The House of Commons has elected members (MP
s) who are chosen using
the First Past The Post
Each party in the U.K. will put up a candidate
for election in each of the constituencies. People in
that constituency will vote for a candidate to represent their
interests in The House of Commons. Whoever wins the election in the
constituency gains a seat in the Commons which will allow him/her to
debate and vote on issues. The party who gains the most seats in the
Commons is invited by the monarch to form a government. The leader
of the invited party becomes the Prime Minister and suggests to the
monarch who should be appointed as ministers in the new government (this is really just a formality really).
N.B. The monarch still holds the power to
refuse to invite the winning party.
It is very unlikely that the monarch would do such a thing but
people rarely remember that the monarch is still the leader of the
U.K. (the Head of State) and as such the Prime Minister theoretically
must listen to the monarch's wishes. However, the Prime Minister
operates nowadays under what's called Royal Prerogative. This means that
the monarch delegates the decision to the Prime Minister but the
monarch still holds the power.
s each represent a constituency
which can have between 65,000 to 70,000 constituent
s in it. These constituencies
are drawn up by an independent
which alters the boundaries when populations
alter. This system is unlike in the USA where the constituencies
are drawn up a lot more accurately.
The MPs are supposed to represent their constituents in the
House of Commons and look after their interests. This is made easier by
the fact that the MP lives in that constituency and therefore
will often be looking after his/her own interests as well. However, the
MP will often be a member of a party and have some
allegiance to them as well. This leads to MPs having to
carefully balance their party loyalty and their
responsibility to their constituents. The majority of the time
this balance is acquired though this is easily disputed.
MPs are arranged in two sets of pews that oppose each other.
On the left hand side (if you are facing where the Speaker of the
House sits) is the present government and all its MPs. On
the right is the opposition party and the other MPs are on
this side but not opposite the government (this is usually where the Liberal Democrats are relegated to). The MPs at the
front of the pews are called the Front Bench and there up to 200 of
these. They tend to be the minsters of the government and their
opposition counterparts (called Shadow Ministers). The rest of the MPs are called Backbenchers and form the bulk of the Commons.
This arrangement of the House of Commons (and the House of Lords) came
about because before the modern buildings were built in Victorian
times Parliament used to meet in a church and sat in the stalls
used by the choir. The Commons can be traced back to the council of
barons that came together in the 13th century under Simon de
Montfort to watch over the King (they are the same bunch that forced
King John to sign the Magna Carta in
1215). The Magna Carta is also thought to be the first written piece of
constitutional legislation in Britain.
The House of Commons is a very formal place in some ways and in other
ways it seems very unformal. For example, it is often the case that MPs just come and go as they please during debates and speeches
etc. and often start having chats with other members. There are also
very formal traditions that are still followed. In the House of
Commons, no MP ever states the name of a fellow member. They
are always referred to as 'the Honourable Gentleman' or by their
title such as 'the Right Honourable Minster for Trade and
Industry'. This is tied into the fact that no one is talked to
directly. Like any other debate, all statements are directed through
the chairman of the debate, which in this case is the Speaker of
the House. The only time that a MP is named directly is if
s/he is too rowdy or disobey a convention of some sort and
therefore he will be named by an MP and s/he will be removed.
This doesn't often happen since the Speaker
keeps everything controlled by shouting 'Order' which usually brings the
Commons under control (the House of Lords is more dignified than the
Commons and has no Speaker instead the Lords
are expected to exercise control over themselves).
The main function of the House of Commons is to debate and form
legislation from a proposal. This proposal can come from either
the government or introduced (as a private member's bill) by a Member of Parliament. To create the bill there is much consultation
with groups and individuals to draw up a Green Paper or a White Paper
(see also Pressure Groups). A Green Paper
lays out a general policy and invites suggestions. A White Paper is
more of a skeletal form of legislation. This will probably be the
basis of future legislation. These papers are made by the government
ministries that have an interest in the area (for example,
the privatisation of the railways would have been handled by the
Department of Transport, the Treasury et al.). Civil Servants
physically write these papers and collect information related to the
subject. This legislation, after going through several readings,
will then be sent to the House of Lords where it will go for three
readings there as well.
At each reading something different occurs (the term reading comes
from antiquity when the proposed bill was literally read out to
the Commons which is now often impossible due to the fact that most
modern bills span many pages):
At this stage the proposed bill is declared (by the Speaker) to the House so that the MPs know that
they can obtain a copy of the bill to peruse at their leisure.
No debating occurs yet.
This is the stage where the real power of the Commons shines through.
At this stage the bill is debated by the house. All M.P.s who
are interested in the topic show up to add their two pence worth to
the debate. This leads to legislation being honed and shaped
into something worthwhile. This process allows the opposition to
voice their objections or assent to a bill as well as let
individual MPs make known their views (supposedly on behalf of their
constituents). It is often argued that this stage is
just a formality nowadays due to the way that the government has a
majority in the Commons and therefore the opposition can do little to overturn the bill. However, Ministers (who are often behind the bills) take
note of suggestions put forward in the debate to make sure that the
final bill will be worthwhile legislation and not attacked in the media or by the public.
After the debate there is a vote on whether the legislation should
continue. In the Commons this is done by a Division
At this stage of the process the bill is passed on to a committee
(called a Standing Committee) which is composed of
interested M.P.s and M.P.s that have expertise in that
area (so if for example that committee was looking at a bill on a
medical issue M.P.s who are experienced in medecine would
be on the committee).
This committee would report on the bill at a report stage and
recommend amendments. This is the stage where last minute changes are
made to the bill before it gets sent to the Lords
(it might be amended by the Lords and/or sent back
to the Commons). There is often a vote (a division) on the amendments
suggested by the committee.
The bill is given its final reading and then sent to the House of
Lords. This is a quick process and does little more than inform the
Commons about the current state of the legislation.
If the legislation makes it through the scrutiny of the House of
Lords then it is presented to the monarch for Royal Assent. This
the process by which the monarch looks at the legislation and makes
it law. The monarch makes the legislation law. It is
unlikely that the monarch would refuse to make it law since
Parliament has ratified it but it has happened (the last
time a monarch refused an Act of Parliament was Queen Anne in
The House of Commons is also where many other debates take place. These are
where the other functions of the Commons often come into play.
Here is a list of other debates in the Commons and a brief description of what
The Annual Debate on the Address
This is a debate on the speech made by the current monarch. This speech is
made when the monarch opens Parliament each year and it outlines the government's
intentions for the next year. This debate lasts about five days and is usually
the first debate the the Commons makes at the beginning of each Parliamentary Session.
No Confidence Motions
This is when either the opposition or the government proposes a motion of no
confidence. The following vote decides the fate of the current government. If
The government loses the vote then it is a constitutional rule for it to resign
and a General Election is held. This is what happened in 1993 when John Major
called a no confidence motion on his own government because he couldn't ratify
the Maastricht Treaty. This motion was used by him to see whether he still had
control over the party and therefore still commanded a majority in the Commons.
In each Parliamentary Session the opposition is allowed 20 days to debate
a few topics of their choice. Most of this debate is lead by the chief opposition
party (the one that came second in the election) but the third opposition party
does get some share as well. The other minority opposition parties are consulted
on this affair. These debates often turn into a government slagging match since
the opposition invariably chooses subjects that the government is weak on. In some
ways thought this is better since it forces the government to be on its toes.
This is three days set aside for the debate of spending of public funds by a
department. The department is chosen by a Select Committee. (I'll node more about
Public Member Motions
This is similar to a Private Member Bill. A M.P. is allowed to start
a debate on a motion. The M.P.s that get to do this are chosen by a ballot
and the debates themselves are held last thing on a Friday. This often means that
and often important matter is not debated as well as it should.