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Лингво страноведенье / Q- 07 origins of parliament

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Question 7 Origins of British Parliament. The main historical landmarks. ( Кочеткова Елена)

Parliament of United Kingdom is the supreme legislative authority and consists of three separate elements: the Queen, the House of Lords and the elected House of Commons. These are outwardly separate, constituted on different principles, and meet together only on occasions of symbolic significance such as the state opening of Parliament. Over the centuries the balance between the three parts of the legislature has changed, so that the Queen’s role, as has been stated above, is now only formal and the House of Commons has gained supremacy over the House of Lords.


Like the monarchy, Parliament is an ancient institution – the middle of the thirteenth century. Great Council – a gathering of the nobility, which met several times a year. (If extra resources were needed for an emergency, such as a war, the Sovereign would seek to persuade his barons in the Great Council to grant aid).

When King John (the Lackland) was forced by his rebel barons to set his seal to the Great Charter. On June 10, 1215, Magna Carta, the Great Charter was signed. It was an important symbol of political freedom as this program gave the barons a more positive and permanent share in the government as well the right to a fair and legal trial.

When Henry III, his successor, came to the throne he tried to concentrate al power in his hands and again and again demanded money from the Great Council. As barons refused to grant money, a civil war began. The incompetent king supported by a group of powerful barons was defeated by Simon de Monfort, leader of the lesser barons and the new merchant class and poorer clergy, at the battle of Lewes in 1264. The term “Parliament” originally meant ”a meeting for parley or discussion”.

During the reign of Henry’s son, Edward I, Parliament assumed the form, which de Monfort had given it. In 1295, Edward summoned the Model Parliament, so called because it contained all the elements, which were to become recognized as necessary to make a full assembly. Edward promised that no new taxes would be raised without the consent of the Parliament.

His grandson, King Edward III continually needed money to carry on the Hundred Years’ War and this led to further developments of parliamentary control over taxation. It was during the period that the division into Lords and Commons took place: the knights and the burgesses together formed a single House of Commons, sitting separately from the barons. In 1407 Henry IV pledged that all money grants would be approved by the House of Commons before being considered by the Lords. This alliance between the merchants and the squires was the key to the growth of parliamentary power. Later, during the 15th century, the Commons gained the right to participate in giving their requests – their “bills” – the form of law.

The clash between King Charles I and Parliament became so sharp that it resulted in the open revolt of Parliament against the King, in Civil War and in revolution. Parliament played a decisive role during the Bourgeois Revolution of 1640-1649. Following the defeat of the royalist armies and the execution of King Charles I in 1649, the monarchy and the House of Lords were abolished and the country were proclaimed a republic. However, the Commonwealth period came to an end in 1660, two years after the death of the “Lord Protector”, Oliver Cromwell. Charles I’s son was restored to the throne as King Charles II.

King James II, his successor, attempted to rule without the consent of Parliament. As a result of this, a group of Whigs, joined by Tories, invited in 1688 William of Orange to invade to “secure the in fringed liberties” of the country.

Following the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, Parliament passed the Bill of Rights in 1689, which laid down the conditions under which the Whig bourgeoisie would allow the monarchy to exist. The King was no longer able to control either the Army or the judges. The control of finance passed once and for all to Parliament and it was made illegal for the sovereign to over-ride laws. Parliament also had to be summoned at least once in every three years and couldn’t be kept in existence for a longer period. (In 1911, the duration of Parliament was fixed at five years).

To enable the Sovereign and Parliament to work together, a group of ministers, or cabinet, became the link between the executive and the legislature.

A few years after the accession to throne of George I in 1714, the monarch ceased to attend Cabinet meetings and none of his successors did thereafter. Instead, the Cabinet was presided over by the First Lord of the Treasury, who came to be known as the Prime Minister. After that the individual influence of the monarch in exercising executive power declined and that of the Cabinet as a whole increased. Sir Robert Peel, Prime Minister from 1841-1846, was probably the first holder of his office to perform a role similar to that of a modern Prime Minister. Since the mid- 19th century the Prime Minister has normally been the leader of the party with the majority in the House of Commons.

The Reform Act of 1832 reformed the system of parliamentary representation, which dated from medieval times. It also standardized the qualifications for the right to vote.

Britain has no written constitution and Parliament is able to legislate as it pleases. It can make, abolish or change any law; it can destroy established conventions or, vice versa, turn a convention into a law. In practice, however, Parliament does not access its supremacy in this way. Politicians are generally sensitive to traditions, conventions and public traditions and public opinions. Besides, a set of formal and informal checks and balances – such as party discipline, the official Opposition, public reaction and pressure groups – normally ensures that Parliament legislates with its responsibility to the electorate in mind.

As a member of the European Union, Britain acts according to the Union legislation and wider policies, and sends 87 elected members to the European Parliament. These members are usually called Euro-MPs or MEPs.

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