed to be made, under delegated powers (secondary legislation). It may draw the special attention of the Houses to any instrument it considers is defectively drafted, is made ultra vires or is an unusual use of delegated powers, or is excluded from challenge in the courts, but it may not take into account the merits of the policy decisions behind the instruments.
Evaluation of laws No Not applicable

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