The answer to the question, ‘Who’s in charge of the Westminster Parliament?’ might seem obvious: surely Parliament is in charge! After all, Parliament determines its own procedures and is ‘sovereign’, meaning that it has the legal power to do whatever it likes when it comes to making law. The reality, however, is more complex. For one thing, the executive (or government) exercises a great deal of influence over Parliament, not least because the executive normally has a majority in the House of Commons, meaning that it is easy, at least if there is a sizeable government majority, for the executive to get Parliament to enact whatever laws it wants. It might be going too far to say this makes the executive government sovereign, but it certainly has its hands very firmly on the levers of Parliament’s sovereign (unlimited) law-making power. This, in turn, makes it important to understand what it means for Parliament to be sovereign.
In this video, produced for Constitutional Law Matters’ ‘Who’s in charge of the Westminster Parliament?’ event, Mark Elliott explores the idea of parliamentary sovereignty. He asks what it means, whether it is possible for Parliament to restrict its own powers and whether the constitution imposes any limits on what Parliament can do.