Parliament_ Meaning of
The early legislative assembly of England, Scotland, or Ireland, and later of the United Kingdom, is known as parliament (from Old French: parlement; Latin: parliamentum). The sovereign, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons make up the British Parliament, which is known as the “Mother of Parliaments.” The word was first used in the 13th century to describe after-dinner conversations amongst monks in their cloisters. The phrase was coined by English Benedictine monk Matthew Paris of the Abbey of St. Albans in 1239 to denote to a council gathering comprising prelates, earls, and barons, and it was also used to refer to the meeting called by Pope Innocent IV in Lyon, France, in 1245.
Parliament_ How it came into Being?
Nobody intended for Parliament to exist. It sprang naturally from the English King’s and his government’s day to day political needs. It not only evolved over time, but rather went through periods of rapid growth.
Despite its unplanned and accidental evolution, the contemporary British Parliament is one of the world’s oldest continuous representative assemblies. What caused this to happen? It’s a tale of rebellion, battle, invasion, and multiple dethroning. The history of Parliament may be traced back to the 13th century, when the sheriffs of English counties sent knights to the monarch for financial advice. The kings, on the other hand, wanted the knights’ consent to new taxes, not their advice. In other words, the king sought their advice but went ahead and did what he wanted.
King Edward I (1272–1307) called joint meetings of two governmental bodies later in the 13th century: the Magnum Concilium, or Great Council, which included lay and ecclesiastical magnates, and the Curia Regis, or King’s Court, which was a considerably smaller assembly of semiprofessional advisers. During the meetings of the Curia Regis, which became known as concilium regis in parliamento (“the king’s council in parliament”), judicial matters that had proven to be beyond the competence of the ordinary law courts dating back to the 12th century could be resolved. The members of the Curia Regis were powerful, and they frequently stayed to finish business after the magnates had gone home; Parliament’s proceedings were not formally concluded until they had completed their job.
For the first time in 1239, a meeting of the English monarch and his counsellors was referred to as a parliament.
Despite the Magna Carta’s reforms, King John’s successor, King Henry III, clashed with the barons. Many of the barons despised Henry’s authority, particularly his unsuccessful military battles in France and his choice of advisers and supporters. The people of the town despised the King’s tax demands and meddling in their business.
In 1258, the barons compelled the King to agree to rule with the advice of a 15-member baron council and to have more regular consultations with parliament.
De Montfort was a baron who believed that the King’s power should be limited and that county knights and burgesses—representatives from the cities and towns—should have more influence. In 1264, he overthrew the King and, in effect, became the ruler of Britain.
De Montfort attempted to strengthen the barons’ support the following year by summoning knights from the countryside and burgesses from cities and towns to his own parliament. Commoners were represented for the first time in such a convention, though their presence would not be permanent for another 63 years. De Montfort’s parliament is regarded as the predecessor of modern parliaments due to the involvement of commoners.
De Montfort was killed in war by Henry III’s son, Edward, not long after this parliament met. King Edward I, unlike his father, met with parliament on a more regular basis. Edward’s parliament was more representative of the people because, for the first time, it contained the lower clergy, as well as two knights from each county, two burgesses from each borough, and two citizens from each city. It provided a base for the future House of Commons.
Separate Meetings of Lords and Knights & Burgesses
The tradition of holding debates between the lords spiritual and temporal in one chamber, or “house,” (which became House of Lords) and the knights and burgesses in another (later to be known as House of Commons) developed early in the 14th century. The people’s representatives sat in Parliament on a permanent basis from 1327, and by 1332, they were called as the House of Commons. It did not, however, have a formal meeting schedule and continued to meet at the monarch’s request.
At the period, the House of Lords wielded significantly more influence over the king than the House of Commons and had a stronger say in Parliamentary decisions. The House of Commons, on the other hand, began convening independently of the House of Lords in 1341, and its influence began to grow.
One of the Commons’ main functions was to petition the monarch and the House of Lords to pass new legislation to address local and national difficulties. These petitions were frequently used as the foundation for bills, or proposed legislation. Because new taxes often had the greatest influence on the people represented by the Commons, it became customary for the king to seek the consent of the Commons for new taxes.
Though it was still possible to enact law by royal proclamation throughout the Tudor period, the monarchs rarely used this unpopular method, and all major political changes were made through acts of Parliament.
Equal Powers for the House of Commons
In the fourteenth century, King Edward III’s ongoing battles with France necessitated more frequent calls to Parliament to raise funds. The Commons used their bargaining power to demand concessions from the King and the House of Lords, including that the King and the House of Lords act on their petitions.
Rather than simply petitioning the House of Lords, the Commons had obtained equal legislative power by the mid-fifteenth century. The Commons was also in authority of granting the monarch access to tax revenue.
The Civil War and Independence of House of Commons
After King Charles I attempted to arrest five members of parliament in January 1642, the House of Commons’ independence from the monarch was further strengthened.
King Charles I’s relationship with Parliament had been deteriorating for some time. The King’s rule, including his taxes, the wars he fought, and his failure to invite Parliament to meet, were all criticised by Parliament. Some felt that Charles wished to abolish the Protestant faith in England.
The Grand Remonstrance, a list of Parliament’s grievances, was composed by John Pym and four other Commons members. The House of Commons agreed to the Remonstrance in November 1641.
This was considered treasonous by Charles. The King, escorted by soldiers, entered the Commons chamber to arrest Pym and his four allies, but they had fled into hiding. The Speaker of the House, William Lenthall, refused to reveal the location of the five members, declaring, “I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here”.
Following this event which demonstrated the autonomy of House Commons from the King, it became customary for the monarch to never enter the lower house of Parliament.
The disagreement between the Commons and the King led to a civil war, Charles I’s execution in 1649, and the declaration of Britain as a republic. In 1660, the monarchy was restored, but the monarch and Parliament remained at odds.
Emergence of Political Parties in the Parliament
The Whig and Tory factions, forerunners of later political parties, arose during the Restoration period (1660–88).
The British Parliament, according to the Whigs, should have more power than the monarchy. The Liberal Party arose from the Whigs’ support for change and reform in the nineteenth century. They have since evolved into the Liberal Democrats.
The Tories were more traditional and averse to change. They were opposed to giving the British Parliament more power because they backed the monarchy and the Church of England. They have since transformed into the Conservative Party.
Glorious Revolution and Development of Parliamentary Sovereignty
Following the Glorious Revolution (1688–89) which resulted in the abdication of King James II and ascent of William and Mary to the throne jointly, the modern parliamentary system, as well as the notion of parliamentary sovereignty, developed quickly. William and Mary were offered the throne by parliament along with Declaration of Rights which was accepted and became Bill of Rights. The Bill gave succession of throne to Mary’s sister Anne, in default of issue from Mary and abolished monarch’s power to suspend law. Though they were not subject to control by either chamber, William III (1689–1702) chose his ministers from among the political parties in Parliament.
While the convention of government automatically resigning if they lose an election had not yet arisen, monarchs began to change the composition of the Privy Council to match the composition of Parliament. Later, cabinet members were chosen from among the members of the majority party in the House of Commons.
Decline of the House of Lords
The monarchy’s power had waned by the late 17th century, and the relationship between the Lords and Commons had moved in favour of the Commons. When the House of Lords threatened to reject the Treaty of Utrecht with France in 1712, the government created enough Tory peerages in that house to ensure support for its policy, setting a precedent that solidified the House of Commons’ authority.
In 1721, Robert Walpole, the leader of the Whigs, the House of Commons, and the cabinet, was chosen the first unofficial prime minister and became the real head of government in the reign of King George I (1714–27). He did not accept elevation to the House of Lords, instead remaining a member of the House of Commons, unlike previous leading ministers. When Lord North’s ministry resigned in 1782 because the Commons did not support his policies, the principle that the government was subordinate to the House of Commons was reaffirmed. The House of Lords’ inferior status was explicitly established in the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949.
The House of Lords was pledged to be abolished in the Labour Party’s programme for the 1983 elections, which the party lost. In the 1990s, the hereditary privilege was significantly eroded when Tony Blair’s Labour government abolished the right of all but 92 hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords as a prelude to further reform.
Composition of Parliament
The House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the Monarch (King or Queen) are the three components of British Parliament.
The House of Commons
The House of Commons is a democratically elected body. There are presently 650 constituencies in UK, each of which sends one MP to the House of Commons, corresponding to one MP for every 92,000 persons, or one MP for every 68,000 parliamentary electors. The Speaker is the person who sits at the head of the House. It is his responsibility to keep debates on track which can get quite heated at times.
Qualifications for Member of House of Commons
People who want to run for Parliament must be at least 18 years old, a British citizen or a citizen of a Commonwealth country, or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland.
Candidates must be nominated by 10 parliamentary electors in the constituency in which they desire to run.
To encourage only serious candidates to run, a £500 deposit is required when submitting nomination papers, which will be returned if the candidate receives more than 5% of all votes cast.
Peers from England, Scotland, and the United Kingdom are not eligible to be elected to the House of Commons, but Irish peers are. Certain clergy, judicial officers, military personnel, police officers, and civil servants are also ineligible to run for office. Women became eligible to be elected as members of the House of Commons by an Act of Parliament passed in 1918. Members began to be paid from 1911.
Seat Arrangement in the House of Commons
Conventionally, Prime Ministers and ministers are often seated on the front bench to the right of the Speaker; called the frontbenchers. The Chief Whip is usually seated in the row immediately adjacent to the gangway. Parliamentary Private Secretaries normally sit in the row behind their minister. Other members of the parliament sit behind them and called backbenchers. The front bench to the Speaker’s left is used by official Opposition spokespersons. Minority or smaller groups sit on the benches to the left of the gangway. In front of both sets of benches there is a red line which is not allowed to be crossed by the members during the debate. These seats are not protected, and when a Member chooses to sit on the front bench or on the opposite side of the House from where they usually sit, there is no recourse.
It is interesting to note that because the chamber only has capacity for about two-thirds of the members, it cannot accommodate all of them at the same time. A figure of 427 seats is an average or a finger-in-the-wind estimate, according to Robert Rogers, former Clerk of the House of Commons and Chief Executive. If members arrive late, they must stand near the house’s entrance to listen to debates.
The distinction in colour schemes used in the Lords and Commons parts of the building is a tradition that most visitors to Parliament notice.
Green is the primary colour used in the House of Commons’ furnishings and materials, with the green benches in the Chamber being the most well-known. Green was first used in the Chamber in 1663, according to authoritative sources.
Upholstery, hansard, notepaper, and other items in the House of Lords are all red. This colour is most likely derived from kings’ usage of red as a royal colour and, as a result, its use in the room where the Monarch convened with their court and nobles.
The front bench to the Speaker’s left is used by official Opposition spokespersons. Minority or smaller groups sit on the benches to the left of the gangway.
The House of Lords
The House of Lords, properly known as the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, is the United Kingdom’s upper house of parliament. Membership of the House of Lords is either hereditary or by appointment or official function. It is separate from and complements the elected House of Commons’ work.
Members of the House of Lords can be divided into two main categories; Lord Spiritual and Lord Temporal. The Lords Spiritual includes 26 archbishops and bishops in the established Church of England. The majority of Lords Temporal are life peers who are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister or the House of Lords Appointments Commission, however hereditary peers are also included.
In addition to its position as the upper chamber, the House of Lords served, through the Law Lords, as the final court of appeal in the United Kingdom judicial system until the Supreme Court was established in 2009.
As of January, 2020 the House of Lords had a total of 811 members. A total of 795 Members were eligible to participate in the proceedings. 15 of the remaining participants were on leave, and four were barred from participating because they were in senior judicial positions.
Lord Spiritual: 26
- Hereditary Peers: 92
- Life Peers (created under the Life Peerage Act, 1958): 693
- The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary or commonly known the Law Lords: 12
To ensure judicial independence, Lords of Appeal in Ordinary did not participate in debates on new legislation, as per House tradition. The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary became judges of the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom when the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 came into effect in 2009, and were therefore barred from sitting or voting in the House of Lords until they resigned as judges.
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