Parliament is the word used to describe the legislature of Great Britain, it is responsible for making the law and controls the affairs of Britain. It is at the Houses of Parliament that the Commons and Lords hold their meetings .
The House of Lords is made up of both the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, 24 bishops, over 700 peers made up of dukes, earls, barons and other titled people, along with certain important judges, however position in the House of Lords can no longer be inherited. Here the Lord Chancellor, takes his seat on a large square cushion, the Woolsack. Behind are the royal thrones, one of which is used by the reigning King or Queen, who no longer rules the country as the kings and queens did in former days, they do still however play an important part.
It is the ordinary men and women of Great Britain who vote to choose the Members of the House of Commons, which is divided into over 600 districts, known as constituencies, each of which sends a Member to the House of Commons. Most candidates are usually members of either the Conservative, Liberal or Labour Party. A Member of Parliament democratically elected for a district does not only attend Parliament, where he votes with his party but, takes part in some of the debates: He also spends a good deal of time in his constituency, where he listens to his constituents suggestions and grievances. He will send his question in writing to the Minister concerned and, a few days later, the answer will be given . If necessary, he may raise these questions in the House of Commons.
The King or Queen accepts the party, who, obtains the most seats in the House of Commons and asks them to form a government.The Prime Minister's role has altered they are no longer just the servant of the reigning sovereign, but serve the nation as a whole. The Prime Minister does however inform the King or Queen on all important matters, the sovereign has often become the confidant and adviser of the Prime Minister, ensuring stability and continuity. From the Members of Parliament of his party the Prime Minister (who stays at 10 Downing Street ) selects the Ministers to be appointed in the Cabinet. Parliament is then called together by the reigning King or Queen, it is a splendid occasion, the peers dress in their robes, the Members of the House of Commons are summoned to attend to hear the King or Queen's Speech, which outlines the Government's proposals for the coming year. Each day a time is set aside for answering questions in Parliament.
The House of Commons plays the greater part in governing the country, the old House of Commons was destroyed by German bombers during the Second World but was replaced, the House is small, the Speaker's chair is at the far end and in front of it is the table on which the Mace is placed when the House is sitting. The Speaker, is elected by the Members those who sit on the right of of the Speaker have been voted into power at the election. The Prime Minister and important Ministers sit on the front bench. The other parties sit on the other side of the House, they are called the Opposition . Its sittings are divided into sessions each occupying a year or thereabouts, each opened by the King or Queens representative. If the Government makes a careless or hasty, decision the opposition Members will draw everyone's attention to it. A parliamentary session can be discontinued, until the next sitting, but parliament itself must be dissolved. This is done on the advice of the Prime Minister and a general election must follow.
PARLIAMENT - TAX - AND THE LAW
Parliament gives permission to the Government to raise money by taxing the people. Each year in April the Chancellor of the Exchequer presents his Budget to the House of Commons. The Commons discuss it and give permission for the raising of the money by means of the taxes. The Law is governed by Acts of Parliament, or Statutes. Any Member of either House can suggest a Bill, which is what it is called until it becomes law. Most Bills are suggested by the Government, however if a Member introduces a Bill, let us say in the Commons, the Members will vote whether or not they want to consider it. This is called the First Reading. Then, when they have had time to find out more about the Bill, they vote a second time - the Second Reading. After this the Bill is discussed in great detail by a Committee of M.P.s from all parties. At this stage alterations known as amendments may be suggested; When these have been considered by the House, the Third Reading takes place, and if this vote is in favour of the Bill, it is passed on to the House of Lords. There it goes through exactly similar stages. The Lords can suggest amendments and can hold a Bill up for a year, after which the Commons must have their way. When the Bill has been passed by both Houses, the royal seal is placed on it on behalf of the Queen. The Bill now becomes an Act of Parliament and part of the law of Britain.
THE ORIGINS OF PARLIAMENT
There has always been in England, from very early times, some kind of meeting or assembly of the chief men of the realm with whom the King took counsel. The English parliament has developed from the Witan of the Anglo Saxon kings, which met to advise the king on important matters of state; they were without any rules of membership. At first the witan council, met wherever the king happened to be and sat for as long as he wished. A careful king could do without a parliament perhaps for years.But one who wanted a good deal of money held a Witan when they were required, usually three times a year, at Easter, Whitsuntide, and Christmas.
In 1066 William the Conqueror ruled supreme, but still needed the support of the barons and knights who had helped him to win the land. His government (Curia Regis met at Christmas Easter & Whitsun) the King's Council. had no regular rules, sometimes it only included the King's chief advisers, who even traveled with him, these in turn listened to the Baronial Curia, the Barons received land in return for military service and guidance. The Tenants in Chief who were feudal land owners were invited, to the King's Council when necessary. The knights however had no share in Government were given land known as a Knights Fee in exchange for military service and a supply of foot soldiers, these along with the Freemen would attend the Shire Moot .
When Richard the Lion Heart died his younger brother, John, became king of England, under his rule all the French lands he had inherited were lost to Philip, King of France. Early in his reign he disagreed with Pope Innocent III, who named the person the monks of Canterbury had chosen Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. But John refused to accept, the Pope placed England under an " Interdict." while the Interdict existed, all churches had to be closed, children could not be baptised and people could not hear Mass or receive the Sacraments. This made the king very unpopular with both poor and rich people alike.
During this trouble Philip of France threatened to invade England. When John heard this he knew he could rely on no one in England, so he made peace with the Pope and declared the Pope as his overlord. This meant that he could call on the aid of the Pope, his overlord, if his country was invaded. Knowing full well that no one dared attack him, John began to behave as badly as before. Eventually the barons decided the king would have to be checked.
They called a meeting at Runnymede, on the banks of the Thames, and ordered John to sign a charter (Magna Carta) which Archbishop Langton and the barons had drawn up, stating the rights and privileges of the king's subjects. John could not refuse the barons who had armed men with them, he was forced to agree and accept the charter they put before him.
When John died he was succeeded by his son Henry III who was a boy of nine years of age, in the name of the king the Great Charter was re-issued, but when the King became of age, Henry plunged into extravagance and misrule. Something happened during his reign which was of great importance, and which has made a great difference to the people of England. That is the first English Parliament (1258 The Mad Parliament Curia Regis at Oxford Henry's Bridled Provisions at Oxford of a Council of fifteen). The custom began of summoning to the Council two knights from each shire to represent the smaller tenants - in - chief.
Due to the misrule of Henry III. the barons leader Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, together with the barons forced the King to agree to Simon de Montfort's idea for rule according to the advice of council . However the King broke his promise and the barons declared war, in 1265 during the long struggle between the Bachelors and Royalists, the King was defeated at the Battle of Lewes and again put under the charge of the barons.
Simon de Montfort has been, called the founder of parliament in 1265 after the battle of Lewes, he called representatives from the towns, who had supported him, and summoned citizens from each shire, these joined the barons, abbots and bishops who had hitherto formed the council, the arrival of parliament in the modern sense. But Prince Edward escaped from prison, determined to crush them, which he did at the battle of Evesham, where Simon de Montfort was killed .
When Edward I. came to the throne, he tried various forms of government, but had not forgotten that Simon de Montfort had summoned two burgesses, from each borough to sit with the lords of the Church and the State of Parliament.
The king needed money to pay for his armies and to run his country, the barons and great churchmen of the Great Council obtained it for him. But it was not easy for them to collect these taxes from the people who lived on their lands. Besides this, there were many wealthy towns where the barons, bishops and abbots had no power to collect taxes.
In 1295, he summoned a Parliament, based on Simon de Montforts plan, Edward I. summoned to the Great Council, the greater barons (48 Lords) the higher clergy, such as archbishops, the bishops and abbots (20 bishops and 70 Heads of monasteries) and others whom the lower clergy elected to meet at Westminster (The Lords ).
Here is a letter which the King sent to the Sheriff of Northampton for this assembly:
" The King to the Sheriff of Northamptonshire. Since we intend to have consultation and meeting with the earls, barons, and other principal men of our kingdom, to provide remedies against the dangers which are in these days threatening our kingdom, we have therefore commanded them to be with us on the Lord's Day next after the Feast of St. Martin in the approaching winter at Westminster - to consider, ordain and do as may be necessary for the avoidance of these dangers. And we strictly require you to cause two knights from the aforesaid county, two citizens from each city in the same county, and two burgesses from each borough, of those who are especially discreet and diligent, to be elected without delay and to cause them to come to us at the aforesaid time and place."
At the same time each shire was to choose two knights who would take with them any complaints that the royal judges had not been able right. It was not a popular duty, the journey to Westminster was long and expensive, and the thought of mixing with the lords frightening. We hear of knights chosen for Parliament who went into hiding and refused to set out.
And more important the towns were to appoint two citizens to come to this court and consult with him (74 Knights 332 Citizens) at the Chapter House Westminster Abbey .
In later years this meeting was called the Model Parliament of 1295, for from then onwards this method of consulting the people was copied quite frequently. At first parliament was an assembly of one house, but early in the 13th century it was divided into two, a form it has since retained . Gradually Parliament became more important. thus, the King had to allow that its consent was necessary for any new or special taxes (1297).
In some of the other Parliaments the main duty was to help the King to deal with the petitions which came to him from all parts of the country. For instance, in a Parliament held in 1305 there were no less than 500 petitions on every sort of subject. These petitions were sorted into bundles and then handed over to various committees or groups, the most difficult being reserved for the King and his Council of Ministers.
Under Edward III. Parliament reached more or less its present form. In the course of that century the lower clergy retired to an assembly of their own. The higher clergy combined with the barons, and became the House of Lords. The knights and citizens combined together to form what became the House of Commons, and went to sit in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey because it was outside the King's power. In this division the knights of the shire, who might have been expected to sit with the Lords, joined the representatives of the towns. Their presence gave weight and dignity to the Commons. And, by forming a link between the higher nobility and the people, it did much to preserve politics from those rigid class distinctions that proved fatal to the representative assemblies of other nations.
The knights and citizens, would meet together in some convenient place, to decide what they should say to the king, then elect a Speaker to speak for them and to present to the king the petitions they have brought with them. To this day the chairman of the House of Commons is known as the Speaker.
The Lords were much more powerful, than the Commons who were merely asked for their Assent which was usually taken for granted. The king would explain why he needed money, the Speaker would point out very humbly that the people would be in a better mood for paying taxes if the king granted their petitions. In this way it came about that, in return for the promise of money, the king granted the petitions of the Commons or the Lords. These were called Acts of Parliament or Statutes, this is one way in which laws are made. Later on Parliament obtained the power of voting money for some particular object and of seeing that the money was spent on that object and on nothing else.
As time passed, Parliaments were more frequently called together. The Commons only met the king and his House of Lords when summoned for some special purpose. The House of Commons represented the lords of the manors, or squires, and the rich merchants of the towns. These were the people from whom the king obtained most of his taxes. The Commons, then, considered that before the king could impose a tax, he must ask their permission, and in the end the kings agreed.Gradually the Commons made themselves equal to the Lords and it became the rule that the king could make laws only with the consent of Parliament.
In the shires it was laid down in 1430 that only those owning land worth 40 shillings a year could vote and this rule lasted for 400 years, down to the year 1832, when Parliament was reformed.
If Parliament wanted a new law, at first it could only petition the King, and if he accepted the petition, he would himself draw up a law. Henry IV., was obliged to call frequent parliaments, and between 1400 and 1500 Parliament began the custom of presenting a petition in the form of a law, and if the King accepted it the petition became law without any further change. The Tudor sovereigns however managed to make their parliaments register their will .
During the reigns of James I and Charles I there was a bitter quarrel between king and Parliament as to which should rule the country, which became civil war, and in 1649 Parliament ordered that Charles I. should be beheaded.
For 11 years there was no king in England, Parliament appointed Oliver Cromwell as ruler. Then, in 1660 the dead king's son, Charles II was called to the throne, all was well until he was succeeded by his brother, James II, who tried to rule without considering the wishes of Parliament.Government or the control of the executive by the legislature, especially by that branch which represents the people. was a direct consequence of the victory of the parliament in the Civil War ; but it only took shape at the Revolution of 1688
In 1689 parliament made up of the Whigs ( nickname for Roundheads - small businessmen Dissenters and Quakers ) and the Tories (nickname for Cavaliers - Landowners, Squires Church of England, Roman Catholics) chose another king selecting the Dutchman, William of Orange, who was married to James's daughter . In 1694 they passed a triennial act which said that not more than three years must pass. without the calling of a parliament.
In 1715 a septennial act was passed by which a parliament could sit for seven years, and this remained the law until 1911, when the Parliament Act reduced the period to five years, Nevertheless, parliament, being a sovereign body, can prolong its own existence as it did during the Great War. From that time there has never been any doubt that Parliament is the ruler of the country.
In the 19th century the Commons became the dominant partner. This was due to the control they acquired over finance, and after a time it became the rule that finance was the province of the Commons. This still did not mean, that everyone had a say in ruling Britain, for Parliament was chosen by the squires and rich merchants (Land Owners) in 1832 votes were given to property owners, landowners and some tenants. In Queen Victoria's reign ideas began to change in 1838 men fought for the People's Charter they were called the Chartists they had no easy task and suffered for their efforts but their demands have practically all been granted and we run our country to-day by the resultant laws .
1858 people are no longer required to be a holder of property to be able to stand for election 1884 all men who were householders were given the right to vote in elections for Members of Parliament. 1872 the introduction of a secret ballot to avoid any victimization . In 1911 no-one was to be excluded from Parliament because of the lack of money, payment being given to the members .
In 1918 all men of 21 and over were given the vote, certain women were claiming that they should have the right to vote at elections. In those days this seemed a strange idea, for women lived a very sheltered life and were not considered able to play a part in running the country. After the war was over, older women were given the vote, ten years later, women got the same rights as men to vote for Members of Parliament. Now women as well as men sit in the House of Commons and help to make the decisions .
The Parliament Act of 1911 made the House of Lords subordinate to the House of Commons. The Lords is now a revising chamber only. It can delay the passing of a bill into law for two years, but that is all. If the Commons, under the required conditions, pass a measure three times that bill becomes law whether the Lords oppose or not. Money bills cannot be touched by the Lords.
The parliaments in Canada, Australia. South Africa and elsewhere follow the British model, both in constitution and principle, except their second chambers contain no hereditary element, and have rather more power .