Return to House of Commons (thing)

The House of Commons has elected members ([MP]s) who are chosen using the [First Past The Post] system.

Each [political party|party] in the [United Kingdom|U.K.] will put up a [candidate] for [election] in each of the [constituency|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 [political party|party] who gains the most [seat]s in the Commons is invited by the [monarch] to form a [government]. The leader of the invited [political party|party] becomes the [Prime Minister] and suggests to the [monarch] who should be appointed as [minister]s in the new [government] (this is really just a formality really).

[nota bene|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 [United Kingdom|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.

The [MP]s each represent a [constituency] which can have between 65,000 to 70,000 [constituent]s in it. These [constituency|constituencies] are drawn up by an independent [commission] which alters the boundaries when populations alter. This system is unlike in the USA where the [constituency |constituencies] are drawn up a lot more accurately.

The [MP]s are supposed to represent their [constituent]s 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 [political party|party] and have some allegiance to them as well. This leads to [MP]s having to carefully balance their [Party Line|party loyalty] and their responsibility to their [constituent]s. The majority of the time this balance is acquired though this is easily disputed.

[MP]s are arranged in two sets of [pew]s 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 [MP]s. On the right is the [her majesty's loyal opposition|opposition] party and the other [MP]s are on this side but not opposite the [government] (this is usually where the [Liberal Democrats] are relegated to). The [MP]s at the front of the [pew]s are called the Front Bench and there up to 200 of these. They tend to be the [minster]s of the [government] and their [her majesty's loyal opposition|opposition] counterparts (called Shadow Ministers). The rest of the [MP]s 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 [stall]s 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 and the Barons |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 [MP]s just come and go as they please during [debate]s 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 of the House|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 of the House |Speaker] instead the [Lord]s 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 Group]s). 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 Servant]s physically write these papers and collect information related to the subject. This [legislation], after going through several [reading]s, will then be sent to the [House of Lords] where it will go for three [reading]s 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):

First [Reading]

At this stage the proposed [bill] is declared (by the [Speaker of the House|Speaker]) to the House so that the [MP]s know that they can obtain a copy of the [bill] to peruse at their leisure. No [debate|debating] occurs yet.

Second [Reading]

This is the stage where the real [power] of the Commons shines through. At this stage the [bill] is [debate]d by the house. All [MP |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 [hone]d and [shape]d into something [worthwhile]. This process allows the [opposition] to voice their objections or assent to a [bill] as well as let individual [MP]s make known their views (supposedly on behalf of their [constituent]s). 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 [her majesty's loyal opposition|opposition] can do little to overturn the [bill]. However, [Minister]s (who are often behind the [bill]s) 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]

[Committee] Stage

At this stage of the process the [bill] is passed on to a [committee] (called a [Standing Committee]) which is composed of interested [MP|M.P.s] and [MP |M.P.s] that have [expertise] in that area (so if for example that [committee] was looking at a [bill] on a [medical] [issue] [MP|M.P.s] who are [experience]d in [medecine] would be on the [committee]).

This [committee] would [report] on the [bill] at a report stage and recommend [amendment]s. This is the stage where last minute changes are made to the [bill] before it gets sent to the [House of Lords|Lords] (it might be [amend]ed by the [House of Lords | Lords] and/or sent back to the Commons). There is often a vote (a division) on the [amendment]s suggested by the [committee].

Third [Reading]

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 is 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 [ratify |ratified] it but it has happened (the last time a [monarch] refused an [Act of Parliament] was [Queen] Anne in 1707).

The House of Commons is also where many other [debate]s take place. These are where the other [function]s of the Commons often come into play.
Here is a list of other debates in the Commons and a brief description of what each is.

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 [intention]s 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] [Motion]s

This is when either the [opposition] or the [government] [propose]s 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 [command]ed a [majority] in the Commons.

Opposition Days

In each [Parliamentary] [Session] the [opposition] is allowed 20 days to [debate] a few [topic]s 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] [party |parties] are [consult]ed on this [affair]. These [debate]s often turn into a [government] [slagging matches |slagging match] since the [opposition] [invariably] chooses [subject]s that the [government] is [weak] on. In some ways thought this is better since it forces the [government] to be on its toes.

Estimates Days

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 committees)

Public Member Motions

This is similar to a Private Member [Bill]. A [MP |M.P.] is allowed to start a [debate] on a [motion]. The [MP | M.P.s] that get to do this are chosen by a [ballot] and the [debate]s themselves are held last thing on a [Friday]. This often means that and often important matter is not [debate]d as well as it should.