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Cover Public Law Directions

10. The Legislature: membership, privileges, and standards  

This chapter explores the role and membership of Parliament’s two chambers, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the operation of parliamentary privilege; and accountability of members. The key functions of Parliament include controlling national expenditure and taxation; sustaining the government; legislating and scrutinising government actions. The House of Commons is the pre-eminent chamber and dominates Parliament. The Commons’ membership consists of Members of Parliament (MPs) who are democratically elected by the public to represent their interests in Parliament. The membership of the House of Lords largely relies on patronage. Members of the Lords are appointed by the Queen on the Prime Minister’s advice. The House of Lords is an important revising and scrutinising chamber, and while it is subordinate to the democratically elected House of Commons, it is also a check on constitutional change by the Commons. The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 redefined the Lords’ legislative powers over public bills and established the Commons’ primacy. The chapter then considers the operation of parliamentary privilege. Parliament needs parliamentary privilege to conduct its core business effectively, independently, and without fear of outside interference, and to protect everything said or done in the transaction of parliamentary business. Indeed, Parliament is self-regulating and, as a sovereign body, operates outside the jurisdiction of the courts except for the criminal law. Each House has its own standards of conduct and disciplinary powers which ensure accountability.