The British Parliament and the Electoral SystemCategory: Politics
The Law-Making House of Parliament. MPs. Candidates in Elections. Cabinet of Ministers. “Shadow Cabinet”
The British Parliament consists of the House of Lords and the House of Commons and the Queen as its head.
The House of Commons plays the major role in law-making. It consists of Members of Parliament (called MPs for short), each of whom represents an area in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. MPs are elected either at a general election, or at a by-election following the death or retirement of an MP.
Parliamentary elections must be held every five years, but the Prime Minister can decide on the exact date within those five years. The minimum voting age is 18, and the voting is taken by secret ballot.
The election campaign lasts about three weeks. The election is decided on a simple majority—the candidate with the most votes wins. An MP who wins by a small number of votes may have more votes against him (that is, for the other candidates) than for him. Many people think that it is unfair because the wishes of those who voted for the unsuccessful candidates are not represented at all. The British parliamentary system depends on political parties. The political parties choose candidates in elections. The party which wins the majority of seats forms the Government and its leader usually becomes Prime Minister. The Prime Minister chooses about 20 MPs from his or her party to become the Cabinet of Ministers. Each minister is responsible for a particular area of the government. The second largest party becomes the official opposition with its own leader and “Shadow cabinet”. Leader of the opposition is a recognized post in the House of Commons.
The House of Commons
“Front-Benchers” and “Back-Benchers”. MPs Address the House. 3 Stages of a Bill. A Bill Becomes an Act of Parliament. The Decisive Political and Economic Power
The House of Commons is made up of 650 elected members, known as Members of Parliament (MPs). The House of Commons is presided over by the Speaker, a member acceptable to the whole House. MPs sit on two sides of the hall, one side for the governing party and the other for the opposition. The first two rows of seats are occupied by the leading members of both parties (called “frontbenchers”), the back benches belong to the rank-and-file MPs (“backbenchers”). Each session of the House of Commons lasts for 160— 175 days. Parliament has intervals during its work. MPs are paid for their parliamentary work and have to attend the sittings. MPs have to catch the Speaker’s eye when they want to speak, then they rise from where they have been sitting to address the House and must do so without either reading a prepared speech or consulting notes.
Although there is some space given to other than government proposals, the lion’s share of parliamentary time is taken by the party in power. A proposed law, a bill has to go through three stages in order to become an Act of Parliament. These are called readings. The first reading is a formality and is simply the publication of the proposal. The second reading involves debate on the principles of the bill, its examination by a parliamentary committee, and the third reading—a report stage, when the work of the committee is reported on to the House. This is usually the most important stage in the process. The third reading is often a formality too; if six members table a motion, then there has to be a debate on the third reading. If the majority of MPs still votes for the bill, it is sent to the House of Lords for discussion. When the Lords agree, the bill is taken to the Queen for Royal assent. All bills must pass through both houses before being sent for signature by the Queen, when they become Acts of Parliament and the Law of the Land.
The House of Lords
Members of the Upper House Are Not Elected. The Woolsack. The Lords’ Main Power
The other House of the Parliament is the House of Lords. The House of Lords has more than 1,000 members, although only about 250 take an active part in the work of the House. This House consists of those lords who sit by right of inheritance and those men and women who have been given life peerages which end with the life of their possessors. Members of this Upper House are not elected. They sit there because of their rank. The chairman of the House of Lords is the Lord Chancellor and he sits on a special seat called the Woolsack.
The members of the House of Lords debate a bill after it has been passed by the House of Commons. Changes may be recommended, 10 and agreement between the two Houses is reached by negotiations. The Lords’ main power consists of being able to delay non-flnancial bills for a period of a year, but they can also introduce certain types of bill. The House of Lords is the only non-elected second chamber in the parliaments in the world, and some people in Britain would like to abolish it.
The division of Parliament into two Houses goes back over some 700 years when feudal assembly ruled the country. In modern times, real political power rests in the elected House although members of the House of Lords still occupy important cabinet posts.