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British Parliament is the supreme legislature where the representatives of the people of the United Kingdom between Great Britain and Northern Ireland deliberate. Although it is composed of the House of Lords, the House of Commons, and the Crown, the term is commonly used with reference to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Currently, the House of Commons represents the most important legislative chamber, and for this reason, its members have come to be known as the members of Parliament. The United Kingdom’s parliament represents the legislative arm of the government. The constitution requires the consent of the parliament to be sought before any statute is signed into law, altered, or repealed. Moreover, the parliament, acting as the people’s representative body, has to approve taxes that are levied in the United Kingdom. Thus, the local and central governments derive all their powers from legislative acts. In fact, even though the cabinet members may come from any of the two houses of parliament, their responsibility is to the House of Commons. In the United Kingdom, the House of Lords represents the highest court of appeal in the judicial system (McNeill, 1990).
Parliament represents one of those sections of the British government that have been highly honored throughout the history. The institution acquired its name from the formal gatherings that used to assemble the English king’s council as from the mid-1400s. The immediate predecessor of parliament was the feudal council, the Curia Regis, that advised the king, and before that council, there were the witenagemots or Anglo-Saxon witan. These were the devices that medieval kings turned to for help as they run their governments. They, indeed, served to emphasize the idea that kings ought to consult with their subjects, especially on important matters (McNeill, 1990).
During 1400s, several elements were combined for the purpose of influencing the evolution of Parliament. Ss stated in the 1215’s Magna Carta, these elements included the need for the authorities to consult the taxes before effecting change in the mode of taxation; the practice of summoning the elected representatives of counties and towns; the suitability of engaging the petitions at expounded king’s council meetings; as well as the initiatives of such rulers as King Edward I. King Edward I considered the Parliament to be an institution that could enhance the wellbeing of the people and, at the same time, facilitate governance by reducing the instances of dissent.
Initially, the Parliament appeared to be more of an event than an institution. During one of the quarrelling instances between the barons and King Henry III, the Oxford Parliament forced Henry to abide by the ruling of a baronial committee. That was precisely in 1258. The first time that the leader of the barons, Simon de Montfort, summoned the towns’ representatives to the Parliament was in the year of 1265. What is commonly referred to as the Model Parliament of Edward I, 1295, contained most of the elements that a mature Parliament has, including the bishops, peers, abbots, two knights from every shire, as well as two representatives from every town in the country (Clarkson, 2011).
According to the above discussion, it is apparent that the monarch consulted and sought the people’s acceptance of his policies to a certain level. He acted in such a manner so as to prompt broad cooperation between him and his subjects. Early English Kings had no police or standing army, and so they relied on the support that they were accorded by the powerful subjects in the country. The monarchy dispatched agents to every section of the country. However, the manner in which the feudal system evolved in England after the 1066’s Norman Conquest resulted in a situation where the Crown had to seek the support of the clergy and the nobility for his/her laws to be upheld. The evolution of the feudal system, however, allowed the king to amass military and economic power bases through major land ownership and, also, due to feudal obligations that allowed tenants to hold land, if and only if they served in the military. Although the English church was, at this time, a division of the Roman Catholic Church, its allegiance to Rome did not bar it from having its own arrangement of religious courts in several parts of the country (Clarkson, 1839).
For the purpose of seeking consent and consultation from the senior clergy as well as from the nobility post-1066 English monarchs, the king organized Great Councils. The councils facilitated much of the consultations on major decisions. Typically, a Great Council used to consist of the archbishops, abbots, the bishops, the barons, and the earls, all of whom were the main personalities of the feudal system. When such a system of consent and consultation broke down, it became challenging for government to conduct its businesses effectively. In fact, challenges occurred on multiple occasions during the reigns of Henry III and King John (Clarkson, 1839).
The Great Council is what evolved into the present-day Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Parliament began to be used during the early 1200s. It was derived from French and Latin worlds for speaking and discussion. The term first appeared in the official documents during the mid-1230s. According to the studies of Sayles G.O. and Richardson G., it is believed that early parliaments constituted a legislative as well as a judicial function. Between the mid-1200s and late 1300s, kings began calling the Knights of the Shire to meetings whenever they deemed necessary. For instance, in 1254, sheriffs of counties were directed by the king to send the Knights of Shire to the parliament for the purpose of providing advice on the matters relating to finance.
Initially, parliaments used to be summoned as soon as the king found it necessary to increase taxes for the purpose of raising money for some course. Following the Magna Carta, the summoning of the parliament became a convention. The development was prompted by the death of King John in 1216 and the succession by his immature son, Henry III. Prominent clergymen and nobles ruled the country on behalf of Henry until he was old enough to govern. Being given a taste of power made them reluctant to relinquish some control to Henry III. Among several things, they pushed Henry III to reissue Magna Carta as a show of goodwill (Clarkson, 1839).
The Growth of Parliament Power
During the 1300s, Parliament was split into two distinct houses, which then gained control over taxation and statutes. In 1376, statutes were passed that made the institution of Parliament powerful enough to induce the impeachment rulers. For instance, Parliament presided over abdications, such as those of Richard II in 1399 and Edward II in 1327. The growth of Parliament continued during the reign of Lancastrian kings between 1399 and 1461. After 1461, Parliament experienced a lukewarm growth, a situation that persisted until the reign of Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament of between 1529 and 1536. Commons began gaining confidence and experience under Henry as well as his successors, although this happened in compliant to the authority of the Crown.
Under the reign of Stuart kings, the cooperation was replaced by conflict, as highlighted by the 1649 overthrow as well as the execution of King Charles I. Moreover, the country experienced the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and 1689, a scenario which led to the establishment of the parliamentary sovereignty. As from the 1700, royals’ executive authority began to be eroded by those of the prime minister, the cabinet, as well as the House of Commons.
The Modern Parliament
As from the 1800s, democracy began to take root in the House of Commons. For instance, in 1832, the Legislative assembly was able to pass the Great Reform Bill, which gave the middle class in the British society a right to vote. In 1867 and 1884, similar acts enfranchised workingmen, while that of 1885 led to the creation of equal voting and electoral districts. In 1911, the Parliament Act weakened the House of Lords in an unprecedented manner. Moreover, the 1918 statute allowed women aged 30 years to vote while those aged 21 began voting in 1928. By 1969, the Parliament voted to allow anybody above 18 years to participate in voting.
Earlier on, the 1707 union between England and Scotland had ushered 16 Scottish peers as well as 45 representatives into the Legislative Assembly. The 1800 union with Ireland increased the number of peers by 32. In fact, 4 of the peers were bishops in the Irish church. At the same time, the number of representatives was increased by 100, although several of them withdrew from that representation after the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. Britain’s legislature has been seen as the model for other legislative assemblies around the world. In the following sections, the paper explicates the current nature of the two houses of the British Parliament.
The House of Commons is constituted of 646 members. The members are elected representatives who come from a similar number of constituencies. Currently, the British law allows citizens to vote upon attaining 18 years of age. The term of a Parliament runs for five years. The constitution allows the prime minister to set elections on the basis of the advantage or political necessity. The cabinet may, however, be forced to resign thereby causing the dissolution of parliament upon losing the vote of confidence. Resignation may also result from the failure to carry important legislation in the House of Commons. Due to the strict party discipline, it has become important to formulate key decisions in party caucus or in the cabinet before the party members participate in the proceedings of the parliament (Congleton, 2010).
In the House of Lords, members have come to be commonly referred to as peers. The House of Lords is made up by the lords spiritual, i.e., senior bishops in the Church of England, and lords temporal, who are termed as lay peers. Lords temporal include the law lords, i.e., the senior judges. Lords temporal are categorized into two: hereditary peers and life peers. The Peerage Act of 1963 allowed the hereditary peers to resign from their peerages if they so wish, thereby obtaining the rights and status like those of the commoners. The House of Lords Act of 1999 minimized the hereditary peers representation from about 750 to 90. Nevertheless, members of the House of Lords not as directly elected as those in the House of Commons. They may, however, retain their positions for life. However, the lords spiritual must resign from their positions when they withdraw or retire from church positions. Throughout history, life peers have always been appointed by the ruling monarch (Clarkson, 2011).
The powers that the House of Lords had were curtailed by the Parliament Act of 1911. Before then, they were equal to those of the House of Commons. The Parliament Act of 1911 ended the right of the House of Lords to disapprove legislation and, instead, empowered it to delay legislation. The House of Lords can, for instance, delay, say, financial bills, but only for 30 days. It is also empowered to delay other bills but for a period which is less than a year. The House of Lords, due to its minimal procedures as compared to the House of Commons, engages in additional studies and reflections, a situation that improves quality in legislations through the amendments. Bills are introduced either into the House of Lords or the House of Commons, with the exception of the financial bills. Financial bills have to be introduced in the House of Commons. The House of Lords cannot amend tax legislation as this is considered to be the responsibility that is reserved for the House of Commons. As the eminent court of appeal, the House of Lords deliberate in a manner which is limited to the peers with adequate judicial experience. These, therefore, include the law lords as these are life peers who have been appointed since 1876 for the purpose of enhancing the House of Lords’ judicial capacity (McNeill, 1990).