2: Governing the UK

This component covers the following topics:

  1. Constitutions
  2. Parliament
  3. Prime Minister and Executives
  4. Relations Between branches (Parliament and Executive; Executive and Judiciary & EU and Parliament)

1. Constitutions

Key Concepts: Constitution; Unentrenched (entrenched); Uncodified (codified); Unitary (federal); Parliamentary sovereignty; The rule of law; Statute law; Common law; Conventions; Authoritative works; Treaties; Devolution. 

Key Content 

1.1 The nature and sources of the UK Constitution, including:

• an overview of the development of the Constitution through key historical documents:

(a) Magna Carta (1215);

(b) Bill of Rights (1689);

(c) Act of Settlement (1701);

d) Acts of Union (1707);

(e) Parliament Acts (1911 and 1949);

(f) European Communities Act (1972)

• the nature of the UK Constitution: unentrenched, uncodified and unitary, and the ‘twin pillars’ of parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law

• the five main sources of the UK Constitution: statute law; common law; conventions; authoritative works, and treaties (including European Union law).

1.2 How the constitution has changed since 1997.

• Under Labour 1997–2010: House of Lords reforms, electoral reform; devolution; Human Rights Act 1998; and the Supreme Court.

• Under the Coalition 2010–15: Fixed Term Parliaments, Act 2011; further devolution to Wales.

• Any major reforms undertaken by governments since 2015, including further devolution to Scotland (in the context of the Scottish Referendum).

1.3 The role and powers of devolved bodies in the UK, and the impact of this devolution on the UK.

• Devolution in England.

• Scottish Parliament and Government.

• Welsh Assembly and Government.

• Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.

1.4 Debates on further reform.

• An overview of the extent to which the individual reforms since 1997 listed in section 1.2 above should be taken further.

• The extent to which devolution should be extended in England.

• Whether the UK constitution should be changed to be entrenched and codified, including a bill of rights.

2. Parliament

Key Concepts: Parliament; House of Commons; House of Lords; Confidence and supply; Salisbury Convention; Parliamentary privilege; Legislative bills; Public bill committees; Backbenchers; Select committees; Opposition

Key Content

2.1 The structure and role of the House of Commons and House of Lords.

• The selection of members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, including the different types of Peers.

• The main functions of the House of Commons and House of Lords and the extent to which these functions are fulfilled.

2.2 The comparative powers of the House of Commons and House of Lords.

• The exclusive powers of the House of Commons.

• The main powers of the House of Lords.

• Debates about the relative power of the two Houses.

2.3 The legislative process.

• The different stages a bill must go through to become law.

• The interaction between the Commons and the Lords during the legislative process, including the Salisbury Convention.

2.4 The ways in which Parliament interacts with the Executive.

• The role and significance of backbenchers in both Houses, including the importance of parliamentary privilege.

• The work of select committees.

• The role and significance of the opposition.

• The purpose and nature of ministerial question time, including Prime Minister’s Questions.

3. Prime Minister and Executive

Key Concepts: Executive; Cabinet Minister; Government department; Royal prerogative; Secondary legislation; Individual responsibility; Collective responsibility; Presidential government;

Key Content

3.1 The structure, role, and powers of the Executive.

• Its structure, including Prime Minister, the Cabinet, junior ministers and government departments.

• Its main roles, including proposing legislation, proposing a budget, and making policy decisions within laws and budget.

• The main powers of the Executive, including Royal Prerogative powers, initiation of legislation and secondary legislative power.

3.2 The concept of ministerial responsibility.

• The concept of individual ministerial responsibility.

• The concept of collective ministerial responsibility.

3.3 The Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

3.3.1 The power of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

• The factors governing the Prime Minister’s selection of ministers.

• The factors that affect the relationship between the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, and the ways they have changed, and the balance of power between the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

3.3.2 The powers of the Prime Minster and the Cabinet to dictate events and determine policy.

• Students must study the influence of one Prime Minister from 1945 to 1997 and one post-1997 Prime Minister.

• Students may choose any pre-1997 and any post-1997 Prime Minister, provided that they study them in an equivalent level of detail, covering both events and policy, with examples that illustrate both control and a lack of control.

4. Relations between the branches

Key Concepts: Supreme Court; Judicial neutrality; Judicial independence; Judicial review; Elective dictatorship; European Union (EU); Four freedoms (EU); Legal sovereignty; Political sovereignty; Ultra vires.

Key Content

4.1 The Supreme Court and its interactions with, and influence over, the legislative and policy-making processes.

• The role and composition of the Supreme Court.

• The key operating principles of the Supreme Court, including judicial neutrality and judicial independence and their extent.

• The degree to which the Supreme Court influences both the Executive and Parliament, including the doctrine of ultra vires and judicial review.

4.2 The relationship between the Executive and Parliament.

• The influence and effectiveness of Parliament in holding the Executive to account.

• The influence and effectiveness of the Executive in attempting to exercise dominance over Parliament.

• The extent to which the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive has changed.

4.3 The aims, role and impact of the European Union (EU) on the UK government.

• The aims of the EU, including the ‘four freedoms’ of the single market, social policy, and political and economic union, and the extent to which these have been achieved.

• The role of the EU in policy making.

• The impact of the EU, including the main effects of at least two EU policies and their impact on the UK political system and UK policy making.

4.4 The location of sovereignty in the UK political system.

• The distinction between legal sovereignty and political sovereignty.

• The extent to which sovereignty has moved between different branches of government.

• Where sovereignty can now be said to lie in the UK.

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