British House of Commons

British House of Commons

Overview
The House of Commons is the lower house
Lower house
A lower house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the upper house.Despite its official position "below" the upper house, in many legislatures worldwide the lower house has come to wield more power...

 of the Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

, which also comprises the Sovereign
British monarchy
The monarchy of the United Kingdom is the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has reigned since 6 February 1952. She and her immediate family undertake various official, ceremonial and representational duties...

 and the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

 (the upper house
Upper house
An upper house, often called a senate, is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the lower house; a legislature composed of only one house is described as unicameral.- Possible specific characteristics :...

). Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Palace, is the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—the House of Lords and the House of Commons...

. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members (since 2010 General Election), who are known as Members of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 (MPs). Members are elected through the first-past-the-post
First-past-the-post
First-past-the-post voting refers to an election won by the candidate with the most votes. The winning potato candidate does not necessarily receive an absolute majority of all votes cast.-Overview:...

 system by electoral districts known as constituencies
United Kingdom constituencies
In the United Kingdom , each of the electoral areas or divisions called constituencies elects one or more members to a parliament or assembly.Within the United Kingdom there are now five bodies with members elected by constituencies:...

. They hold their seats until Parliament is dissolved
Dissolution of the United Kingdom Parliament
The Parliament of the United Kingdom is dissolved 17 days before a polling day as determined by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.Members of Parliament cease to be so, as soon as it is dissolved, and, although they and their staff continue to be paid until polling day, they may not enter the...

 (a maximum of five years after the preceding election).

A House of Commons of England
House of Commons of England
The House of Commons of England was the lower house of the Parliament of England from its development in the 14th century to the union of England and Scotland in 1707, when it was replaced by the House of Commons of Great Britain...

 evolved at some point in England during the 14th century and, in practice, has been in continuous existence since, becoming the House of Commons of Great Britain
House of Commons of Great Britain
The House of Commons of Great Britain was the lower house of the Parliament of Great Britain between 1707 and 1801. In 1707, as a result of the Acts of Union of that year, it replaced the House of Commons of England and the third estate of the Parliament of Scotland, as one of the most significant...

 after the political union with Scotland, and also, during the nineteenth century, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

 after the political union with Ireland, finally reaching its current title after independence was given to the Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

 in 1922.

The House of Commons was originally far less powerful than the House of Lords, but today its legislative powers greatly exceed those of the Lords.
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Unanswered Questions
Timeline

1791   A Constitutional Act is introduced by the British House of Commons in London which envisages the separation of Canada into Lower Canada (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario).

1812   Prime Minister Spencer Perceval is assassinated by John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons, London.

1892   Dadabhai Naoroji is elected as the first Indian Member of Parliament in Britain.

1901   Winston Churchill makes his maiden speech in the House of Commons.

1914   The United Kingdom's House of Commons passes the Home Rule Act for devolution in Ireland.

1941   World War II: The House of Commons in London is damaged by the Luftwaffe in an air raid.

1947   The "Indian Independence Bill" is presented before British House of Commons, suggesting bifurcation of British India into two sovereign countries – India and Pakistan.

1979   The British House of Commons passes a vote of no confidence against James Callaghan's government, precipitating a general election.

1992   Betty Boothroyd becomes the first woman to be elected Speaker of the British House of Commons in its 700-year history.

2007   British House of Commons votes to make the upper chamber, the House of Lords, 100% elected.

 
Encyclopedia
The House of Commons is the lower house
Lower house
A lower house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the upper house.Despite its official position "below" the upper house, in many legislatures worldwide the lower house has come to wield more power...

 of the Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

, which also comprises the Sovereign
British monarchy
The monarchy of the United Kingdom is the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has reigned since 6 February 1952. She and her immediate family undertake various official, ceremonial and representational duties...

 and the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

 (the upper house
Upper house
An upper house, often called a senate, is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the lower house; a legislature composed of only one house is described as unicameral.- Possible specific characteristics :...

). Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Palace, is the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—the House of Lords and the House of Commons...

. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members (since 2010 General Election), who are known as Members of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 (MPs). Members are elected through the first-past-the-post
First-past-the-post
First-past-the-post voting refers to an election won by the candidate with the most votes. The winning potato candidate does not necessarily receive an absolute majority of all votes cast.-Overview:...

 system by electoral districts known as constituencies
United Kingdom constituencies
In the United Kingdom , each of the electoral areas or divisions called constituencies elects one or more members to a parliament or assembly.Within the United Kingdom there are now five bodies with members elected by constituencies:...

. They hold their seats until Parliament is dissolved
Dissolution of the United Kingdom Parliament
The Parliament of the United Kingdom is dissolved 17 days before a polling day as determined by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.Members of Parliament cease to be so, as soon as it is dissolved, and, although they and their staff continue to be paid until polling day, they may not enter the...

 (a maximum of five years after the preceding election).

A House of Commons of England
House of Commons of England
The House of Commons of England was the lower house of the Parliament of England from its development in the 14th century to the union of England and Scotland in 1707, when it was replaced by the House of Commons of Great Britain...

 evolved at some point in England during the 14th century and, in practice, has been in continuous existence since, becoming the House of Commons of Great Britain
House of Commons of Great Britain
The House of Commons of Great Britain was the lower house of the Parliament of Great Britain between 1707 and 1801. In 1707, as a result of the Acts of Union of that year, it replaced the House of Commons of England and the third estate of the Parliament of Scotland, as one of the most significant...

 after the political union with Scotland, and also, during the nineteenth century, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

 after the political union with Ireland, finally reaching its current title after independence was given to the Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

 in 1922.

The House of Commons was originally far less powerful than the House of Lords, but today its legislative powers greatly exceed those of the Lords. Under the Parliament Act 1911
Parliament Act 1911
The Parliament Act 1911 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is constitutionally important and partly governs the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords which make up the Houses of Parliament. This Act must be construed as one with the Parliament Act 1949...

, the Lords' power to reject most legislative bills was reduced to a delaying power. Moreover, the Government is primarily responsible to the House of Commons; the prime minister stays in office only as long as he or she retains its support. Almost all government ministers
Minister (government)
A minister is a politician who holds significant public office in a national or regional government. Senior ministers are members of the cabinet....

 are drawn from the House of Commons and, with one brief exception, all prime minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

s since 1902.

The full, formal style and title of the House of Commons is The Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

Relationship with the government


Although it does not formally elect the prime minister, the position of the parties in the House of Commons is of overriding importance. By convention, the prime minister is answerable to, and must maintain the support of, the House of Commons. Thus, whenever the office of prime minister falls vacant, the Sovereign appoints the person who has the support of the House, or who is most likely to command the support of the House — normally the leader of the largest party in the Commons. (The leader of the second-largest party becomes the Leader of the Opposition.) Since 1963, by convention, the prime minister is always a member of the House of Commons, rather than the House of Lords.

The Lower House may indicate its lack of support for the Government by rejecting a Motion of Confidence
Motion of no confidence votes in the United Kingdom
Motions of no confidence, also called votes of confidence, votes of no-confidence or censure motions, are a feature of the Westminster system of government used in the United Kingdom that requires an executive to retain the confidence of the House of Commons...

, or by passing a Motion of No Confidence. Confidence and no confidence motions are sometimes phrased explicitly, for instance: "That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government." Many other motions were considered confidence issues, even though not explicitly phrased as such. In particular, important bills that form a part of the Government's agenda were formerly considered matters of confidence, as is the annual Budget. When a Government has lost the confidence of the House of Commons, the prime minister is obliged to either resign, making way for another MP who can command confidence, or request the monarch to dissolve Parliament, thereby precipitating a general election.

Except when compelled to do so by an adverse vote on a confidence issue, the prime minister is allowed to choose the timing of dissolutions with the permission of the Monarch, and consequently the timing of general elections. The timing reflects political considerations, and is generally most opportune for the prime minister's party. However, no parliamentary term can last for more than five years; a dissolution is automatic upon the expiry of this period unless an act of Parliament is passed extending the maximum term as happened during both World Wars. Parliament almost never sits for the maximum possible term, with dissolutions customarily being requested earlier.

A prime minister may resign even if he or she is not defeated at the polls (for example, for personal health reasons); in such a case, the premiership goes to whoever can command a majority in the House of Commons, in practice this is usually the new leader of the outgoing prime minister's party. Until 1965, the Conservative Party had no mechanism for electing a new leader and when Anthony Eden
Anthony Eden
Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, KG, MC, PC was a British Conservative politician, who was Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957...

 resigned as PM in 1957 without recommending a successor, the party was unable to nominate one. It fell to the Queen to appoint Harold Macmillan
Harold Macmillan
Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM, PC was Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 10 January 1957 to 18 October 1963....

 as the new prime minister, after taking the advice of ministers.

By convention, all ministers must be members of the House of Commons or House of Lords. A handful have been appointed who are outside Parliament but in most cases they subsequently entered Parliament either by means of a by-election or receiving a peerage. Since 1902, all prime ministers have been members of the Commons (the sole exception, the Earl of Home
Alec Douglas-Home
Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home, Baron Home of the Hirsel, KT, PC , known as The Earl of Home from 1951 to 1963 and as Sir Alec Douglas-Home from 1963 to 1974, was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from October 1963 to October 1964.He is the last...

, disclaimed his peerage days after becoming prime minister, and was immediately elected to the House of Commons as Sir Alec Douglas-Home).

In modern times, a vast majority of ministers belong to the Commons rather than the Lords. Few major cabinet
Cabinet of the United Kingdom
The Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the collective decision-making body of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, composed of the Prime Minister and some 22 Cabinet Ministers, the most senior of the government ministers....

 positions (except Lord Privy Seal
Lord Privy Seal
The Lord Privy Seal is the fifth of the Great Officers of State in the United Kingdom, ranking beneath the Lord President of the Council and above the Lord Great Chamberlain. The office is one of the traditional sinecure offices of state...

, Lord Chancellor
Lord Chancellor
The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, or Lord Chancellor, is a senior and important functionary in the government of the United Kingdom. He is the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State, ranking only after the Lord High Steward. The Lord Chancellor is appointed by the Sovereign...

 and Leader of the House of Lords
Leader of the House of Lords
The Leader of the House of Lords is a member of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom who is responsible for arranging government business in the House of Lords. The role is always held in combination with a formal Cabinet position, usually one of the sinecure offices of Lord President of the Council,...

) have been filled by a lord in recent times. Notable exceptions are Lord Carrington
Peter Carington, 6th Baron Carrington
Peter Alexander Rupert Carington, 6th Baron Carrington, is a British Conservative politician. He served as British Foreign Secretary between 1979 and 1982 and as the sixth Secretary General of NATO from 1984 to 1988. He is the last surviving member of the Cabinets of both Harold Macmillan and Sir...

 who served as Foreign Secretary from 1979 to 1982, and Lord Young
David Young, Baron Young of Graffham
David Ivor Young, Baron Young of Graffham, PC DL is a British Conservative politician and businessman.-Early life:Young is the elder son of a businessman who imported flour and later set up as a manufacturer of coats for children...

 who was appointed Employment Secretary in 1985. Lord Mandelson
Peter Mandelson
Peter Benjamin Mandelson, Baron Mandelson, PC is a British Labour Party politician, who was the Member of Parliament for Hartlepool from 1992 to 2004, served in a number of Cabinet positions under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and was a European Commissioner...

 was appointed Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in October 2008; he was also briefly neither a member of the Lords nor Commons in this capacity. The elected status of members of the Commons, as opposed to the unelected nature of members of the Lords, is seen to lend more legitimacy to ministers. The prime minister chooses the Ministers, and may decide to remove them at any time; the formal appointment or dismissal, however, is made by the Sovereign.

The House of Commons scrutinises the Government through "Question Time
Question Time
Question time in a parliament occurs when members of the parliament ask questions of government ministers , which they are obliged to answer. It usually occurs daily while parliament is sitting, though it can be cancelled in exceptional circumstances...

", during which members have the opportunity to ask questions of the prime minister and of other cabinet ministers. Prime minister's question time occurs once each week, normally for a half-hour each Wednesday. Questions must relate to the responding minister's official government activities, not to his or her activities as a party leader or as a private Member of Parliament. Customarily, members of the Government party and members of the Opposition alternate when asking questions. In addition to questions asked orally during Question Time, Members of Parliament may also make inquiries in writing.

In practice, the House of Commons' scrutiny of the Government is fairly weak. Since the first-past-the-post electoral system is employed, the governing party often enjoys a large majority in the Commons, and there is often little need to compromise with other parties. Modern British political parties are so tightly organised that they leave relatively little room for free action by their MPs. Also, many ruling party MPs are paid members of the government. Thus, during the 20th century, the Government has lost confidence issues only three times — twice in 1924, and once in 1979. However, the threat of rebellions by their own party's backbench MPs often forces Governments to make concessions (recently over top-up fees
Top-up fees
Tuition fees were first introduced across the entire United Kingdom in September 1998 as a means of funding tuition to undergraduate and postgraduate certificate students at universities, with students being required to pay up to £1,000 a year for tuition...

 and foundation hospitals). Occasionally the Government is defeated by backbench rebellions (Terrorism Act 2006
Terrorism Act 2006
The Terrorism Act 2006 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that received Royal Assent on 30 March 2006, after being introduced on 12 October 2005. The Act creates new offences related to terrorism, and amends existing ones. The Act was drafted in the aftermath of the 7 July 2005...

). However, the scrutiny provided by the Select Committees is more serious.

The House of Commons technically retains the power to impeach Ministers of the Crown (or any other subject, even if not a public officer) for their crimes. Impeachments are tried by the House of Lords, where a simple majority is necessary to convict. The power of impeachment, however, has fallen into disuse: the House of Commons exercises its checks on the Government through other means, such as No Confidence Motions; the last impeachment was that of Viscount Melville
Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville
Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville PC and Baron Dunira was a Scottish lawyer and politician. He was the first Secretary of State for War and the last person to be impeached in the United Kingdom....

 in 1806.

Legislative functions



Bills may be introduced in either house, though controversial bills normally originate in the House of Commons. The supremacy of the Commons in legislative matters is assured by the Parliament Acts, under which certain types of bills may be presented for the Royal Assent
Royal Assent
The granting of royal assent refers to the method by which any constitutional monarch formally approves and promulgates an act of his or her nation's parliament, thus making it a law...

 without the consent of the House of Lords. The Lords may not delay a money bill (a bill that, in the view of the Speaker of the House of Commons, solely concerns national taxation or public funds) for more than one month. Moreover, the Lords may not delay most other public bills for more than two parliamentary sessions, or one calendar year. These provisions, however, only apply to public bills that originate in the House of Commons. Moreover, a bill that seeks to extend a parliamentary term beyond five years requires the consent of the House of Lords.

By a custom that prevailed even before the Parliament Acts, only the House of Commons may originate bills concerning taxation or Supply
Government budget
A government budget is a legal document that is often passed by the legislature, and approved by the chief executive-or president. For example, only certain types of revenue may be imposed and collected...

. Furthermore, supply bills passed by the House of Commons are immune to amendments in the House of Lords. In addition, the House of Lords is barred from amending a bill so as to insert a taxation or supply-related provision, but the House of Commons often waives its privileges and allows the Lords to make amendments with financial implications. Under a separate convention, known as the Salisbury Convention
Salisbury Convention
The Salisbury Convention is a constitutional convention in the United Kingdom which puts forward that the House of Lords will not oppose the second or third reading of any government legislation promised in its election manifesto.Following a landslide Labour general election victory in...

, the House of Lords does not seek to oppose legislation promised in the Government's election manifesto
Manifesto
A manifesto is a public declaration of principles and intentions, often political in nature. Manifestos relating to religious belief are generally referred to as creeds. Manifestos may also be life stance-related.-Etymology:...

. Hence, as the power of the House of Lords has been severely curtailed by statute and by practice, the House of Commons is clearly the more powerful branch of Parliament.

History



Today's Parliament of the United Kingdom largely descends, in practice, from the Parliament of England
Parliament of England
The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England. In 1066, William of Normandy introduced a feudal system, by which he sought the advice of a council of tenants-in-chief and ecclesiastics before making laws...

, although the 1706 Treaty of Union
Treaty of Union
The Treaty of Union is the name given to the agreement that led to the creation of the united kingdom of Great Britain, the political union of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland, which took effect on 1 May 1707...

, and the Acts of Union that ratified the Treaty, created a new Parliament of Great Britain
Parliament of Great Britain
The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland...

 to replace the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland
Parliament of Scotland
The Parliament of Scotland, officially the Estates of Parliament, was the legislature of the Kingdom of Scotland. The unicameral parliament of Scotland is first found on record during the early 13th century, with the first meeting for which a primary source survives at...

. This new parliament was, in effect, the continuation of the Parliament of England with the addition of 45 MPs and sixteen Peers to represent Scotland
Representative peer
In the United Kingdom, representative peers were those peers elected by the members of the Peerage of Scotland and the Peerage of Ireland to sit in the British House of Lords...

. Later still the Act of Union (1800) brought about the abolition of the Parliament of Ireland
Parliament of Ireland
The Parliament of Ireland was a legislature that existed in Dublin from 1297 until 1800. In its early mediaeval period during the Lordship of Ireland it consisted of either two or three chambers: the House of Commons, elected by a very restricted suffrage, the House of Lords in which the lords...

 and enlarged the Commons at Westminster with 100 Irish members, creating the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Layout and design


The current Commons' layout is influenced by the use of the original St. Stephen's Chapel in the Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Palace, is the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—the House of Lords and the House of Commons...

. The rectangular shape is derived from the shape of the chapel
Chapel
A chapel is a building used by Christians as a place of fellowship and worship. It may be part of a larger structure or complex, such as a church, college, hospital, palace, prison or funeral home, located on board a military or commercial ship, or it may be an entirely free-standing building,...

. Benches were arranged using the configuration of the chapel's choir stalls whereby they were facing across from one another. This arrangement facilitated an adversarial atmosphere that is representative of the British parliamentary approach.

19th century



The House of Commons experienced an important period of reform during the nineteenth century. Over the years, several anomalies had developed in borough representation. The constituency boundaries had not been changed since 1660, so many towns that were once important but had declined by the nineteenth century still retained their ancient right of electing two members.

The most notorious of these "rotten borough
Rotten borough
A "rotten", "decayed" or pocket borough was a parliamentary borough or constituency in the United Kingdom that had a very small electorate and could be used by a patron to gain undue and unrepresentative influence within Parliament....

s" were Old Sarum
Old Sarum
Old Sarum is the site of the earliest settlement of Salisbury, in England. The site contains evidence of human habitation as early as 3000 BC. Old Sarum is mentioned in some of the earliest records in the country...

, which had only six voters for two MPs, and Dunwich
Dunwich (UK Parliament constituency)
Dunwich was a parliamentary borough in Suffolk, one of the most notorious of all the rotten boroughs. It elected two Members of Parliament to the House of Commons from 1298 until 1832, when the constituency was abolished by the Great Reform Act....

 which had fallen into the sea. At the same time, large cities such as Manchester
Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

 received no separate representation (although their eligible residents were able to vote in the corresponding county seat). Also notable were the pocket boroughs
Rotten borough
A "rotten", "decayed" or pocket borough was a parliamentary borough or constituency in the United Kingdom that had a very small electorate and could be used by a patron to gain undue and unrepresentative influence within Parliament....

, small constituencies controlled by wealthy landowners and aristocrats, whose "nominees" were invariably elected.

The Commons attempted to address these anomalies by passing a Reform Bill in 1831. At first, the House of Lords proved unwilling to pass the bill, but were forced to relent when the prime minister, Lord Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, KG, PC , known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834. A member of the Whig Party, he backed significant reform of the British government and was among the...

, advised King William IV to flood the House of Lords by creating pro-Reform peers. To avoid this the Lords relented and passed the bill in 1832. The Reform Act 1832
Reform Act 1832
The Representation of the People Act 1832 was an Act of Parliament that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of England and Wales...

, also known as the "Great Reform Act," abolished the rotten boroughs, established uniform voting requirements for the boroughs, and granted representation to populous cities, but still retained many pocket boroughs.

In the ensuing years, the Commons grew more assertive, the influence of the House of Lords having been reduced by the Reform Bill Crisis, and the power of the patrons reduced. The Lords became more reluctant to reject bills that the Commons passed with large majorities, and it became an accepted political principle that the confidence of the House of Commons alone was necessary for a government to remain in office.


Many more reforms were introduced in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The Reform Act 1867
Reform Act 1867
The Representation of the People Act 1867, 30 & 31 Vict. c. 102 was a piece of British legislation that enfranchised the urban male working class in England and Wales....

 lowered property requirements for voting in the boroughs, reduced the representation of the less populous boroughs, and granted parliamentary seats to several growing industrial towns. The electorate was further expanded by the Representation of the People Act 1884
Representation of the People Act 1884
In the United Kingdom, the Representation of the People Act 1884 and the Redistribution Act of the following year were laws which further extended the suffrage in Britain after the Disraeli Government's Reform Act 1867...

, under which property qualifications in the counties were lowered. The Redistribution of Seats Act
Redistribution of Seats Act 1885
The Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It was a piece of electoral reform legislation that redistributed the seats in the House of Commons, introducing the concept of equally populated constituencies, in an attempt to equalise representation across...

 of the following year replaced almost all multi-member constituencies with single-member constituencies.

20th century


In 1908, the Liberal
Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

 Government under Asquith introduced a number of social welfare programmes, which, together with an expensive arms race
Arms race
The term arms race, in its original usage, describes a competition between two or more parties for the best armed forces. Each party competes to produce larger numbers of weapons, greater armies, or superior military technology in a technological escalation...

, forced the Government to seek higher taxes. In 1909, the Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the title held by the British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters. Often simply called the Chancellor, the office-holder controls HM Treasury and plays a role akin to the posts of Minister of Finance or Secretary of the...

, David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor OM, PC was a British Liberal politician and statesman...

, introduced the "People's Budget", which proposed a new tax targeting wealthy landowners. The unpopular measure, however, failed in the heavily Conservative House of Lords—and the government resigned.

The resulting general election returned a hung parliament
Hung parliament
In a two-party parliamentary system of government, a hung parliament occurs when neither major political party has an absolute majority of seats in the parliament . It is also less commonly known as a balanced parliament or a legislature under no overall control...

, but Asquith remained prime minister with the support of the smaller parties. Asquith then proposed that the powers of the Lords be severely curtailed. After a further election in December 1910, the Asquith Government secured the passage of a bill to curtail the powers of the House of Lords after threatening to flood the House with 500 new Liberal peers to ensure the passage of the bill.

Thus, the Parliament Act 1911
Parliament Act 1911
The Parliament Act 1911 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is constitutionally important and partly governs the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords which make up the Houses of Parliament. This Act must be construed as one with the Parliament Act 1949...

 came into effect, destroying the legislative equality of the two Houses of Parliament. The House of Lords was permitted only to delay most legislation, for a maximum of three parliamentary sessions or two calendar years (reduced to two sessions or one year by the Parliament Act 1949
Parliament Act 1949
The Parliament Act 1949 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.This Act must be construed as one with the Parliament Act 1911...

). Since the passage of these Acts, the House of Commons has become the dominant branch of Parliament, both in theory and in practice.

In 1918, women over 30 were given the right to vote, quickly followed by the passage of a law enabling women to be eligible for election as Members of Parliament at the younger age of 21. The only woman to be elected that year was an Irish Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves", although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone". Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970...

 candidate, Constance Markievicz, who therefore became the first woman MP. However, due to Sinn Féin's policy of abstention from Westminster, she never took her seat.

Since the 17th century, MPs had been unpaid. Most of the men elected to the Commons had private incomes, while a few relied on financial support from a wealthy patron. Early Labour MPs were often provided with a salary by a trade union, but this was declared illegal by a House of Lords judgment of 1909. Consequently a resolution was passed in the House of Commons in 1911 introducing salaries for MPs. Government ministers had always been paid.

Expenses scandal



In May and June 2009 revelations of MP's expenses claims caused a major scandal and loss of confidence by the public in the integrity of MPs, as well as causing the forced resignation of the Speaker.

Members and elections


Since 1950 each Member of Parliament represents a single constituency. There remains a technical distinction between county constituencies and borough constituencies, but the only effect of this difference is the amount of money candidates are allowed to spend during campaigns. The boundaries of the constituencies are determined by four permanent and independent Boundary Commissions, one each for England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

. The Commissions conduct general reviews of electoral boundaries once every 8 to 12 years, as well as a number of interim reviews. In drawing boundaries, they are required to take into account local government boundaries, but may deviate from this requirement in order to prevent great disparities in the populations of the various constituencies. The proposals of the Boundary Commissions are subject to parliamentary approval, but may not be amended. After the next general review of constituencies, the Boundary Commissions will be absorbed into the Electoral Commission, which was established in 2000. Currently the United Kingdom is divided into 650 constituencies, with 533 in England, 40 in Wales, 59 in Scotland, and 18 in Northern Ireland.

General elections
United Kingdom general elections
This is a list of United Kingdom general elections since the first in 1802. The members of the 1801–1802 Parliament had been elected to the former Parliament of Great Britain and Parliament of Ireland, before being co-opted to serve in the first Parliament of the United Kingdom, so that Parliament...

 occur whenever Parliament is dissolved
Dissolution of parliament
In parliamentary systems, a dissolution of parliament is the dispersal of a legislature at the call of an election.Usually there is a maximum length of a legislature, and a dissolution must happen before the maximum time...

 by the Sovereign. The timing of the dissolution is normally chosen by the prime minister (see relationship with the Government below); however, a parliamentary term may not last for more than five years, unless a Bill extending the life of Parliament passes both Houses and receives Royal Assent. The House of Lords, exceptionally, retains its power of veto over such a Bill.

Conventionally, all elections in the United Kingdom are held on a Thursday. The Electoral Commission is unsure where this convention arose, but dates it to 1931, with the suggestion that it was made to coincide with market day; this would ease voting for those who had to travel to the towns to cast their ballot.

A candidate for a constituency must submit nomination papers signed by ten registered voters from that constituency, and pay a deposit of £500, which is refunded only if the candidate wins at least five per cent of the vote. The deposit seeks to discourage frivolous candidates. Each constituency returns one Member, using the first-past-the-post electoral system, under which the candidate with a plurality of votes wins. Minors, Members of the House of Lords, prisoners, and insane persons are not qualified to become Members of the House of Commons. In order to vote, one must be a resident of the United Kingdom as well as a citizen of the United Kingdom, of a British overseas territory, of the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

, or of a member of the Commonwealth of Nations
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

. British citizens living abroad are allowed to vote for 15 years after moving from the United Kingdom. No person may vote in more than one constituency.

Once elected, Members of Parliament normally continue to serve until the next dissolution of Parliament. If a Member, however, dies or ceases to be qualified (see qualifications below), his or her seat falls vacant. It is also possible for the House of Commons to expel a Member, but this power is exercised only in cases of serious misconduct or criminal activity. In each case, a vacancy may be filled by a by-election
By-election
A by-election is an election held to fill a political office that has become vacant between regularly scheduled elections....

 in the appropriate constituency, with the same electoral system as in general elections.

The term "Member of Parliament" is normally used only to refer to Members of the House of Commons, even though the House of Lords is also a part of Parliament. Members of the House of Commons may use the post-nominal letters
Post-nominal letters
Post-nominal letters, also called post-nominal initials, post-nominal titles or designatory letters, are letters placed after the name of a person to indicate that the individual holds a position, educational degree, accreditation, office, or honour. An individual may use several different sets of...

 "MP". The annual salary of each Member is currently £63,291. Members may also receive additional salaries in right of other offices they hold (for instance, the Speakership). Most Members also claim between £100,000 and £150,000 for various office expenses (staff costs, postage, travelling, etc.) and, in the case of non-London Members, for the costs of maintaining a home in the capital.

Qualifications


There are numerous qualifications that apply to Members of Parliament. Most importantly, one must be aged at least 18 (the limit was 21 until S.17 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006
Electoral Administration Act 2006
The Electoral Administration Act 2006 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, passed on 11 July 2006. The Bill was amended during its passage through the House of Lords to require political parties to declare large loans; this followed the "Cash for Peerages" scandal...

 came into force), and must be a citizen of the United Kingdom, of a British overseas territory, of the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

, or of a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

. These restrictions were introduced by the British Nationality Act 1981
British Nationality Act 1981
The British Nationality Act 1981 was an Act of Parliament passed by the British Parliament concerning British nationality. It has been the basis of British nationality law since 1 January 1983.-History:...

, but were previously far more stringent: under the Act of Settlement 1701
Act of Settlement 1701
The Act of Settlement is an act of the Parliament of England that was passed in 1701 to settle the succession to the English throne on the Electress Sophia of Hanover and her Protestant heirs. The act was later extended to Scotland, as a result of the Treaty of Union , enacted in the Acts of Union...

, only natural-born subjects were qualified. Members of the House of Lords may not serve in the House of Commons, or even vote in parliamentary elections; however, they are permitted to sit in the chamber during debates.

A person may not sit in the Commons if he or she is the subject of a Bankruptcy Restrictions Order
Bankruptcy in the United Kingdom
Bankruptcy in the United Kingdom does not have a singular law. There is one system for England and Wales, one for Northern Ireland and one for Scotland.Across the United Kingdom, bankruptcy refers only to insolvency of individuals and partnerships...

 (applicable in England and Wales only), or if he or she is adjudged bankrupt (in Northern Ireland), or if his or her estate is sequestered
Sequestration (law)
Sequestration is the act of removing, separating, or seizing anything from the possession of its owner under process of law for the benefit of creditors or the state.-Etymology:...

 (in Scotland). Also, lunatic
Lunatic
"Lunatic" is a commonly used term for a person who is mentally ill, dangerous, foolish, unpredictable; a condition once called lunacy. The word derives from lunaticus meaning "of the moon" or "moonstruck".-Lunar hypothesis:...

s are ineligible to sit in the House of Commons. Under the Mental Health Act 1983
Mental Health Act 1983
The Mental Health Act 1983 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which applies to people in England and Wales. It covers the reception, care and treatment of mentally disordered persons, the management of their property and other related matters...

, two specialists must report to the Speaker that a Member is suffering from mental illness
Mental illness
A mental disorder or mental illness is a psychological or behavioral pattern generally associated with subjective distress or disability that occurs in an individual, and which is not a part of normal development or culture. Such a disorder may consist of a combination of affective, behavioural,...

 before a seat can be declared vacant. There also exists a common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 precedent from the 18th century that the "deaf and dumb
Deaf-mute
For "deafness", see hearing impairment. For "Deaf" as a cultural term, see Deaf culture. For "inability to speak", see muteness.Deaf-mute is a term which was used historically to identify a person who was both deaf and could not speak...

" are ineligible to sit in the Lower House; this precedent, however, has not been tested in recent years. Jack Ashley
Jack Ashley, Baron Ashley of Stoke
Jack Ashley, Baron Ashley of Stoke, CH PC , is a Labour member of the United Kingdom House of Lords. He was Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent South for 26 years, from 1966 to 1992....

 continued to serve as an MP for 25 years after becoming profoundly deaf.

Anyone found guilty of high treason
High treason
High treason is criminal disloyalty to one's government. Participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state are perhaps...

 may not sit in Parliament until he or she has either completed the term of imprisonment, or received a full pardon from the Crown. Moreover, anyone serving a prison sentence of one year or more is ineligible. Finally, the Representation of the People Act 1983
Representation of the People Act 1983
The Representation of the People Act 1983 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It changed the British electoral process in the following ways:* Amended the Representation of the People Act 1969....

 disqualifies for ten years those found guilty of certain election-related offences. Several other disqualifications are codified in the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975
House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975
The House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that prohibits certain categories of people from becoming members of the House of Commons...

: holders of high judicial office
Judge
A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as part of a panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across different jurisdictions. The judge is supposed to conduct the trial impartially and in an open...

s, civil servants, members of the regular armed forces
Armed forces
The armed forces of a country are its government-sponsored defense, fighting forces, and organizations. They exist to further the foreign and domestic policies of their governing body, and to defend that body and the nation it represents from external aggressors. In some countries paramilitary...

, members of foreign legislatures (excluding the Republic of Ireland and Commonwealth countries), and holders of several Crown offices. Ministers, even though they are paid officers of the Crown, are not disqualified.

The rule that precludes certain Crown officers from serving in the House of Commons is used to circumvent a resolution adopted by the House of Commons in 1623, under which Members are not permitted to resign their seats. In practice, however, they always can. Should a Member wish to resign from the Commons
Resignation from the British House of Commons
Members of Parliament sitting in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom are technically forbidden to resign. To circumvent this prohibition, a legal fiction is used...

, he or she may request appointment to one of two ceremonial Crown offices: that of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds
Chiltern Hundreds
Appointment to the office of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham is a sinecure appointment which is used as a device allowing a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament to resign his or her seat...

, or that of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead
Manor of Northstead
The Manor of Northstead was once a collection of fields and farms in the parish of Scalby in the North Riding of Yorkshire in England. By 1600, the manor house had fallen into disrepair and was occupied only by a shepherd. At present the Manor is part of the Barrowcliff area of the town of...

. These offices are sinecure
Sinecure
A sinecure means an office that requires or involves little or no responsibility, labour, or active service...

s (that is, they involve no actual duties); they exist solely in order to permit the "resignation" of Members of the House of Commons. The Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the title held by the British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters. Often simply called the Chancellor, the office-holder controls HM Treasury and plays a role akin to the posts of Minister of Finance or Secretary of the...

 is responsible for making the appointment, and, by convention, never refuses to do so when asked by a Member who desires to leave the House of Commons.

The Leader of the House is a member of
the cabinet, and carries out government
duties in addition to their roles at the
House of Lords. Most heads of government
departments sit in the Commons, and
are therefore not permitted to answer
questions or contribute to debates in the
Lords. But there are a number of ministers
in the Lords. For departments which do
not have a minister in the Lords, the
team of government whips are allocated
departmental briefs so that there is
always someone to answer for government
policy and actions.

Officers



At the beginning of each new parliamentary term, the House of Commons elects one of its members as a presiding officer, known as the Speaker. If the incumbent Speaker seeks a new term, then the House may re-elect him or her merely by passing a motion; otherwise, a secret ballot is held. A Speaker-elect cannot take office until he or she has been approved by the Sovereign; the granting of the royal approbation, however, is a formality. The Speaker is assisted by three Deputy Speakers, the most senior of which holds the title of Chairman of Ways and Means. The two other Deputy Speakers are known as the First and Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. These titles derive from the Committee of Ways and Means, a body over which the Chairman once used to preside; even though the Committee was abolished in 1967, the traditional titles of the Deputy Speakers are still retained. The Speaker and the Deputy Speakers are always Members of the House of Commons.

Whilst presiding, the Speaker or Deputy Speaker wears ceremonial dress. The presiding officer may also wear a wig, but this tradition was abandoned by a former Speaker, Betty Boothroyd
Betty Boothroyd
Betty Boothroyd, Baroness Boothroyd, OM, PC is a British politician, who served as Member of Parliament for West Bromwich and West Bromwich West from 1973 to 2000, initially for the Labour Party and, from 1992 to 2000, as Speaker of the House of Commons...

. Michael Martin
Michael Martin (politician)
Michael John Martin, Baron Martin of Springburn, PC is a British politician, who was the Member of Parliament for Glasgow Springburn from 1979 to 2005, and then for Glasgow North East until 2009...

, who succeeded the office also did not wear a wig whilst in the chamber. The current speaker, John Bercow
John Bercow
John Simon Bercow is a British politician who has been the Speaker of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom since June 2009. Prior to his election to Speaker he was a member of the Conservative party....

, has chosen to wear a gown over a lounge suit, a decision which has sparked much debate and opposition. The Speaker or deputy presides from a chair at the front of the House. This chair was designed by Augustus Pugin
Augustus Pugin
Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was an English architect, designer, and theorist of design, now best remembered for his work in the Gothic Revival style, particularly churches and the Palace of Westminster. Pugin was the father of E. W...

 who initially built a prototype of the chair at King Edward's School, Birmingham
King Edward's School, Birmingham
King Edward's School is an independent secondary school in Birmingham, England, founded by King Edward VI in 1552. It is part of the Foundation of the Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham, and is widely regarded as one of the most academically successful schools in the country, according to...

, the chair is called Sapientia, and is where the Chief master sits. The Speaker is also chairman of the House of Commons Commission
House of Commons Commission
The House of Commons Commission is the overall supervisory body of the House of Commons Administration in the United Kingdom. The Commission is a corporate body established by the House of Commons Act 1978...

, which oversees the running of the House, and he or she controls debates by calling on members to speak. If a member believes that a rule (or Standing Order) has been breached, he or she may raise a "point of order", on which the Speaker makes a ruling that is not subject to any appeal. The Speaker may discipline members who fail to observe the rules of the House. Thus, the Speaker is far more powerful than his Lords counterpart, the Lord Speaker
Lord Speaker
The Lord Speaker is the speaker of the House of Lords in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The office is analogous to the Speaker of the House of Commons: the Lord Speaker is elected by the members of the House of Lords and is expected to be politically impartial.Until July 2006, the role of...

, who has no disciplinary powers. Customarily, the Speaker and the deputies are non-partisan; they do not vote, or participate in the affairs of any political party. By convention, a Speaker seeking re-election to parliament is not opposed in his or her constituency by any of the major parties. The lack of partisanship continues even after the Speaker leaves the House of Commons.

The Clerk of the House
Clerk of the House of Commons
The Clerk of the House of Commons is the chief executive of the House of Commons in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and before 1707 of the House of Commons of England...

 is both the House's chief adviser on matters of procedure and Chief Executive of the House of Commons. He or she is a permanent official, not a Member of the House itself. The Clerk advises the Speaker on the rules and procedure of the House, signs orders and official communications, and signs and endorses bills. He or she chairs the Board of Management, which consists of the heads of the six departments of the House. The Clerk's deputy is known as the Clerk Assistant. Another officer of the House is the Serjeant-at-Arms
Serjeant-at-Arms
A Sergeant-at-Arms is an officer appointed by a deliberative body, usually a legislature, to keep order during its meetings. The word sergeant is derived from the Latin serviens, which means "servant"....

, whose duties include the maintenance of law, order, and security on the House's premises. The Serjeant-at-Arms carries the ceremonial Mace
Ceremonial mace
The ceremonial mace is a highly ornamented staff of metal or wood, carried before a sovereign or other high official in civic ceremonies by a mace-bearer, intended to represent the official's authority. The mace, as used today, derives from the original mace used as a weapon...

, a symbol of the authority of the Crown and of the House of Commons, into the House each day in front of the Speaker, and the Mace is laid upon the Table of the House during sittings. The Librarian is head of the House of Commons Library
House of Commons Library
The House of Commons Library is the library and information resource of the lower house of the British Parliament. It has adopted the phrase "Contributing to a well-informed democracy" as a summary of its mission statement.- History :...

, the House's research and information arm.

Procedure

See also the stages of a bill section in Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom
Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom
An Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom is a type of legislation called primary legislation. These Acts are passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster, or by the Scottish Parliament at Edinburgh....


Like the Lords, the Commons meets in the Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Palace, is the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—the House of Lords and the House of Commons...

 in London. The Commons chamber is small and modestly decorated in green, in contrast with the large, lavishly furnished red Lords chamber. There are benches on two sides of the chamber, divided by a centre aisle. This arrangement reflects the design of St Stephen's Chapel
St Stephen's Chapel
St Stephen's Chapel was a chapel in the old Palace of Westminster. It was largely lost in the fire of 1834, but the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the crypt survived...

, which served as the home of the House of Commons until destroyed by fire in 1834. The Speaker's chair is at one end of the Chamber; in front of it is the Table of the House, on which the Mace rests. The Clerks sit at one end of the Table, close to the Speaker so that they may advise him or her on procedure when necessary. Members of the Government sit on the benches on the Speaker's right, whilst members of the Opposition occupy the benches on the Speaker's left. In front of each set of benches a red line is drawn on the carpet, which members are traditionally not allowed to cross during debates. It has been suggested that the distance between the lines in front of each set of benches is the length of two swords, thus stopping a member from attacking a member on the opposing side; however, the only person who is allowed to wear or carry a sword in the chamber is the Serjant-at-Arms. Government ministers and the leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Cabinet
Shadow Cabinet
The Shadow Cabinet is a senior group of opposition spokespeople in the Westminster system of government who together under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition form an alternative cabinet to the government's, whose members shadow or mark each individual member of the government...

 sit on the front rows, and are known as "frontbenchers". Other Members of Parliament, in contrast, are known as "backbenchers". Oddly, all Members of Parliament cannot fit in the Chamber, which can seat only 427 of the 650 Members. Members who arrive late must stand near the entrance of the House if they wish to listen to debates. Sittings in the Chamber are held each day from Monday to Thursday, and also on some Fridays. During times of national emergency, the House may also sit at weekends.

Sittings of the House are open to the public, but the House may at any time vote to sit in private. (This has been done only twice since 1950.) Traditionally, a Member who desired that the House sit privately could shout "I spy strangers" and a vote would automatically follow. In the past, when relations between the Commons and the Crown were less than cordial, this procedure was used whenever the House wanted to keep its debate private. More often, however, this device was used to delay and disrupt proceedings; as a result, it was abolished in 1998. Now, Members seeking that the House sit in private must make a formal motion to that effect. Public debates are broadcast on the radio, and on television by BBC Parliament
BBC Parliament
BBC Parliament is a British television channel from the BBC. Its remit is to make accessible to all the work of the parliamentary and legislative bodies of the United Kingdom and the European Parliament...

, and are recorded in Hansard
Hansard
Hansard is the name of the printed transcripts of parliamentary debates in the Westminster system of government. It is named after Thomas Curson Hansard, an early printer and publisher of these transcripts.-Origins:...

.

Sessions of the House of Commons have sometimes been disrupted by angry protesters throwing objects into the Chamber from the galleries—items thrown include leaflets, manure, flour (see Fathers 4 Justice House of Commons protest), and a canister of chlorobenzylidene malonitrile
CS gas
2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile is the defining component of a "tear gas" commonly referred to as CS gas, which is used as a riot control agent...

 (tear gas). Even members have been known to disturb proceedings of the House; for instance, in 1976, Conservative MP Michael Heseltine
Michael Heseltine
Michael Ray Dibdin Heseltine, Baron Heseltine, CH, PC is a British businessman, Conservative politician and patron of the Tory Reform Group. He was a Member of Parliament from 1966 to 2001 and was a prominent figure in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major...

 seized and brandished the Mace of the House during a heated debate. However, perhaps the most famous disruption of the House of Commons was caused by King Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

, who entered the Commons Chamber in 1642 with an armed force in order to arrest five members for high treason. This action was deemed a breach of the privilege of the House, and has given rise to the tradition that the monarch may not set foot in the House of Commons.

Each year, the parliamentary session begins with the State Opening of Parliament
State Opening of Parliament
In the United Kingdom, the State Opening of Parliament is an annual event that marks the commencement of a session of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is held in the House of Lords Chamber, usually in November or December or, in a general election year, when the new Parliament first assembles...

, a ceremony in the Lords Chamber during which the Sovereign, in the presence of Members of both Houses, delivers an address outlining the Government's legislative agenda. The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod
Black Rod
The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, generally shortened to just Black Rod, is an official in the parliaments of several Commonwealth countries. The position originates in the House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom...

 (a Lords official) is responsible for summoning the Commons to the Lords Chamber. When he arrives to deliver his summons, the doors of the Commons Chamber are traditionally slammed shut in his face, symbolising the right of the Lower House to debate without interference. The Gentleman Usher then knocks on the door three times with his Black Rod, and only then is granted admittance. He then informs the MPs that the Monarch awaits them, and they proceed to the House of Lords for the Queen's Speech.

During debates, Members may speak only if called upon by the Speaker (or a Deputy Speaker, if the Speaker is not presiding). Traditionally, the presiding officer alternates between calling Members from the Government and Opposition. The prime minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and other leaders from both sides are normally given priority. Formerly, all Privy Counsellors
Privy Council of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign in the United Kingdom...

 were also granted priority; however, the modernisation of Commons procedure in 1998 led to the abolition of this tradition.

Speeches are addressed to the presiding officer, using the words "Mr Speaker," "Madam Speaker," "Mr Deputy Speaker," or "Madam Deputy Speaker." Only the presiding officer may be directly addressed in debate; other Members must be referred to in the third person. Traditionally, Members do not refer to each other by name, but by constituency, using forms such as "the Honourable Member for [constituency]," or, in the case of Privy Counsellors, "the Right Honourable Member for [constituency]." Members of the same party refer to each other as "my (Right) Honourable friend". This may not always be the case during the actual oral delivery, when it might be difficult for a Member to remember another Member's exact constituency, but it is invariably followed in the transcript entered in the Hansard
Hansard
Hansard is the name of the printed transcripts of parliamentary debates in the Westminster system of government. It is named after Thomas Curson Hansard, an early printer and publisher of these transcripts.-Origins:...

. The Speaker enforces the rules of the House, and may warn and punish Members who deviate from them. Disregarding the Speaker's instructions is considered a severe breach of the rules of the House, and may result in the suspension of the offender from the House. In the case of grave disorder, the Speaker may adjourn the House without taking a vote.

The Standing Orders of the House of Commons do not establish any formal time limits for debates. The Speaker may, however, order a Member who persists in making a tediously repetitive or irrelevant speech to stop speaking. The time set aside for debate on a particular motion is, however, often limited by informal agreements between the parties. Debate may also be restricted by the passage of "Allocation of Time Motions", which are more commonly known as "Guillotine Motion
Guillotine Motion
A Guillotine Motion or 'Guillotine order' is the common name for an Allocation of Time Motion which is a British House of Commons procedure that can be used to restrict the time set aside for debate during the passage of a bill through the House. The other is called a Programme Order...

s". Alternatively, the House may put an immediate end to debate by passing a motion to invoke Closure
Cloture
In parliamentary procedure, cloture is a motion or process aimed at bringing debate to a quick end. It is also called closure or, informally, a guillotine. The cloture procedure originated in the French National Assembly, from which the name is taken. Clôture is French for "ending" or "conclusion"...

. The Speaker is allowed to deny the motion if he or she believes that it infringes upon the rights of the minority. Today, Bills are scheduled according to a Timetable Motion, which the whole House agrees in advance, obviating use of the guillotine.

When the debate concludes, or when the Closure is invoked, the motion in question is put to a vote. The House first votes by voice vote; the Speaker or Deputy Speaker puts the question, and Members respond either "Aye" (in favour of the motion) or "No" (against the motion). The presiding officer then announces the result of the voice vote, but if his or her assessment is challenged by any Member or the voice vote is unclear, a recorded vote known as a division
Division (vote)
In parliamentary procedure, a division of the assembly is a voting method in which the members of the assembly take a rising vote or go to different parts of the chamber, literally dividing into groups indicating a vote in favour of or in opposition to a motion on the floor...

 follows. (The presiding officer, if he or she believes that the result of the voice vote is clear, may reject the challenge.) When a division occurs, members enter one of two lobbies (the "Aye" lobby or the "No" lobby) on either side of the Chamber, where their names are recorded by clerks. A member who wishes to pointedly abstain from a vote may do so by entering both lobbies, casting one vote for and one against. At each lobby are two tellers (themselves Members of the House) who count the votes of the members.

Once the division concludes, the tellers provide the results to the presiding officer, who then announces them to the House. If there is an equality of votes, the Speaker or Deputy Speaker has a casting vote
Casting vote
A casting vote is a vote given to the presiding officer of a council or legislative body to resolve a deadlock and which can be exercised only when such a deadlock exists...

. Traditionally, this casting vote is exercised to allow further debate, if this is possible, or otherwise to avoid a decision being taken without a majority (e.g. voting No to a motion or the third reading of a bill). Ties rarely occur—the last one was in July 1993. The quorum of the House of Commons is 40 members for any vote. If fewer than 40 members have participated, the division is invalid.

Formerly, if a Member sought to raise a point of order
Point of order
A point of order is a matter raised during consideration of a motion concerning the rules of parliamentary procedure.-Explanation and uses:A point of order may be raised if the rules appear to have been broken. This may interrupt a speaker during debate, or anything else if the breach of the rules...

 during a division, suggesting that some of the rules governing parliamentary procedure are violated, he was required to wear a hat, thereby signalling that he was not engaging in debate. Collapsible top hats were kept in the Chamber just for this purpose. This custom was discontinued in 1998.

The outcome of most votes is largely known beforehand, since political parties normally instruct members on how to vote. A party normally entrusts some Members of Parliament, known as whips
Whip (politics)
A whip is an official in a political party whose primary purpose is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. Whips are a party's "enforcers", who typically offer inducements and threaten punishments for party members to ensure that they vote according to the official party policy...

, with the task of ensuring that all party members vote as desired. Members of Parliament do not tend to vote against such instructions, since those who do so jeopardise promotion, or may be deselected as party candidates for future elections. Ministers, junior ministers and parliamentary private secretaries who vote against the whips' instructions usually resign. Thus, the independence of Members of Parliament tends to be low, although "backbench rebellions" by members discontent with their party's policies do occur. A member is also traditionally allowed some leeway if the particular interests of his constituency are adversely affected. In some circumstances, however, parties announce "free votes", allowing members to vote as they please. Votes relating to issues of conscience such as abortion
Abortion
Abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo prior to viability. An abortion can occur spontaneously, in which case it is usually called a miscarriage, or it can be purposely induced...

 and capital punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 are typically free votes.

Pairing is an arrangement where a Member from one party agrees with a Member of another party not to vote in a particular division, allowing both MPs the opportunity not to attend.
A bisque is permission from the Whips given to a Member to miss a vote or debate in the House to attend to constituency business or other matters.

Committees



The Parliament of the United Kingdom uses committees for a variety of purposes, e.g. for the review of bills. Committees consider bills in detail, and may make amendments. Bills of great constitutional importance, as well as some important financial measures, are usually sent to the "Committee of the Whole House", a body that includes all members of the Commons. Instead of the Speaker, the Chairman or a Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means presides. The Committee meets in the House of Commons Chamber.

Most bills were until 2006 considered by Standing Committees, which consisted of between 16 and 50 members. The membership of each Standing Committee roughly reflected the strength of the parties in the House. The membership of Standing Committees changed constantly; new Members were assigned each time the committee considered a new bill. There was no formal limit on the number of Standing Committees, but usually only ten existed. Rarely, a bill was committed to a Special Standing Committee, which investigated and held hearings on the issues raised. In November 2006, Standing Committees were replaced by Public Bill Committees.

The House of Commons also has several Departmental Select Committees. The membership of these bodies, like that of the Standing Committees, reflects the strength of the parties. Each committee elects its own Chairman. The primary function of a Departmental Select Committee is to scrutinise and investigate the activities of a particular government department. To fulfil these aims, it is permitted to hold hearings and collect evidence. Bills may be referred to Departmental Select Committees, but such a procedure is seldom used.

A separate type of Select Committee is the Domestic Committee. Domestic Committees oversee the administration of the House and the services provided to Members. Other committees of the House of Commons include Joint Committees (which also include members of the House of Lords), the Committee on Standards and Privileges
Committee on Standards and Privileges
The Standards and Privileges Committee of the United Kingdom House of Commons was established in 1995 to replace the earlier Committee of Privileges...

 (which considers questions of parliamentary privilege
Parliamentary privilege
Parliamentary privilege is a legal immunity enjoyed by members of certain legislatures, in which legislators are granted protection against civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made related to one's duties as a legislator. It is common in countries whose constitutions are...

, as well as matters relating to the conduct of the members), and the Committee of Selection (which determines the membership of other committees).

Current composition


The chamber in film and television


In 1986, the British television production company Granada Television
Granada Television
Granada Television is the ITV contractor for North West England. Based in Manchester since its inception, it is the only surviving original ITA franchisee from 1954 and is ITV's most successful....

 created a near-full size replica of the post-1950 House of Commons debating chamber at its studios in Manchester
Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

 for use in its adaptation of the Jeffrey Archer novel First Among Equals. The set was highly convincing, and was retained after the production—since then, it has been used in nearly every British film and television production that has featured scenes set in the chamber. From 1988 until 1999 it was also one of the prominent attractions on the Granada Studios Tour
Granada Studios Tour
Granada Studios Tour was an entertainment theme park at the Granada Studios complex in Castlefield, Manchester which England operated from 1988 to 1999...

, where visitors could watch actors performing mock political debates on the set.

In 2002, the set was purchased by the scriptwriter Paul Abbott
Paul Abbott
Paul Abbott is a BAFTA award-winning English television screenwriter and producer. Abbott has become one of the most critically and commercially successful television writers working in Britain today, following his work on many popular series, including Coronation Street, Cracker and Shameless,...

 so that it could be used in his BBC drama serial State of Play. Abbott, a former Granada Television staff writer, bought it personally as the set would otherwise have been destroyed and he feared it would take too long to get the necessary money from the BBC. He currently keeps it in storage in Oxford
Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

.

The post-1941 Commons Chamber was used in the film Ali G Indahouse
Ali G Indahouse
Ali G Indahouse is a British comedy film directed by Mark Mylod and starring the fictional character Ali G, who is performed by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen...

, the political satire Restart by Komedy Kollective, about a British prime minister seeking re-election, and was mentioned in the Robin Williams stand-up special Robin Williams Live on Broadway in which he describes it as "like Congress, but with a two drink minimum".

The pre-1941 Chamber was recreated in Shepperton Studios
Shepperton Studios
Shepperton Studios is a film studio in Shepperton, Surrey, England with a history dating back to 1931 since when many notable films have been made there...

 for the Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott
Sir Ridley Scott is an English film director and producer. His most famous films include The Duellists , Alien , Blade Runner , Legend , Thelma & Louise , G. I...

/Richard Loncraine
Richard Loncraine
Richard Loncraine is a British film and television director.Loncraine received early training in the features department of the BBC, including a season directing items for Tomorrow's World...

 2002 biopic on Churchill, The Gathering Storm
The Gathering Storm (2002 film)
The Gathering Storm is a BBC–HBO co-produced television biographical film about Winston Churchill in the years just prior to World War II...

.

See also

  • Introduction (British House of Commons)
    Introduction (British House of Commons)
    In the British House of Commons, members of the House elected at a by-election must be formally "introduced" to the House. The ceremony in the Commons is considerably simpler than those in the House of Lords....

  • Adjournment debate
    Adjournment debate
    In the Westminster system, an adjournment debate is a debate on the motion, "That this House do now adjourn." In practice, this is a way of enabling the House to have a debate on a subject without considering a substantive motion.- Types of debate :...

  • Early day motion
    Early day motion
    An Early Day Motion , in the Westminster system, is a motion, expressed as a single sentence, tabled by Members of Parliament for debate "on an early day" . Controversial EDMs are not signed by Government Ministers, PPS or the Speaker of the House of Commons and very few are debated on the floor...

  • Parliamentary Brief
    Parliamentary Brief
    First published in 1992, Parliamentary Brief is a monthly British political magazine circulated by request to members of the British House of Commons, members of the House of Lords, senior civil servants, and political journalists...

  • Father of the House
    Father of the House
    Father of the House is a term that has by tradition been unofficially bestowed on certain members of some national legislatures, most notably the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. In some legislatures the term refers to the oldest member, but in others it refers the longest-serving member.The...

  • Resignation from the British House of Commons
    Resignation from the British House of Commons
    Members of Parliament sitting in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom are technically forbidden to resign. To circumvent this prohibition, a legal fiction is used...

  • List of Stewards of the Chiltern Hundreds
  • List of United Kingdom Parliament constituencies
  • Salaries of Members of the United Kingdom Parliament
    Salaries of Members of the United Kingdom Parliament
    The current basic annual salary for an MP in the United Kingdom is £65,738. In addition, MPs are able claim allowances to cover the costs of running an office and employing staff, and maintaining a constituency residence and a residence in London...

  • Records of members of parliament of the United Kingdom
    Records of members of parliament of the United Kingdom
    -Youngest:Of those whose age can be verified, the youngest MP since the Reform Act of 1832 was James Dickson who was elected as a Liberal at a by-election for the Borough of Dungannon on 25 June 1880. He was born on 19 April 1859 and so was aged 21 years 67 days...

  • Speaker Denison's rule
    Speaker Denison's rule
    Speaker Denison's rule is a constitutional convention established by 19th century Speaker of the British House of Commons, John Evelyn Denison, as to how the Speaker decides on his casting vote in the event of a tie....

  • Parliamentary Archives
    Parliamentary Archives
    The Parliamentary Archives of the United Kingdom preserves and makes available to public the records of the House of Lords and House of Commons back to 1497, as well as some 200 other collections of Parliamentary interest...

  • Canadian House of Commons
    Canadian House of Commons
    The House of Commons of Canada is a component of the Parliament of Canada, along with the Sovereign and the Senate. The House of Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 308 members known as Members of Parliament...


External links



2010