1902 Encyclopedia > Parliament


The British Parliament is the supreme legislature of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, consisting of the King, or Queen, and the three estates of the realm, viz., the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal, and the Commons.


An inquiry into the early growth and later development of this powerful institution presents at once an interesting historical study and profound political instruction. Its great antiquity, its continuous but ever-changing life, and the social and political causes which have shaped its pre-sent constitution and authority are themes which can never fail to attract the historian and the statesman; while speculations regarding its future course concern the destinies of the British empire.

The Anglo-Saxon Polity. — The origin of parliament is to be traced to Anglo-Saxon times. The Angles, Saxons, and other Teutonic races who conquered Britain brought to their new homes their own laws and customs, their settled framework of society, their kinship, their village communities, and a certain rude representation in local affairs. And we find in the Anglo-Saxon polity, as deve-loped during their rule in England, all the constituent parts of parliament. In their own lands they had chiefs and leaders, but no kings. But conquest and territorial settlement were followed by the assumption of royal dignities; and the victorious chiefs were accepted by their followers as kings. They were quick to assume the tradi-tional attributes of royalty. A direct descent from their god Woden, and hereditary right, at once clothed them with a halo of glory and with supreme power; and, when the pagan deity was deposed, the king received consecration from a Christian archbishop, and was invested with sacred attributes as " the Lord's anointed." But the Saxon monarch was a patriarchal king of limited authority, who acted in concert with his people; and, though his succes-sion was hereditary, in his own family, his direct descendant was liable to be passed over in favour of a worthier heir. Such a ruler was a fitting precursor of a line of constitu-tional kings, who in later times were to govern with the advice and consent of a free parliament.

Meanwhile, any council approaching the constitution of a House of Lords was of slow growth. Anglo-Saxon society, indeed, was not without an aristocracy. The highest in rank were astkelings—generally, if not exclu-sively, sons and brothers of the king. The ealdorman, originally a high officer, having the executive government of a shire, and a seat in the king's witan, became heredi-tary in certain families, and eventually attained the dignity of an earl. But centuries were to pass before the English nobility was to assume its modern character and denomi-nations. At the head of each village was an eorl, the chief of the freemen, or ceorls—their leader in war and patron in peace. The king's gesiths and thegns formed another privileged class. Admitted to offices in the king's household and councils, and enriched by grants of land, they gradually formed a feudal nobility.

The revival of the Christian church, under the Anglo-Saxon rule, created another order of rulers and councillors, destined to take a leading part in the government of the state. The archbishops and bishops, having spiritual authority in their own dioceses, and exercising much local influence in temporal affairs, were also members of the national council, or witenagemrjt, and by their greater learning and capacity were not long in acquiring a leading part in the councils of the realm. Ecclesiastical councils were also held, comprising bishops, abbots, and clergy, in which we observe the origin of convocation. The abbots, thus associated with the bishops, also found a place with them in the witenagem6t. By these several orders, sum-moned to advise the king in affairs of state, was formed a council of magnates—to be developed, in course of time, into an Upper Chamber, or House of Lords.

The rise of the commons, as a political power in the national councils, was of yet slower development; but in the Anglo-Saxon moots may be discerned the first germs of popular government in England. In the town-moot the assembled freemen and cultivators of the " folk-lands" regulated the civil affairs of their own township, tithing, village, or parish. In the burgh-moot the inhabitants administered their municipal business, under the presidency of a reeve. The hundred-moot assumed a more representa-tive character, comprising the reeve and a selected number of freemen from the several townships and burghs within the hundred. The shire-moot, or shire-gem6t, was an assembly yet more important. An ealdorman was its pre-sident, and exercised a jurisdiction over a shire, or district comprising several hundreds. Attended by a reeve and four freemen from every hundred, it assumed a distinctly representative character. Its members, if not elected by the popular voice, were, in some fashion, deputed to act on behalf of those whose interests they had come to guard. The shire-moot was also the general folk-moot of the tribe, assembled in arms, to whom their leaders referred the decision of questions of peace and war.

Superior to these local institutions was the witena-gem6t, or assembly of wise men, with whom the king took counsel in legislation and the government of the state. This national council was the true beginning of the parliament of England. Such a council was originally held in each of the kingdoms commonly known as the Heptarchy; and after their union in a single realm, under King Edgar, the witenagem6t became the deliberative and legislative assembly, or parliament, of the extended estate.

The witenagem6t made laws, imposed taxes, concluded treaties, advised the king as to the disposal of public lands and the appointment and removal of officers of state, and even assumed to elect and depose the king himself. The king had now attained to greater power, and more royal dignities and prerogatives. He was unquestionably the chief power in the witenagemdt; but the laws were already promulgated, as in later times, as having been agreed to with the advice and consent of the witan. The witan also exercised jurisdiction as a supreme court. These ancient customs present further examples of the continuity of English constitutional forms.

The constitution of the witenagem6t, however, was necessarily less popular than that of the local moots in the hundred or the shire. The king himself was generally present; and at his summons came prelates, abbots, ealdormen, the king's gesiths and thegns, officers of state and of the royal household, and leading tenants in chief of lands held from the crown. Crowds sometimes attended the meetings of the witan, and shouted their acclamations of approval or dissent; and, so far, the popular voice was associated with its deliberations ; but it was at a distance from all but the inhabitants of the place in which it was assembled, and until a system of representation had slowly grown up there could be no further admission of the people to its deliberations. In the town-moot the whole body of freemen and cultivators of the folk-lands met freely under a spreading oak, or on the village green; in the hundred-moot, or shire-gem6t, deputies from neighbour-ing communities could readily find a place; but all was changed in the wider council of a kingdom. When there were many kingdoms, distance obstructed any general gathering of the commons; and in the wider area of England such a gathering became impossible. Centuries were yet to pass before this obstacle was to be overcome by representation; but, in the meantime, the local institu-tions of the Anglo-Saxons were not without their influence upon the central council. The self-government of a free people informed the bishops, ealdormen, ceorls, and thegns who dwelt among them of their interests and needs, their sufferings and their wrongs; and, while the popular forces were increasing with an advancing society, they grew more potential in the councils of their rulers. Some writers, naturally sympathizing with every tradition of English liberty, have discovered proofs of an earlier representation; but popular franchises are now too firmly established to need support from doubtful traces of anti-quity.

Another circumstance must not be overlooked in esti-mating the political influence of the people in Anglo-Saxon times. For five centuries the country was convulsed with incessant wars—wars with the Britons, whom the invaders were driving from their homes, wars between the several kingdoms, wars with the Welsh, wars with the Picts, wars with the Danes. How could the people continue to assert their civil rights amid the clash of arms and a frequent change of masters ? The warrior-kings and their armed followers were rulers in the land which they had conquered.

At the same time the unsettled condition of the country repressed the social advancement of its people. Agricul-ture could not prosper when the farm of the husbandman too often became a battlefield. Trade could not be extended without security to property and industry. Under such conditions the great body of the people con-tinued as peasants, handicraftsmen, and slaves. The time had not yet come when they could make their voice heard in the councils of the state.

The Norman Conquest. — The Anglo-Saxon polity was suddenly overthrown by the Norman Conquest. A stern foreign king had seized the crown, and was prepared to rule his conquered realm by the sword. He brought with him the absolutist principles of Continental rulers, and the advanced feudal system of France and Normandy. Feudalism had been slowly gaining ground under the Saxon kings, and now it was firmly established as a military organization. William the Conqueror at once rewarded his warlike barons and followers with enormous grants of land. The Saxon landowners and peasants were despoiled, and the invaders settled in their homesteads. The king claimed the broad lands of England as his own, hy right of conquest; and when he allowed his warriors to share the spoil he attached the strict condition of military service in return for every grant of land. An effective army of occupation of all ranks was thus quartered upon every province throughout the realm. England was held by the sword; a foreign king, foreign nobles, and a foreign soldiery were in possession of the soil, and swore fealty to their master, from whom they held it. Saxon bishops were deposed, and foreign prelates appointed to rule over the English Church. Instead of calling a national witenagemdt, the king took counsel with the officers of his state and household, the bishops, abbots, earls, barons, and knights by whom he was pleased to surround himself. Some of the forms of a national council were indeed maintained, and its counsel and consent were proclaimed in the making of laws; but, in truth, the king was absolute.

Such a revolution seemed fatal to the liberties and ancient customs of Saxon England. What power could withstand the harsh conqueror ? But the indestructible elements of English society prevailed over the sword. The king grasped, in his own hands, the higher administration and judicature of the realm; but he continued the old local courts of the hundred and the shire, which had been the basis of Saxon freedom. The Norman polity was otherwise destined to favour the liberties of the people, through agencies which had been designed to crush them. The powerful nobles, whom William and his successors exalted, became formidable rivals of the crown itself; while ambitious barons were in their turn held in check by a jealous and exacting church. The ruling powers, if combined, would have reduced the people to slavery ; but their divisions proved a continual source of weakness. In the meantime the strong rule of the Normans, bitter as it was to Englishmen, repressed intestine wars and the disorders of a divided realm. Civil justice was fairly administered. When the spoils of the conquerors had been secured, the rights of property were protected, industry and trade were left free, and the occupation of the soil by foreigners drove numbers of landowners and freemen into the towns, where they prospered as merchants, traders, and artificers, and collected thriving populations of towns-men. Meanwhile, foreign rulers having brought England into closer relations with the Continent, its commerce was extended to distant lands, ports and shipping were encouraged, and English traders were at once enriched and enlightened. Hence new classes of society were growing, who were eventually to become the commons of England.

The Crown, the Barons, the Church, and the People. — While these social changes were steadily advancing, the barons were already preparing the way for the assertion of popular rights. Ambitious, turbulent, and grasping, they were constantly at issue with the crown. Enjoying vast estates and great commands, and sharing with the prelates the government of the state, as members of the king's council, they were ever ready to raise the standard of revolt. The king could always count upon barons faith-ful to his cause, but he also appealed for aid to the church and the people. The baronage was thus broken by insur-rections, and decimated by civil wars, while the value of popular alliances was revealed. The power of the people was ever increasing, while their oppressors were being struck down. The population of the country was still Saxon ; they had been subdued, but had not been driven forth from the land, like the Britons in former invasions. The English language was still the common speech of the people; and Norman blood was being mingled with the broader stream of Saxon life. A continuous nationality was thus preserved, and was outgrowing the foreign element.

The crown was weakened by disputed successions and foreign wars, and the baronage by the blood-stained fields of civil warfare; while both in turn looked to the people in their troubles. Meanwhile the church was struggling, alike against the crown and the barons, in defence of its ecclesiastical privileges and temporal possessions. Its clergy were brought by their spiritual ministrations into close relations with the people, and their culture contri-buted to the intellectual growth of English society. When William Eufus was threatened by his armed barons, he took counsel with Archbishop Lanfranc, and promised good laws and justice to the people. His promises were broken; but, like later charters, as lightly set aside, they were a recognition of the political rights of the people. By the charter of Henry I. restoring to the people the laws of Edward the Confessor, the continuity of English institutions was acknowledged; and this concession was also proclaimed through Archbishop Anselm, the church and the people being again associated with the crown against the barons. And throughout his reign the clergy and the English people were cordially united in support of the crown. In the anarchic reign of Stephen—also dis-tinguished by its futile charters—the clergy were driven into opposition to the king, while his oppressions alienated the people. Henry II. commenced his reign with another charter, which may be taken as a profession of good intentions on the part of the new king. So strong-willed a king, who could cripple his too powerful nobles, and forge shackles for the church, was not predisposed to extend the liberties of his people; but they supported him loyally in his critical struggles; and his vigorous reforms in the administrative, judicial, and financial organization of his realm promoted the prosperity and political influence of the commons. At the same time the barons created in this and the two previous reigns, being no longer exclu-sively Norman in blood and connexion, associated them-selves more readily with the interests and sympathies of the people. Under Richard I. the principle of repre-sentation was somewhat advanced, but it was confined to the assessment and collection of taxes in the different shires.

The Great Charter.—It was under King John that the _greatest progress was made in national liberties. The loss _of Normandy served to draw the baronage closer to the English people ; and the king soon united all the forces of the realm against him. He outraged the church, the barons, and the people. He could no longer play one class against another; and they combined to extort the Great Charter of their liberties at Runnymede. It was there ordained that no scutage or aid, except the three regular feudal aids, should be imposed, save by the common council of the realm. To this council the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons were to be summoned per-sonally by the king's letters, and tenants in chief by a gene-ral writ through the sheriff. The summons was required to appoint a certain place, to give forty days' notice at least, -and to state the cause of meeting. At length we seem to reach some approach to modern usage.

Growth of the Commons.—The improved administration of successive kings had tended to enlarge the powers of the crown. But one hundred and fifty years had now passed since the Conquest, and great advances had been made in the condition of the people, and more particularly in the population, wealth, and self-government of towns. Many had obtained royal charters, elected their own magistrates, and enjoyed various commercial privileges. They were already a power in the state, which was soon to be more distinctly recognized.

The charter of King John was again promulgated under Henry III., for the sake of a subsidy; and henceforth the commons learned to insist upon the redress of grievances in return for a grant of money. This reign was memorable in the history of parliament. Again the king was in con-flict with his barons, who rebelled against his gross mis-government of the realm. Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, was a patriot, in advance of his age, and fought for the English people as well as for his own order. The barons, indeed, were doubtful allies of the popular cause, and leaned to the king rather than to Simon. But the towns, the clergy, the universities, and large bodies of the commonalty rallied round him, and he overthrew the king and his followers at Lewes. He was now master of the realm, and proclaimed a new constitution. Kings had made promises, and granted illusory charters; but the rebel earl called an English parliament into being. Church-men were on his side, and a few barons; but his main reliance was upon the commons. He summoned to a national council, or parliament, bishops, abbots, earls, and barons, together with two knights from every shire and two burgesses from every borough. Knights had been sum-moned to former councils; but never until now had repre-sentatives from the towns been invited to sit with bishops, barons, and knights of the shire.

In the reign of Edward I. parliament assumed substan-tially its present form of king, lords, and commons. The irregular and unauthorized scheme of Simon de Montfort was fully adopted in 1295, when the king himself sum-moned to a parliament two knights from every shire, elected by the freeholders at the shire court, and two bur-gesses from every city, borough, and leading town. The rebel earl had enlarged the basis of the national council; and, to secure popular support, the politic king accepted it as a convenient instrument of taxation. The knights and freeholders had increased in numbers and wealth ; and the towns, continually advancing in population, trade, and com merce, had become valuable contributors to the revenue of the state. The grant of subsidies to the crown, by the assembled baronage and representatives of the shires and towns, was a legal and comprehensive impost upon .the entire realm.

Secession of the Clergy.—It formed part of Edward's policy to embrace the clergy in his scheme for the repre-sentation of all orders and classes of his subjects. They were summoned to attend the parliament of 1295 and succeeding parliaments of his reign, and their form of summons has been continued until the present time; but the clergy resolutely held aloof from the national council, and insisted upon voting their subsidies in their own con-vocations of Canterbury and York. The bishops retained their high place among the earls and barons, but the clergy sacrificed to ecclesiastical jealousies the privilege of sharing in the political councils of the state. As yet, indeed, this privilege seemed little more than the voting of subsidies, but it was soon to embrace the redress of grievances and the framing of laws for the general welfare of the realm. This great power they forfeited; and who shall say how it might have been wielded, in the interests of the church, and in the legislation of their country? They could not have withstood the Reformation; they would have been forced to yield to the power of the crown and the heated resolution of the laity; but they might have saved a large share of the endowments of the church, and perhaps have modified the doctrines and formularies of the reformed establishment.

Reluctance of the Commons to Attend.—Meanwhile the commons, unconscious of their future power, took their humble place in the great council of the realm. The knights of the shire, as lesser barons, or landowners of good social standing, could sit beside the magnates of the land without constraint; but modest traders from the towns were overawed by the power and dignity of their new associates. They knew that they were summoned for no other purpose than the taxing of themselves and their fellow townsmen; their attendance was irksome; it inter-rupted their own business; and their journeys exposed them to many hardships and dangers. It is not surprising that they should have shrunk from the exercise of so doubt-ful a privilege. Considerable numbers absented them-selves from a thankless service; and their constituents, far from exacting the attendance of their members, as in modern times, begrudged the sorry stipend of 2s. a day, paid to their representatives while on duty, and strove to evade the burden imposed upon them by the crown. Some even purchased charters, withdrawing franchises which they had not yet learned to value. Nor, in truth, did the representation of towns at this period afford much protec-tion to the rights and interests of the people. Towns were enfranchised at the will or caprice of the crown and the sheriffs; they could be excluded at pleasure; and the least show of independence would be followed by the omission of another writ of summons. But the principle of repre-sentation, once established, was to be developed with the expansion of society; and the despised burgesses of Edward I., not having seceded, like the clergy, were destined to become a potential class in the parliaments of England.

Sitting of Parliament at Westminster.—Another consti-tutional change during this reign was the summoning of parliament to Westminster instead of to various towns in different parts of the country. This custom invested parliament with the character of a settled institution, and constituted it a high court for the hearing of petitions and the redress of grievances. The growth of its judica-ture, as a court of appeal, was also favoured by the fixity of its place of meeting.

Authority of Parliament recognized by Law.—Great was the power of the crown, and the king himself was bold and statesmanlike ; but the union of classes against him proved too strong for prerogative. In 1297, having outraged the church, the barons, and the commons by illegal exactions, he was forced to confirm the Great Charter and the Charter of Forests, with further securities against the taxation of the people without their consent, and, in return, obtained timely subsidies from the parliament.

Henceforth the financial necessities of a succession of kings ensured the frequent assembling of parliaments. Nor were they long contented with the humble function of voting subsidies, but boldly insisted on the redress of grievances and further securities for national liberties. In 1322 it was declared by statute 15th Edward II. that " the matters to be established for the estate of the king and of his heirs, and for the estate of the realm and of the people, should be treated, accorded, and established in parliament, by the king, and by the assent of the prelates, earls, and barons, and the commonalty of the realm, according as had been before accustomed." The constitutional powers of parliament as a legislature were here amply recognized,—not by royal charter, or by the occasional exercise of prerogative, but by an authori-tative statute. And these powers were soon to be exercised in a striking form. Already parliament had established the principle that the redress of grievances should have precedence of the grant of subsidies ; it had maintained the right of approving councillors of the crown, and punishing them for the abuse of their powers; and in 1327 the king himself was finally deposed, and the succession of his son, Edward III., declared by parliament.

Union of Knights of the Shire and Burgesses.—At this period the constitution of parliament was also settling down to its later and permanent shape. Hitherto the different orders or estates had deliberated separately, and agreed upon their several grants to the crown. The knights of the shire were naturally drawn, by social ties and class interests, into alliance with the barons ; but at length they joined the citizens and burgesses, and in the first parliament of Edward III. they are found sitting-together as " the Commons."

This may be taken as the turning point in the political history of England. If all the landowners of the country had become united as an order of nobles, they might have proved too strong for the development of national liberties, while the union of the country gentlemen with the burgesses formed an estate of the realm, which was destined to prevail over all other powers. The withdrawal of the clergy, who would probably have been led by the bishops to take part with themselves and the barons, further strengthened the united commons.

Increasing Influence of Parliament.—The reign of Edward III. witnessed further advances in the authority of parliament, and changes in its constitution. The king, being in continual need of subsidies, was forced to sum-mon parliament every year, and in order to encourage its liberality he frequently sought its advice upon the most important issues of peace or war, and readily entertained the petitions of the commons praying for the redress of grievances. During this reign also, the advice and con-sent of the commons, as well as of the lords spiritual and temporal, was regularly recorded in the enacting part of every statute.
Separation of the Two Houses.—But a more important event is to be assigned to this reign,—the formal separa-tion of parliament into the two Houses of Lords and Com-mons. There is no evidence—nor is it probable—that the different estates ever voted together as a single assembly. It appears from the Rolls of Parliament that in the early part of this reign, the causes of summons having been declared to the assembled estates, the three estates deliberated separately, but afterwards delivered a collective answer to the king. While their deliberations were short, they could be conducted apart, in the same chamber; but, in course of time, it was found convenient for the commons to have a chamber of their own, and they adjourned their sittings to the chapter-house of the abbot of Westminster, where they continued to be held after the more formal and permanent separation had taken place. The date of this event is not clearly established, but is generally assigned to the 17th Edward III.

The Commons as Petitioners.—Parliament had now assumed its present outward form. But it was far from enjoying the authority which it acquired in later times. The crown was still paramount; the small body of earls and barons—not exceeding forty—were connected with the royal family, or in the service of the king, or under his influence; the prelates, once distinguished by their inde-pendence, were now seekers of royal favour; and the commons, though often able to extort concessions in return for their contributions to the royal exchequer, as yet held an inferior position among the estates of the realm. Instead of enjoying an equal share in the fram-ing of laws, they appeared before the king in the humble guise of petitioners. Their petitions, together with the king's answers, were recorded in the Bolls of Parliament; but it was not until the parliament had been discharged from attendance that statutes were framed by the judges, and entered on the statute rolls. Under such conditions legislation was, in truth, the prerogative of the crown rather than of parliament. Enactments were often found in the statutes at variance with the petitions and royal answers, and neither prayed for by the commons nor assented to by the lords. In vain the commons pro-tested against so grave an abuse of royal authority; but the same practice was continued during this and succeed-ing reigns. Henry V., in the second year of his reign, promised " that nothing should be enacted to the petitions of the commons, contrary to their asking, whereby they should be bound without their assent"; but, so long as the old method of framing laws was adhered to, there could be no security against abuse ; and it was not until the reign of Henry VI. that the introduction of the more regular system of legislating by bill and statute ensured the thorough agreement of all the estates in the several provisions of every statute.

Increasing Boldness of the Commons.—The commons, however, notwithstanding these and other discouragements, were constantly growing bolder in the assertion of their rights. They now ventured to brave the displeasure of the king, without seeking to shelter themselves behind powerful barons, upon whose forwardness in the national cause they could not reckon. Notably in 1376 their stout Speaker, Peter de la Mare, inveighed, in their name, against the gross mismanagement of the war, impeached ministers of the realm, complained of the heavy burdens under which the people suffered, and even demanded that a true account should be rendered of the public expendi-ture. The brave Speaker was cast into prison, and a new parliament was summoned which speedily reversed the resolutions of the last. But the death of the king changed Le aspect of affairs. Another parliament was called, when it was found that the spirit of the commons was not subdued. Peter de la Mare was released from prison, and again elected to the chair. The demands of the former parliament were reiterated with greater boldness and persistence, the evil councillors of the late reign were driven out, and it was conceded that the principal officers of state should be appointed and removed, during the minority of Richard II., upon the advice of the lords. The commons also insisted upon the annual assembling of parliament under the stringent provisions of a binding law. They claimed the right, not only of voting subsidies, but of appropriating them, and of examining public accounts. They inquired into public abuses, and im-peached ministers of the crown. Even the king himself was deposed by the parliament. Thus during this reign all the great powers of parliament were asserted and exercised. The foreign wars of Henry IV. and Henry V., by continuing the financial necessities of the crown, main-tained for a while the powers which parliament had acquired by the struggles of centuries.

Relapse of Parliamentary Influence.—But a period of civil wars and disputed successions was now at hand, which checked the further development of parliamentary liberties. The effective power of a political institution is determined, not by assertions of authority, nor even by its legal recognition, but by the external forces by which it is supported, controlled, or overborne. With the close of the | Wars of the Roses the life of parliament seems to have well-nigh expired.

To this constitutional relapse various causes contributed at the same period. The crown had recovered its absolute supremacy. The powerful baronage had been decimated on the battlefield and the scaffold; and vast estates had been confiscated to the crown. Kings had no longer any dread of their prowess as defenders of their own order or party, or as leaders of the people. The royal treasury had been enriched by their ruin; while the close of a long succession of wars with France and Scotland relieved it of that continual drain which had reduced the crown to an unwelcome dependence upon parliament. Not only were the fortunes of the baronage laid low, but feudalism was also dying out in England as on the Continent. It was no longer a force which could control the crown; and it was being further weakened by changes in the art of war. The mailed horseman, the battle-axe and cross-bow of burgher and yeoman, could not cope with the cannon and arquebus of the royal army.

In earlier times the church had often stood forth against the domination of kings, but now it was in passive sub-mission to the throne. The prelates were attracted to the court, and sought the highest offices of state; the inferior clergy had long been losing their influence over the laity by their ignorance and want of moral elevation, at a period of increasing enlightenment; while the church at large was weakened by schisms and a wider freedom of thought. Hence the church, like the baronage, had ceased to be a check upon the crown.

Meanwhile what had become of the ever-growing power of the commons 1 It is true they had lost their stalwart leaders, the armed barons and outspoken prelates, but they had themselves advanced in numbers, riches, and enlightenment; they had overspread the land as knights and freeholders, or dwelt in populous towns enriched by merchandise. Why could they not find leaders of their own ? Because they had lost the liberal franchises of an earlier age. All freeholders, or suitors present at the county court, were formerly entitled to vote for a knight of the shire; but in the eighth year of Henry VI. (1430) an Act was passed (c. 37) by which this right was confined to 40s. freeholders, resident in the county. Large numbers of electors were thus disfranchised. In the view of parliament they were "of no value," and complaints had been made that they were under the influence of the nobles and greater landowners; but a popular element had been withdrawn from the county representation, and the restricted franchise cannot have impaired the influence of the nobles.

As for the cities and boroughs, they had virtually renounced their electoral privileges. As we have seen, they had never valued them very highly; and now by royal charters, or by the usurpation of small self-elected bodies of burgesses, the choice of members had fallen into the hands of town councils and neighbouring landowners. The anomalous system of close and nomination boroughs, which had arisen thus early in our history, was suffered to continue without a check for four centuries, as a notorious blot upon our free constitution.

All these changes exalted the prerogatives of the crown. Amid the clash of arms and the strife of hostile parties, the voice of parliament had been stifled; and, when peace was restored, a powerful king could dispense with an assembly which might prove troublesome, and from whom he rarely needed help. Hence for a period of two hundred years, from the reign of Henry VI. to that of Elizabeth, the free parliaments of England were in abeyance. The institution retained its form and constituent parts; its rights and privileges were theoretically recognized, but its freedom and national character were little more than shadows.

The Three Estates of the Realm.—This check in the fortunes of parliament affords a fitting occasion for examining the composition of each of the three estates of the realm.

Lords Spiritual and Temporal.-—The archbishops and bishops had held an eminent position in the councils of Saxon and Norman kings, and many priors and abbots were from time to time associated with them as lords spiritual, until the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII. They generally outnumbered their brethren, the temporal peers, who sat with them in the same assembly.

The lords temporal comprised several dignities. Of these the baron, though now the lowest in rank, was the most ancient. The title was familiar in Saxon times, but it was not until after the Norman Conquest that it was invested with a distinct feudal dignity. Next in antiquity was the earl, whose official title was known to Danes and Saxons, and who after the Conquest obtained a dignity equivalent to that of count in foreign states. The highest dignity, that of duke, was not created until Edward ILL, conferred it upon his son, Edward the Black Prince. The rank of marquis was first created by Richard II., with precedence after a duke. It was in the reign of Henry VI. that the rank of viscount was created, to be placed between trie earl and the baron. Since that time no new dignity has been invented, and the peerage consists of the five dignities of duke, marquis, earl, viscount, and baron. During the 15th century the number of temporal peers summoned to parliament rarely exceeded fifty, and no more than twenty-nine received writs of summons to the first parliament of Henry VII. There were only fifty-nine at the death of Queen Elizabeth. At the accession of William III. this number had been increased to about one hundred and fifty.

Life Peerages.—The several orders of the peerage are alike distinguished by the hereditary character of their dignities. Some life peerages, indeed, were created between the reigns of Richard II. and Henry VI., and several ladies had received life peerages between the reigns of Charles II. and George II. The highest authorities had also held that the creation of life peerages was within the prerogative of the crown. But four hundred years had elapsed since the creation of a life peer, entitled to sit in parliament, when Queen Victoria was advised to create Sir James Parke, lately an eminent judge, a baron for life, under the title of Lord Wensleydale. The object of this deviation from the accustomed practice was to strengthen the judicature of the House of Lords, without unduly enlarging the numbers of the peerage. But the lords at once took exception to this act of the crown, and, holding that a prerogative so long disused could not be revived, in derogation of the hereditary character of the peerage, resolved that Lord Wensleydale was not entitled by his letters patent, and writ of summons, to sit and vote in parliament. His lordship accordingly received a new patent, and took his seat as an hereditary peer. But the necessity of some such expedient for improving the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords could not be contested; and in 1876 three lords of appeal in ordinary were constituted by statute, enjoying the rank of baron for life, and the right of sitting and voting in the House of Lords so long as they continue in office.

The Commons.—The commons formed a more numerous body. In the reign of Edward I. there were about 275 members, in that of Edward III. 250, and in that of Henry VI. 300. In the reign of Henry VIII. parliament added 27 members for Wales and 4 for the county and city of Chester, and in the reign of Charles II. 4 for the county and city of Durham. Between the reigns of Henry VIII. and Charles II. 130 members were also added by royal charter.

Parliament under Henry VIII.—To resume the history of parliament at a later period, let us glance at the reign of Henry VIII. Never had the power of the crown been greater than when this king succeeded to the throne, and never had a more imperious will been displayed by any king of England. Parliament was at his feet to do his bidding, and the Reformation enormously increased his power. He had become a pope to the bishops; the old nobles who had resisted his will had perished in the field or on the scaffold ; the new nobles were his creatures; and he had the vast wealth of the church in his hands as largesses to his adherents. Such was the dependence of parliament upon the crown and its advisers during the Reformation period that in less than thirty years four vital changes were decreed in the national faith. Each of the successive reigns inaugurated a new religion.

Queen Elizabeth and her Parliaments.—With the reign of Elizabeth commenced a new era in the life of parliament. She had received the royal prerogatives unimpaired, and her hand was strong enough to wield them. But in the long interval since Edward IV. the entire framework of English society had been changed; it was a new England that the queen was called upon to govern. The coarse barons of feudal times had been succeeded by English country gentlemen, beyond the influence of the court, and identified with all the interests and sympathies of their country neighbours. From this class were chosen nearly all the knights of the shire, and a considerable proportion of the members for cities and boroughs. They were generally distinguished by a manly independence, and were prepared to uphold the rights and privileges of parliament and the interests of their constituents. A change no less remark-able had occurred in other classes of society. The country was peopled with yeomen and farmers, far superior to the cultivators of the soil in feudal times; and the towns and seaports had grown into important centres of commerce and manufactures. Advances not less striking had been made in the enlightenment and culture of society. But, above all, recent religious revolutions had awakened a spirit of thought and inquiry, by no means confined to questions of faith. The Puritans, hostile to the church, and jealous of every semblance of Catholic revival, were embittered against the state, which was identified, in their eyes, with many ecclesiastical enormities; and their stub-born temper was destined to become a strong motive force in restoring the authority of parliament.

The parliaments of Elizabeth, though rarely summoned, displayed an unaccustomed spirit. They discussed the succession to the crown, the marriage of the queen, and ecclesiastical abuses; they upheld the privileges of the commons, and their right to advise the crown upon all matters of state; and they condemned the grant of mono-polies. The bold words of the Wentworths and Yelvertons were such as had not 1 een heard before in parliament. The conflicts between Elizabeth and the commons marked the revival of the independence of parliament, and fore-shadowed graver troubles at no distant period.

Conflicts of James I. with the Commons.—James I., with short-sighted pedantry, provoked a succession of conflicts with the commons, in which abuses of prerogative were stoutly resisted and the rights and privileges of parliament resolutely asserted. The "remonstrance" of 1610 and the "protestation" of 1621 would have taught a politic ruler that the commons could no longer be trifled with ; but those lessons were lost upon James and upon his ill-fated son.

Charles I. and the Commonwealth.—The momentous struggles between Charles I. and his parliaments cannot be followed in this place. The earlier parliaments of this reign fairly represented the earnest and temperate judgment of the country. They were determined to obtain the redress of grievances, and to restrain undue prerogatives; but there was no taint of disloyalty to the crown ; there were no dreams of revolution. But the contest at length became embittered, until there was no issue but the arbitra-ment of the sword. The civil war and the commonwealth, however memorable in the history of England, are beyond the range of this narrative. But this period proved the supreme power of the commons, when supported by popular forces. Everything gave way before them. They raised victorious armies in the field, they overthrew the church and the House of Lords, and they brought the king himself to the scaffold. It also displayed the impotence of a parliament which has lost the confidence of the country, or is overborne by mobs, by an army, or by the strong will of a dictator.

Political Agitation of this Period.—It is to this time of fierce political passions that we trace the origin of political agitation, as an organized method of influencing the deliberations of parliament. The whole country was then aroused by passionate exhortations from the pulpit and in the press. No less than thirty thousand political tracts and newspapers during this period have been pre-served. Petitions to parliament were multiplied in order to strengthen the hands of the popular leaders. Clamorous meetings were held to stimulate or overawe parliament. Such methods, restrained after the Restoration, have been revived in later times, and now form part of the acknow-ledged system of parliamentary government.

Parliament after the Restoration. —On the restoration of Charles II. parliament was at once restored to its old constitution, and its sittings were revived as if they had suffered no interruption. No outward change had been effected by the late revolution; but that a stronger spirit of resistance to abuses of prerogative had been aroused was soon to be disclosed in the deposition of James II. and the "glorious revolution " of 1688. At this time the full rights of parliament were explicitly declared, and securities taken for the maintenance of public liberties. The theory of a constitutional monarchy and a free parliament was established; but after two revolutions it is curious to observe the indirect methods by which the commons were henceforth kept in subjection to the crown and the terri-torial aristocracy. The representation had long become an illusion. The knights of the shire were the nominees of nobles and great landowners; the borough members were returned by the crown, by noble patrons, or close corporations; even the representation of cities, with greater pretensions to independence, was controlled by bribery. Nor were rulers content with their control of the repre-sentation, but, after the Restoration, the infamous system of bribing the members themselves became a recognized instrument of administration. The country gentlemen were not less attached to the principles of rational liberty than their fathers, and would have resisted further encroachments of prerogative; but they were satisfied with the Revolution settlement and the remedial laws of William III., and no new issue had yet arisen to awaken opposi-tion. Accordingly, they ranged themselves with one or other of the political parties into which parliament was now beginning to be divided, and bore their part in the more measured strifes of the 18th century. From the Revolution till the reign of George III. the effective power of the state was wielded by the crown, the church, and the territorial aristocracy; but the influence of public opinion since the stirring events of the 17th century had greatly increased. Both parties were constrained to defer to it; and, notwithstanding the flagrant defects in the representation, parliament generally kept itself in accord with the general sentiments of the country.

Union of Scotland.—On the union of Scotland in 1707, important changes were made in the constitution of parlia-ment. The House of Lords was reinforced by the addition of sixteen peers, representing the peerage of Scotland, and elected every parliament; and the Scottish peers, as a body, were admitted to all the privileges of peerage, except the right of sitting in parliament, or upon the trial of peers. No prerogative, however, was given to the crown to create new peerages after the Union; and, while they are distinguished by their antiquity, their number is consequently decreasing. To the House of Commons were assigned forty-five members, representing the shires and burghs of Scotland.

Parliament under George III.—With the reign of George III. there opened a new period in the history of parliament. Agitation in its varioas forms, an active and aggressive press, public meetings and political associations, the free use of the right of petition, and a turbulent spirit among the people seriously changed the relations of parliament to the country. And the publication of debates, which was fully established in 1771, at once increased the direct responsibility of parliament to the people, and ultimately brought about other results, to which we shall presently advert.

Union of Ireland.—In this reign another important change was effected in the constitution of parliament. Upon the union with Ireland, in 1801, four Irish bishops were added to the lords spiritual, who sat by rotation of sessions, and represented the episcopal body of the Church of Ireland. But those bishops were deprived of their seats in parliament in 1869, on the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. Twenty-eight representative peers, elected for life by the peerage of Ireland, were admitted to the House of Lords. All the Irish peers were also entitled to the privilege of peerage. In two particulars the Irish peerage was treated in a different manner from the peerage of Scotland. The crown was empowered to create a new Irish peerage whenever three Irish peerages in existence at the time of the Union have become extinct, or when the number of Irish peers, exclusive of those holding peerages of the United Kingdom, has been reduced to one hundred. And, further, Irish peers were permitted to sit in the House of Commons for any place in Great Britain, forfeiting, however, the privilege of peerage while sitting in the Lower House. The exped-iency of both these provisions has often been called in question.

At the same time one hundred representatives of Ireland were added to the House of Commons. This addition raised the number of members to six hundred and fifty-eight. Parliament now became the parliament of the United Kingdom, and high hopes were entertained of a salutary fusion of diverse nationalities into a single assembly; but these hopes have scarcely been realized, and the relations of the Irish people to Great Britain and the imperial government continue to be a source of the gravest embarrassment and danger.

Schemes for Improving the Representation.—By the union of Scotland and Ireland, the electoral abuses of those countries were combined with those of England. Notwith-standing a defective representation, however, parliament generally sustained its position as fairly embodying the political sentiments of its time. Public opinion had been awakened, and could not safely be ignored by any party in the state. Under a narrow and corrupt electoral system, the ablest men in the country found an entrance into the House of Commons; and their rivalry and ambition ensured the acceptance of popular principles and the pass-ing of many remedial measures. As society expanded, and new classes were called into existence, the pressure of public opinion upon the legislature was assuming a more decisive character. The grave defects of the representation were notorious, and some. minor electoral abuses had been from time to time corrected. But the fundamental evils,—_ nomination boroughs, limited rights of election, the sale of seats in parliament, the prevalence of bribery, and the enormous expense of elections,—though constantly exposed, long held their ground against all assailants. So far back as 1770 Lord Chatham had denounced these flagrant abuses. " Before the end of this century," he said, " either the parliament will reform itself from within, or be reformed with a vengeance from without." In 1782, and again in 1783 and 1785, his distinguished son, William Pitt, condemned the abuses of the representation, and proposed schemes of parliamentary reform. In 1793 Mr Grey (afterwards Earl Grey) submitted a motion on the same subject; but the excesses of the French Revolution, political troubles at home, and exhausting wars abroad discouraged the supporters of reform for many years. Under more favourable conditions the question assumed greater proportions. Lord John Russell especially distin-guished himself in 1820, and in several succeeding years, by the able exposure of abuses and temperate schemes of ! reform. His efforts were assisted by the scandalous disclosures of bribery at Grampound, Penryn, and East Retford. All moderate proposals were rejected ; but the concurrence of a dissolution, on the death of George IV., with the French Revolution of 1830, and an ill-timed declaration of the duke of Wellington that the representa-tion was perfect and could not be improved, suddenly precipitated the memorable crisis of parliamentary reform. It now fell to the lot of Earl Grey, as premier, to be the leader in a cause which he had espoused in his early youth.

The Reform Acts of 1832.—The result of the memorable struggle which ensued may be briefly told. By the Reform Acts of 1832 the representation of the United Kingdom was reconstructed. In England, fifty-six nomination boroughs returning one hundred and eleven members were disfranchised; thirty boroughs were each deprived of one member, and Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, which had returned four members, were now reduced to two. Means were thus found for the enfranchisement of populous places. Twenty-two large towns, including metropolitan districts, became entitled to return two members, and twenty less considerable towns acquired the right of re-turning one member each. The number of county members was increased from ninety-four to one hundred and fifty-nine, the larger counties being divided for the purposes of representation.

The elective franchise was also placed upon a new basis. In the boroughs a £10 household suffrage was substituted for the narrow and unequal franchises which had sprung up,—the rights of freemen, in corporate towns, being alone respected. In the counties, copyholders and leaseholders for terms of years, and tenants at will paying a rent of £50 a year, were added to the 40s. freeholders.

By the Scottish Reform Act, the number of members representing Scotland was increased from forty-five, as arranged at the Union, to fifty-three, of whom thirty were assigned to counties and twenty-three to cities and boroughs. In counties the franchise was conferred upon owners of property of £10 a year, and certain classes of leaseholders; in burghs, upon £10 householders, as in England.

By the Irish Reform Act, no boroughs, however small, were disfranchised; but the franchise was given to £10 householders, and county constituencies were enlarged. These franchises, however, were extended in 1850, when an £8 household suffrage was given to the boroughs, and additions were made to the county franchises. The hundred members assigned to that country at the Union were increased to one hundred and five. Notwithstanding these various changes, however, the total number of the House of Commons was still maintained at 658.

The Reformed Parliament.—The legislature was now brought into closer relations with the people, reflected their opinions, and was sensitive to the pressure of popular forces. The immediate effects of this new spirit were per-ceptible in the increased legislative activity of the reformed parliament, its vigorous grappling with old abuses, and its preference of the public welfare to the narrower interests of classes. But, signal as was the regeneration of parlia-ment, several electoral evils still needed correction. Strenuous efforts were made, with indifferent success, to overcome bribery and corruption, and proposals were often ineffectually made to restrain the undue influence of land-lords and employers of labour by the ballot; improve-ments were made in the registration and polling of electors, and the property qualification of members was abolished. Complaints were also urged that the middle classes had been admitted to power, while the working classes were excluded from the late scheme of enfranchisement. Twenty years after the settlement of 1832, its revision was seri-ously approached.

Later Measures of Reform.—In 1852, and again in 1854, Lord John Russell introduced further measures of reform ; but constitutional changes were discouraged by the Russian war. In 1859 Lord Derby's Conservative government pro-posed another scheme of reform, which was defeated ; and in 1860 Lord John Russell brought in another Bill, which was not proceeded with; and the question of reform con-tinued in abeyance until after the death of Lord Palmerston. Earl Russell, who succeeded him as premier, was prompt to redeem former pledges, and hastened to submit to a new parliament, in 1866, another scheme of reform. This measure, and the ministry by whom it was promoted, were overthrown by a combination of the Con-servative opposition and the memorable " cave " of mem-bers of the Liberal party. But the popular sentiment in favour of reform, which had for some years been inert, was suddenly aroused by the defeat of a Liberal ministry, and the triumph of the party opposed to reform. Lord Derby and his colleagues were now constrained to under-take the settlement of this embarrassing question; and by a strange concurrence of political events and party tactics, a scheme far more democratic than that of the Liberal Government was accepted by the same parliament, under the auspices of a Conservative ministry.

The Reform Acts of 1867-68.—By the English Reform Act of 1867, four corrupt boroughs were disfranchised, and thirty-eight boroughs returning two members were hence-forth to return one only. A third member was given to Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Leeds; a second member to Merthyr Tydfil and Salford ; the Tower Hamlets were divided into two boroughs, each returning two mem-bers ; and ten new boroughs were created, returning one member each, with the exception of Chelsea, to which two were assigned. By these changes twenty-six seats were taken from boroughs, while a member was given to the university of London. But before this Act came into operation, seven other English boroughs were disfranchised by the Scottish Beform Act of 1868, these seats being given to Scotland. Thirteen new divisions of counties were erected, to which twenty-five members were assigned. In counties, the franchise of copyholders and leaseholders was reduced from £10 to £5, and the occupation franchise from £50 to £12. In boroughs the franchise was extended to all occupiers of dwelling-houses rated to the poor-rates, and to lodgers occupying lodgings of the annual value of £10 unfurnished.

By the Scottish Reform Act of 1868, the number of mem-bers representing Scotland was increased from fifty-three to sixty,—three new members being given to the shires, two to the universities, and two to cities and burghs. The county franchise was extended to owners of lands and heri-tages of £5 yearly value, and to occupiers of the rateable value of £14; and the burgh franchise to all occupiers of dwelling-houses paying rates, and to tenants of lodgings of £10 annual value unfurnished.

By the Irish Reform Act of 1868, no change was made in the number of members nor in the distribution of seats; but the boroughs of Sligo and Cashel, already disfranchised, were still left without representation. The county fran-chise was left unchanged; but the borough franchise was extended to occupiers of houses rated at £4, and of lodg-ings of the annual value of £10 unfurnished.

Present Position of Parliamentary Reform.—That these changes in the representation — especially the household suffrage in boroughs—were a notable advance upon the reforms of 1832, in the direction of democracy, cannot be questioned. The enlarged constituencies speedily over-threw the ministry to whom these measures were due; and the new parliament further extended the recent scheme of reform, by granting to electors the protection of the ballot, for which advanced reformers had contended since 1832. Nor was the representation, as lately determined, long suffered to continue without question. First, it was pro-posed, in 1872, by Mr Trevelyan, to extend the household franchise to counties, and this proposal found favour in the country and in the House of Commons; but, the Con-servative party having been restored to power in 1874, no measure of that character could be promoted with any prospect of success. At the dissolution in 1880 a more general revision of the representation was advocated by leading members of the Liberal party, who were soon re-stored to power ; and farther measures of reform are now under the consideration of parliament. Meanwhile, tren-chant enactments have been made in restraint of corrupt practices, and for reducing the excessive cost of elections.

Relations of the Commons to the Crown and the Lords.— Having brought this rapid sketch of the history and con-stitution of parliament to a close, a few remarks may be offered as to the relations of the House of Commons to the crown, the House of Lords, and the people. Prior to the-re ign of Charles I. the condition of society was such as naturally to subordinate the Commons to the crown and the Lords. After the Revolution of 1688, society had so far advanced that, under a free representation, the Com-mons might have striven with both upon equal terms. But, as by far the greater part of the representation was in the hands of the king and the territorial nobles, the large constitutional powers of the Commons were held safely in check. Since 1832, when the representation became a reality, a corresponding authority has been asserted by the Commons. For several years, indeed, by reason of the weakness of the Liberal party, the Lords were able successfully to resist the Commons upon many important occasions; but it was soon acknowledged that they must yield whenever a decisive majority of the Com-mons, supported by public opinion, insisted upon the passing of any measure, however repugnant to the senti-ments of the Upper House. And it became a political axiom that the Commons alone determined the fate of ministries, and the policy of the state. The relations of the two Houses, however, can only be understood in con-nexion with the action of political parties. The Lords may be said, generally, to represent the opinions prevalent before 1832, while, during the greater part of the period since that time, the Commons, under leaders of the Liberal party, have represented the progressive views of a later generation. Hence, under Liberal administrations, the two Houses have been in frequent conflict; under Conservative administrations they have been brought into general agreement, the electors having supported the party which commanded a majority in both Houses. In the conflict of parties, the ultimate appeal is to the country. But as the representation of the people is further extended, an accord between the two Houses will be more difficult, while the power of resistance on the part of the Lords will be pro-portionately weakened.

Severe Pressure upon the House of Commons.—The House of Commons having thus become the centre of political power, it has been impelled to extraordinary activity. The legislation of the last fifty years affords the only example in history of so wide a reconstruction of insti-tutions, and so bold a redress of grievances, having been accomplished without a revolution. But this prodigious work, of which the main burthen has rested upon the Commons, has formed only a part of their labours. The voting of supplies for the public service, and financial policy, are their exclusive province, and offer unbounded opportunities for debate. They have also assumed a large share of executive power. Every act of administration is open to question, controversy, and censure. Matters of executive policy—foreign, colonial, and domestic—are eagerly discussed in this numerous and excited assembly. Nor are discussions mainly directed to such important topics. The close connexion of the Commons with the people, the publicity of debates, the rapidity of communi-cations with all parts of the world, and the activity of the press, have made the floor of that House the popular plat-form of the country. On that arena are discussed every conceivable grievance, complaint, opinion, project, or delu-sion. Subjects the most trivial are forced upon the attention of the House, by means of questions and inci-dental debates; and after weary sittings, such as no other deliberative assembly has ever been willing to endure, matters of the first importance fail to obtain a hearing. These difficulties were apparent in the first reformed parliaments after 1832 ; and they have since been aggra-vated so seriously as to threaten the character and com-petency of the most powerful branch of the legislature.

Such difficulties, grave enough in themselves, have lately assumed more dangerous proportions under the per-nicious tactics of obstruction. The liberal opportunities provided, by the rules of the House, for free discussion have been perverted and abused ; and the effective power of the House has often been held in check, and sometimes nearly paralysed. Already some partial remedies have been applied to this acknowledged evil, but further measures are still needed for facilitating the action of parliament. It were strange, indeed, if the House of Commons, having attained pre-eminence in the legislature, should now prove unequal to the responsibilities of its freedom and its power. The methods of earlier times, and other political conditions, will assuredly be reviewed, and adapted to the multiplied obligations of an assembly whose fruitful labours are essential to the welfare of the country.


Such being the history and constitutional character of parliament, this survey would be incomplete without a more detailed view of the powers and privileges of each of its constituent parts, and of its ordinary proceedings.

Prerogatives of the Crown.—The crown, pre-eminent in rank and dignity, is also the legal source of parliamentary authority. The Queen virtually appoints the Lords Spiritual, and all the peerages of the Lords Temporal have been created by herself or her predecessors. Thus the entire House of Lords is the creation of the crown. The Queen 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 4th Edward III. c. 14, the annual meeting of par-liament 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, and 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 Queen has declared the causes of sum-mons, in person or by commission. Other prerogatives of the crown, in connexion with parliament, will be noticed in reference to the proceedings of the two Houses.

Powers of the House of Lords.—The House of Lords, which at present consists of about five hundred and twenty members, 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 a co-equal branch of the legislature, without whose consent no laws can be made. 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.

Powers of the House of Commons.—The House of Com-mons 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 election of its own members, and their right to sit and vote in par-liament. This right, however, has been greatly abridged, as, in 1868, the trial of controverted elections was trans-ferred to the courts of law; but its jurisdiction in matters of election, not otherwise provided for by statute, is still re-tained intact. As part of this j urisdiction, the House directs the Speaker to issue warrants to the clerk of the crown to make out new writs for the election of members to fill up such vacancies as occur during the sitting of parliament.

Privileges of Parliament.—Both Houses are in the enjoyment of certain privileges, designed to maintain their authority, independence, and dignity. These privileges are founded mainly upon the law and custom of parliament, while some have been confirmed, and others abridged or abrogated by statute. The Lords rely entirely upon their inherent right, as having " a place and voice in parliament"; but, by a custom dating from the 6th Henry VIII., the Commons lay claim, by humble petition to the crown at the commencement of every parliament, " to their ancient and undoubted rights and privileges." Each House has its separate rights and jurisdictions; but privileges properly so-called, being founded upon the law and custom of parlia-ment, are common to both Houses. Each House adjudges whether any breach of privilege has been committed, and punishes offenders by censure or commitment. This right of commitment is incontestably established, and it extends to the protection of officers of the House, lawfully and properly executing its orders, who are also empowered to call in the assistance of the civil power. The causes of such commitments cannot be inquired into by courts of law, nor can prisoners be admitted to bail. Breaches of privi-lege may be summarized as disobedience to any orders or rules of the House, indignities offered to its character or proceedings, assaults, insults, or libels upon members, or interference with officers of the House in discharge of their duty, or tampering with witnesses. Such offences are dealt with as contempts, according to the circumstances of the respective cases, of which numerous precedents are to be found in the journals of both Houses. The Lords may imprison for a fixed period, and impose fines; the Commons can only imprison generally, the commitment being concluded by the prorogation, and have long dis-continued the imposition of fines.

Freedom of Speech.—Freedom of speech has been one of the most cherished privileges of parliament from early times. Constantly asserted, and often violated, it was finally declared by the Bill of Rights " that the freedom of speech, and debates and proceedings in parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament." Such a privilege is essential to the independence of parliament, and to the protection of members in discharge of their duties. But, while it protects members from molestation elsewhere, it leaves them open to censure or other punishment by the House itself, whenever they abuse their privilege and transgress the rules of orderly debate.

Freedom from Arrest.—Freedom from arrest is a privilege of the highest antiquity. It was formerly of extended scope, but has been reduced, by later legislation, within very narrow limits. Formerly not only the persons of members but their goods were protected, and their privilege extended to their servants. At present members are themselves free from arrest, but otherwise they are liable to all the processes of the courts. If arrested, they will be immediately discharged, upon motion in the court whence the process issued. Peers and peeresses are, by the privilege of peerage, free from arrest at all times. Members of the House of Commons are free only for forty days after prorogation and forty days before the next appointed meeting; but prorogations are so arranged as to ensure a continuance of the privilege. Formerly, even suits against members were stayed, but this offensive privilege has been abolished by statute. Exemption from attending as witnesses upon sub-poena, once an acknowledged privilege, is no longer insisted upon; but immunity from service upon juries is at once an ancient privilege and a statutory right. The privilege of freedom from arrest is limited to civil causes, and has not been suffered to exempt members from the operation of the criminal law, nor even from commitments for contempt .by other courts. But, whenever the freedom of a member is so interfered with, the courts are required immediately to inform the House of the causes of his commitment. Witnesses, suitors, counsel, and agents in attendance upon parliament are protected from arrest and molestation, and from the consequences of statements made by them, or other proceedings in the conduct of their cases.

Conflicts between Privilege and Law.—As both Houses, in enforcing their privileges, are obliged to commit offenders or otherwise interfere with the liberty of the sub-ject, the exercise of these privileges has naturally been called in question before the courts. Each House is the sole judge of its own privileges; but the courts are bound to administer the law, and, where law and privilege have seemed to be at variance, a conflict of jurisdiction has arisen between parliament and the courts. Many interesting controversies have arisen upon such occasions; but of late years privilege has been so carefully restrained within the proper limits of the law, and the courts have so amply recognized the authority of parliament, that unseemly con-flicts of jurisdiction have been averted.


We may now present a general outline of the proceed-ings of parliament during the transaction of its multifarious business.

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, by the gentleman usher of the black rod, to hear the commission read. The Lord Chancellor then states that, when the members of both Houses shall be sworn, Her Majesty will declare the causes of her calling this parlia-ment ; 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 Her 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 Her Majesty in person, or by commission, in " the Queen's speech. " This speech being considered in both Houses, an address in answer is agreed to, which is presented to Her Majesty by the whole House, or by "thelords with white staves" in one House and privy councillors in the other.

Sittings of Both Houses.—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 ; that of the House of Commons, including the Speaker, is forty. If forty members cannot be assembled at 4 o'clock, the House is at once adjourned ; and so also if it be found, at a later hour, that less than that number are present. The Lords usually met at 5 o'clock, but have recently changed that hour to a quarter past 4. The usual hour for the meeting of the Commons is a quarter before 4, except on Wed-nesdays, when the House meets at 12 and adjourns at 6, and on other morning sittings from 2 till 7. In both Houses accommo-dation is provided for strangers and reporters, and there are separate galleries for ladies.

Questions put from the Chair.—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 with-drawal 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 considera-tion by the House, stand as orders of the day. Certain days in the week are appointed for notices of motions and orders of the day respectively ; and on Monday and Thursday Government orders of the day have precedence. Questions of privilege are allowed pre-cedence of all the business on any day ; but this rule, being liable to grave abuses, is guarded by strict limitations. Debate arises when a question has been proposed from the chair; and at the close of the debate 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 pro-posed during the same session.

Mules of Debate.—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 for irrelevance, or for referring to other matters which have been disposed of, or which stand for consideration on other days, 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 mem-ber has himself submitted a motion to the House, or when an amend-ment 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 Queen, either House of Parliament, or other members. Members offending against any of the rules of debate are called to order by the 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 offend-ing member is named by the Speaker, and suspended by an order of the House, or otherwise punished at the discretion of the House. And, when a debate has been unduly prolonged, the House may order it to be closed, but under such conditions and restrictions that this power can rarely be exercised. The rules to be observed by members in the House during a debate are such as to ensure the order and decorum becoming a deliberative assembly.

Divisions.—At the conclusion of a debate, unless themotion be with-drawn, or the question (on being put from the chair) be agreed to, or negatived, the House proceeds to a division, which effects the twofold purpose of ascertaining the numbers supporting and opposing the question, and of recording the names of members voting on either bide. 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 prsesumitur 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, wdio 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 proceed-ings 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 wdiich "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 there is reasonable ground for hoping that this system may be widely extended, so as to lighten the labours of the House, and facilitate the arduous work of legislation.

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 con-venient 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 occasion-ally 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 Queen, 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. Her Majesty is then in direct communi-cation with the three estates of the realm, assembled in the same chamber. The Queen also sends messages to both Houses under the royal sign manual, when all the members are uncovered. Verbal messages are also sent, and the Queen'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 pro-vision accordingly.

Both Houses approach the crown, sometimes by joint addresses, but usually by separate addresses from each House. Such addresses are presented to Her Majesty, either by the whole House, or by the lords with white staves in one House and by privy councillors in the other. Her 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. Re-solutions of either House are also sometimes directed to be laid before Her 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 prin-ciple 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, wdth or without amendments, and is ready to pass through its remaining stages. Sometimes, however, the bill is re-ferred to a select committee before it is committed to a committee of the wdiole House.

By recent standing orders of the Commons, bills relating to law and courts of justice and to trade may be committed to standing committees, specially constituted, instead of to a 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 recom-mitted. The next and last stage is the third reading, wdien 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 bo 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 mutual concessions, by the two Houses, before it can be submitted for the royal assent ; and in case of ultimate disagreement the bill is lost. 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 Her Majesty. Again, many papers are annually presented, in pursuance of Acts of Parliament. In the House of Commons, these various printed documents occupy from eighty to one hundred volumes every year.

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 wdiole 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 Her Majesty ; and the latter votes out of the Consoli-dated Fund such sums as are necessary to meet the supplies already granted, 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 continu-ance 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 determi-nation of the House.

Controverted elections had been originally tried by select com-mittees, afterwards by the committee of privileges and elections, and ultimately by the whole House, with scandalous partiality, but under the Grenville Act of 1770, 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 Kobeit Peel introduced an improved system of nomination, which distinctly raised the character of election committees; but a tribunal constituted of political partisans, however 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 so rare, in modern times, that its procedure need not be dwelt upon. Another judicature is that of the trial of peers by the House of Lords. And, lastly, by a bill of attainder, the entire parliament is 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. The vast industrial undertakings of the country—canals, docks, harbours, railways, waterworks, and the lighting and improvement of towns—have thus been sanctioned, at a cost far exceeding the amount of the national debt, while the rights of property have been jealously guarded. 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. Means have already been found, by general Acts and provisional orders, to lighten the pressure of private bill legisla-tion ; and further expedients will, doubtless, be devised for the relief of parliament from a branch of business which is scarcely compatible with the engagements of members in the weightier affairs of state.

Varied Functions of Parliament.—Such are the vast and varied functions of the imperial parliament,—to legislate for an empire, to control the executive government, to hear the complaints of the people, and to redress their grievances. To be equal to its high jurisdiction, it needs the guidance of accomplished statesmen, wisdom and patriotism in its members, and an organization which shall make fruitful the talents, the practical knowledge and experi-ence, of the ablest men of their generation. Its history is bright with records of eloquence, of statesmanship, of wise legislation, and of generous sympathy with the people ; and that its future greatness may be worthy of its past glories is the earnest hope of every good citizen.

Literature.—See Rolls of Parliament, and Journals of both Houses; Parlia- mentary Hist.; Hansard, Pari. Hist., and Debates; Gray, Debates; Cavendish, Debates; Wilkins, Leges Anglo-Sax.; Kemble, The Saxons in England; Turner, History of the Anglo-Saxons, and Hist, of England during the Middle Ages; Sir F. Palgrave, English Commonwealth; Id., Hist, of Normandy and of England; Id., Parliamentary Writs; Stubbs, Const. History of England; Holingshcd, Chron. ; Selden, Titles of Honour; Ruffhead, Preface to Statutes; Cotton, Abridgment (Preface); Parry, Parliaments and Councils of England; Reports of Lords' Com- mittee on the Dignity of tlie Peerage; Coke, Institutes ; Lord Hale, History of the Common Law, Jurisdiction of the Lords; Lord Lyttelton, Hist. of Henry II., D'Ewes, Journals of Queen Elizabeth; Elsynge, Manner of holding Parliaments ; Hakewel, Modus fenendi Parliamentum; Barrington, On. the Statutes; Madox, Hist, of the Exchequer; Blackstone, Comm.; Lord Colchester, Diary; Hallani, Middle Ages, and Constitutional History of England.; Hatsell, Precedents; Sir T. Erskine May, Law and Usage of Parliament; Id., Const. Hist, of England; Id., Democracy in Europe, a History (vol. ii.); Rules, Orders, and Forms of Proceeding of the House of Commons; Freeman, Growth of the English Constitution and The Norman Conquest of England', Green, History of the English People; Bagehot, The English Constitution. (T. E. M.)

The above article was written by: The Right Hon. Lord Farnborough, D.C.L. (Sir T. E. May), late Clerk of the House of Commons, Westminster.

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