This free book comprises two parts, the first is the political history of all monarchs in succession. The second part of the book covers the present system of government.
Parliament is the supreme law-making body in the United Kingdom. It is made up of two Houses of Parliament, namely the House of Commons and the House of Lords, as well as the Sovereign. The Sovereign's involvement in the life and working of Parliament is purely formal.
In constitutional theory, Parliament in its strictest sense is sometimes referred to as the Queen-in-Parliament; this contrasts with the more ordinary use of the term "Parliament", meaning just the two Houses of Parliament. Within the British constitutional framework, the Queen-in-Parliament is supreme ("sovereign"), able to make, alter, or repeal any law at will.
Both Houses of Parliament meet at the Palace of Westminster.
As with most legislatures, Parliament does not continue in perpetual existence. Typically, the "life" of a Parliament is around four years.
Parliament is initially summoned by the Sovereign. This now always occurs after there has been a general election. Once assembled, and a Speaker has been chosen by the House of Commons, Parliament is formally opened by the Sovereign. The business of the two Houses is arranged into sessions, which usually last a year (running from around October or November each calendar year). However, there is usually a long recess during the summer months, when business is temporarily suspended.
The opening of each parliamentary session is conducted in accordance with a great deal of traditional ceremony. The Sovereign takes his or her seat on the throne situated in the chamber of the House of Lords, and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod (one of that House's officers) is commanded to summon the House of Commons. When Black Rod reaches the door of the Commons, it is slammed shut in his face, to symbolise the right of the Commons to debate without royal interference. Black Rod then solemnly knocks on the door with his staff of office; on the third knock, the door is opened, and he is permitted to enter and deliver his message. MPs then proceed from the Commons to the House of Lords, to hear the Speech from the Throne, more commonly known as the Queen's Speech. The Speech outlines the Government's legislative proposals for the session; while worded as if it's the Sovereign's own policy, the Speech is in fact entirely drafted by Government ministers.
Each session is ended by a prorogation. The Commons are formally summoned to the House of Lords, where another formal Speech is read out, summing up the work of the two Houses of Parliament over the course of the session. In practice the Sovereign no longer attends for the prorogation; Lords Commissioners are appointed to perform the task, and one of their number also reads out the Speech.
By law, each Parliament must come to an end no later than five years from its commencement; this is known as dissolution. The dissolution is made by royal proclamation. The summoning, proroguing, and dissolving of Parliament are powers exercised by the Sovereign under the royal prerogative. They are exercised in accordance with the "advice" of the Prime Minister. Because a dissolution is necessary in order to trigger a general election, the Prime Minister is effectively able to choose to hold elections at a time that seems the most advantageous to his or her political party.
Although the duration of Parliament has been restricted to five years since 1911, legislation was passed during both World Wars to extend the life of the existing Parliament; this meant that the Parliament summoned in 1935 eventually continued in existence for around ten years, until 1945.