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PARLIAMENT (Anglo-Lat. parliamentum, ...

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Originally appearing in Volume V20, Page 837 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PARLIAMENT (Anglo-Lat. parliamentum, Fr. parlement, from parler, to speak), the name given to the supreme legislature of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. (For the old French parlement, see PARLEMENT; and for analogous foreign assemblies see the articles on their respective countries.) The word is found in English from the 13th century, first for a debate, then for a formal conference, and for the great councils of the Plantagenet kings; and the modern sense has come to be applied retrospectively. William the Conqueror is said in the Chronicle to have had " very deep speech with his Witan "; this " deep speech " (in Latin colloquium, in French parlement) was the distinguishing feature of a meeting between king and people, and thus gave its name to the national assembly itself. The Statute of Westminster (1275) first uses " parlement " of the great council in England. The British Parliament consists of the King (or Queen regnant), the Lords spiritual and temporal, and the Commons); and it meets in two houses, the House of Lords (the Upper or Second chamber) and the House of Commons. The Crown, pre-eminent in rank and dignity, is the legal source of parliamentary authority. The sovereign virtually appoints the lords spiritual, and all the peerages of the lords temporal have been created by the Crown. The king summons parliament to meet, and prescribes the time and place of its meeting, prorogues and dissolves it, and commands the issue of writs for the election of members of the House of Commons. By several statutes, beginning with the 4 Edward III. c. 14, the annual meeting of parliament had been ordained; but these statutes, continually disregarded, were virtually repealed in the reigns of Charles II. and William and Mary (16 Ch. II. 31; 6 & 7 Will. & Mary, 32). The present statute law merely exacts the meeting of parliament once in three years; but the annual voting of supplies has long since superseded obsolete statutes. When parliament is assembled it cannot proceed to business until the king has declared the causes of summons, in person or by commission; and though the veto of the Crown on legislation has long been obsolete, bills passed by the two houses only become law on receiving the royal assent. The House of Lords is distinguished by peculiar dignities, privileges and jurisdictions. Peers individually enjoy the rank and precedence of their several dignities, and are hereditary councillors of the Crown. Collectively with the lords spiritual they form a permanent council of the Crown; and, when assembled in parliament, they form the highest court of judicature in the realm, and are (in constitutional theory at all events) a co-equal branch of the legislature, without whose consent no laws can be made (see below, House of Lords Question). Their judicature is of various kinds, viz. for the trial of peers; for determining claims of peerage and offices of honour, under references from the Crown; for the trial of controverted elections of Scotch and Irish peers; for the final determination of appeals from courts in England, Scotland and Ireland; and lastly, for the trial of impeachments. The House of Commons also has its own peculiar privileges and jurisdictions. Above all, it has the paramount right of originating the imposition of all taxes, and the granting of supplies for the service of the state. It has also enjoyed, from early times, the right of determining all matters concerning the Or rather, the representatives of the Commons (see REPxEsEe- Parliamentary Procedure.—It will be convenient here to sketch the general lines of procedure. On the day appointed by royal proclamation for the meeting of a new parliament both houses assemble in their respective chambers, when the Lords Commissioners for opening the parliament summon the Commons to the bar of the House of Lords, by the mouth of Black Rod, to hear the commission read. The lord chancellor states that, when the members of both houses shall be sworn, the king will declare the causes of his calling this parliament; and, it being necessary that a Speaker of the House of Commons shall be first chosen, the Commons are directed to proceed to the appointment of a Speaker, and to present him, on the following day, for His Majesty's royal approbation. The Commons at once withdraw to their own house and proceed to the election of their Speaker. The next day the Speaker-elect proceeds, with the house, to the House of Lords, and, on receiving the royal approbation, lays claim, in the accustomed form, on behalf of the Commons, " to their ancient and undoubted rights and privileges." The Speaker, now fully confirmed, returns to the House of Commons, and, after repeating his acknowledgments, reminds the house that the first thing to be done is to take and subscribe the oath required by law. Having first taken the oath himself, he is followed by other members, who come to the table to be sworn. The swearing of members in both houses proceeds from day to day, until the greater number have taken the oath, or affirmation, when the causes of summons are declared by His Majesty in person, or by commission, in " the King's speech." This speech being considered in both houses, an Address (q.v.) in answer is agreed to, which is presented to His Majesty by the whole house, or by " the lords with white staves " in one house and privy councillors in the other. The debate on the Address being over, the real business of the session now commences: the committees of supply and ways and means are set up; bills are introduced; motions are made; committees are appointed; and both houses are, at once, in full activity. The Lord Chancellor presides over the deliberations of the Lords, and the Speaker over those of the Commons. A quorum of the House of Lords, including the chancellor, is three (thirty for divisions); that of the House of Commons, including the Speaker, is forty. Every matter is determined, in both houses, upon questions put from the chair, and resolved in the affirmative or negative, or otherwise disposed of by the withdrawal of the motion, by amendments, by the adjournment of the house, by reading the orders of the day, or by the previous question. Notices are required to be given of original motions; and the different stages of bills, and other matters appointed for consideration by the house, stand as orders of the day. Questions of privilege are allowed precedence of all the business on any day; but this rule, being liable to grave abuses, is guarded by strict limitations. Debates arise when a question has been proposed from the chair; and at the close of the debate (for the " closure " in the House of Commons, see below, House of Commons, Internal Reforms) the question is put, with or without amendment, as the case may be, and is determined, when necessary, by a division. No question or bill, substantially the same as one upon which the judgment of the house has already been given, may be again proposed during the same session. Members claim to be heard in debate by rising in their places. When more than one member rises at the same time, in the Lords the member who is to speak is called by the house, in the Commons by the Speaker. Every member, when called, is bound to speak to the question before the house; and calls to order are very frequent. A member may speak once only to any question, except to explain, or upon a point of order, or to reply when a member has himself submitted a motion to the house, or when an amendment has been moved which constitutes a new question. He may not refer to past debates, nor to debates in the other house; nor may he refer to any other member by name, or use offensive and disorderly language against the king, either House of Parliament, or other members. Members offending against any of the rules of debate are called to order bythe Speaker, or the attention of the chair is directed to the breach of order by another member. Order is generally enforced by the authority of the chair; but in extreme cases, and especially when obstruction is being practised, the offending member is named by the Speaker, and suspended by an order of the house, or otherwise punished at the discretion of the house. At the conclusion of a debate, unless the motion be withdrawn, or the question (on being put from the chair) be agreed to or negatived, the house proceeds to a division, which effects the two-fold purpose of ascertaining the numbers supporting and opposing the question, and of recording the names of members voting on either side. On each side of the house is a division lobby; and in the Lords the " contents " and in the Commons the " ayes " are directed to go to the right, and the " not contents " or " noes " to the left. The former pass into the right lobby, at the back of the Speaker's chair, and return to the house through the bar; the latter pass into the left lobby, at the bar, and return at the back of the chair. The opposing parties are thus kept entirely clear of one another. In each lobby there are two members acting as tellers, who count the members as they pass, and two division clerks who take down their names. After the division the four tellers advance to the table, and the numbers are reported by one of the tellers for the majority. In case of an equality of numbers, in the Lords the question is negatived in virtue of the ancient rule " semper praesumitur pro negante "; in the Commons the Speaker gives the casting vote. Committees of the Whole House.—For the sake of convenience in the transaction of business there are several kinds of committees. Of these the most important is a committee of the whole. house, which, as it consists of the entire body of members, can scarcely be accounted a committee. It is presided over by a chairman, who sits in the clerk's chair at the table, the mace, which represents the authority of the house itself, being for the time placed under the table. In this committee are discussed the several provisions of bills, resolutions and other matters requiring the consideration of details. To facilitate discussion, members are allowed to speak any number of times to the same question; otherwise the proceedings are similar to those of the house itself. In the Lords the chair is taken by the chairman of committees; and in the Commons by the chairman of the committee of ways and means, or in his absence by any other member. The quorum of such a committee is the same as that of the house itself. It reports from time to time to the house, but has no power of adjournment. Grand and Standing Committees.—In the House of Commons there were formerly four grand committees, viz. for religion, for grievances, for courts of justice, and for trade. They were founded upon the valuable principle of a distribution of labours among several bodies of members; but, having fallen into disuse, they were discontinued in 1832. The ancient committee of privileges, in which " all who come are to have voices," is still appointed at the commencement of every session, but is rarely called into action, as it has been found more convenient to appoint a select committee to inquire into any question of privilege as it arises. In 1882 a partial revival of grand committees was effected by the appointment of two standing committees for the consideration of bills relating to law and courts of justice and to trade; and grand committees have since been considerably extended. Select Committees.—In select committees both houses find the means of delegating inquiries, and the consideration of other matters, which could not be undertaken by the whole house. The reports of such committees have formed the groundwork of many important measures; and bills are often referred to them which receive a fuller examination than could be expected in a committee of the whole house. Power is given to such committees, when required, to send for persons, papers and records. In the Lords the power of examining witnesses upon oath has always been exercised, but it was not until 1871 that the same power was extended to the Commons, by statute. Communications between the Two Houses.—In the course of the proceedings of parliament. frequent communications between the two houses become necessary. Of these the most usual and convenient form is that of a message. Formerly the Lords sent a message by two judges or two masters in chancery, and the Commons by a deputation of their own members; but since 1855 messages have been taken from one house to the other by one of the clerks at the table. A more formal communication is effected by a conference, in reference to amendments to bills or other matters; but this proceeding has been in great measure superseded by the more simple form of a message. The two houses are also occasionally brought into communication by means of joint committees and of select committees communicating with each other. Communications between the Crown and Parliament.—Communications, in various forms, are also conducted between the Crown and both Houses of Parliament. Of these the most important are those in which the king, in person or by commission, is present in the House of Lords to open or prorogue parliament, or to give the royal assent to bills. His Majesty is then in direct communication with the three estates of the realm, assembled in the same chamber. The king also sends messages to both houses under the royal sign manual, when all the members are uncovered. Verbal messages are also sent, and the king's pleasure, or royal recommendation or consent to bills or other matters, signified through a minister of the Crown or a privy councillor. Messages under the sign manual are acknowledged by addresses, except where grants of money are proposed, in which case no address is presented by the Commons, who acknowledge them by making provision accordingly. Both houses approach the Crown, sometimes by joint addresses, but usually by separate addresses from each house. Such addresses are presented to His Majesty, either by the whole house, or by the lords with white staves in one house and by privy councillors in the other. His Majesty answers, in person, addresses presented by the whole house; but, when presented otherwise, an answer is brought by one of the lords with white staves, or by one of the privy councillors, by whom the address has been presented. Resolutions of either house are also sometimes directed to be laid before His Majesty; and messages of congratulation or condolence are sent to other members of the royal family. The Passing of Public Bills.—The passing of bills forms the most considerable part of the business of parliament; but a brief notice will suffice to explain the methods of procedure. These are substantially the same in both houses; but the privileges of the Commons, in regard to supply and taxation, require that all bills imposing a charge upon the people should originate in that house. On the other hand, the Lords claim that bills for restoration of honours or in blood, or relating to their own privileges and jurisdiction, should commence in their house. An act of grace, or general pardon, originates with the Crown, and is read once only in both houses. Bills are divided into public and private; but here the former only are referred to. In the Lords any peer is entitled to present a bill, but in the Commons a member is required to obtain the previous leave of the house to bring in the bill; and, in the case of bills relating to religion, trade, grants of public money, or charges upon the subject, a preliminary committee is necessary before such leave will be given. A bill, when presented, is read a first time, and ordered to be printed; and a day is appointed for the second reading. At this latter stage the principle of the bill is discussed; and, if disapproved of by an adverse vote, the bill is lost and cannot be renewed during the same session. If approved of, it is usually committed to a committee of the whole house, where every provision is open to debate and amendment. When the bill has been fully considered it is reported to the house, with or without amendments, and is ready to pass through its remaining stages. Sometimes, however, the bill is first referred to a select committee; or to a grand committee and not to committee of the whole house. When a bill has been reported from a committee of the whole house, or from a standing committee, with amendments, the bill, as amended, is ordered to be considered on a future day, when further amendments may be made, or the bill may be recommitted. The next and last stage is the third reading, when the principle of the measure, and its amended provisions, are open to review. Even at this stage the bill may be lost; but if the third reading be agreed to, it is at once passed and sent to the other house. There it is open to the like discussions and amendments, and may be rejected. If returned without amendment, the bill merely awaits the royal assent; but if returned with amendments, such amendments must be agreed to, or otherwise adjusted by the two houses, before it can be submitted for the royal assent. The royal assent consummates the work of legislation, and converts the bill into an act of parliament. Petitions.—Both houses are approached by the people by means of petitions, of which prodigious numbers are presented to the House of Commons every session. They are referred to the committee on public petitions, under whose directions they are classified, analysed, and the number of signatures counted; and, when necessary, the petitions are printed in extenso. Parliamentary Papers.—Another source of information is found in parliamentary papers. These are of various kinds. The greater part are obtained either by a direct order of the house itself, or by an address to the Crown for documents relating to matters in which the prerogatives of the Crown are concerned. Other papers, relating to foreign and colonial affairs and other public matters, are presented to both houses by command of His Majesty. Again, many papers are annually presented in pursuance of acts of parliament. The Granting of Supplies.—The exclusive right of the Commons to grant supplies, and to originate all measures of taxation, imposes a very onerous service upon that house. This is mainly performed by two committees of the whole house the committee of supply, and the committee of ways and means. The former deals with all the estimates for the public service presented to the house by command of His Majesty; and the latter votes out of the Consolidated Fund such sums as are necessary to meet the supplies alreadygranted, and originates all taxes for the service of the year. It is here that the annual financial statement of the chancellor of the exchequer, commonly known as " the Budget," is delivered. The resolutions of these committees are reported to the house, and, when agreed to, form the foundation of bills, to be passed by both houses, and submitted for the royal assent; and towards the close of the session an Appropriation Act is passed, applying all the grants for the service of the year. Elections.—The extensive jurisdiction of the Commons in matters of election, already referred to, formerly occupied a considerable share of their time, but its exercise has now been contracted within narrow limits. Whenever a vacancy occurs during the continuance of a parliament, a warrant for a new writ is issued by the Speaker, by order of the house during the session, and in pursuance of statutes during the recess. The causes of vacancies are the death of a member, his being called to the House of Peers, his acceptance of an office from the Crown, or his bankruptcy. When any doubt arises as to the issue of a writ, it is usual to appoint a committee to inquire into the circumstances of the case; and during the recess the Speaker may reserve doubtful cases for the determination of the house. Controverted elections had been originally tried by select committees, afterwards by the committee of privileges and elections, and ultimately by the whole house, with scandalous partiality, but under the Grenville Act of 1970, and other later acts, by select committees, so constituted as to form a more judicial tribunal. The influence of party bias, however, too obviously prevailed until 1839, when Sir Robert Peel introduced an improved system of nomination, which distinctly raised the character of election committees; but a tribunal constituted of political partisans, how-ever chosen, was still open to jealousy and suspicion, and at length, in 1868, the trial of election petitions was transferred to judges of the superior courts, to whose determination the house gives effect, by the issue of new writs or otherwise. The house, however, still retains and exercises its jurisdiction in all cases not relegated, by statute, to the judges. Impeachments and Trial of Peers.—Other forms of parliamentary judicature still remain to be mentioned. Upon impeachments by the Commons, the Lords exercise the highest criminal judicature known to the law; but the occasions upon which it has been brought into action have been very rare in modern times. Another judicature is that of the trial of peers by the House of Lords. And, lastly, by a bill of attainder, the entire parliament may be called to sit in judgment upon offenders. Private Bill Legislation.—One other important function of parliament remains to be noticed—that of private bill legislation. Here the duties of parliament are partly legislative and partly judicial. Public interests are promoted, and private rights secured. This whole jurisdiction has been regulated by special standing orders, and by elaborate arrangements for the nomination of capable and impartial committees. A prodigious legislative work has been accomplished—but under conditions most costly to the promoters and opponents of private bills, and involving a serious addition to the onerous labours of members of parliament.
End of Article: PARLIAMENT (Anglo-Lat. parliamentum, Fr. parlement, from parler, to speak)
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