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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the collective name for four countries, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have been united under a single Parliament through a series of Acts of Union. The United Kingdom has recently undergone a period of devolution with the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales (see separate tabs for information on these specific jurisdictions). (For more general information on the United Kingdom, see CIA - The World Factbook, the US State Department Background Notes and Europa World Plus (UniMelb access only)).
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy (a government that is established under a constitution but retains a monarch as the head of state). The duties, functions and powers of the monarch are conscribed by convention. The constitution does not exist in a single written document but consists of statute law, case law and parliamentary conventions.
The parliament is bicameral, with the first chamber, the House of Commons, directly elected. The second chamber, the House of Lords, consists of elected hereditary peers, life peers, Law Lords and bishops, most of whom are appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The House of Lords is in the process of being reformed (for more information on this reform, see University College London Constitution Unit).
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