Constitution of United Kingdom

Status: Monarchy under Queen Elizabeth II

Legislature: UK Parliament

The UK does not have a written constitution. Acts of Union integrated England with Wales(1536–42), with Scotland(1707) and with Ireland(1801). In 1921 southern Ireland became the Irish Free State (later Republic of Ireland). The constitution is made up of common law, statute law and conventions, and may be changed by a simple act of parliament without any special procedure or majority.

The UK is a constitutional monarchy (with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state) and a parliamentary democracy (with parliament as the legislative organ). Parliament is bicameral, with an upper chamber, the House of Lords (comprising 89 hereditary peers, 678 life peers and 25 bishops in March 2011), and a lower chamber, the House of Commons (with 650 elected members). The prime minister and cabinet lead the executive. Parliamentary elections are held at least every five years, with universal adult suffrage.

A major constitutional process to change the membership of the House of Lords was begun in 1998. Of some 700 hereditary peers, only 92 were allowed to keep their seats after November 1999, whereon a second stage of reform was due to lead to the final removal of all hereditary peers and a wide-ranging debate about possible new methods to select members of the upper chamber.

Local government is conducted through local authorities, with specified powers in education, social services, etc. Councils are directly elected by voters in the relevant area.

The governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are responsible for local government in their own regions. In England local government is devolved to two levels of authority: county/metropolitan area and district. In certain instances government is delivered by councils at both levels with responsibilities divided between the two, and in others, by the county/metropolitan area or district but not by both.