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House of Commons

Parliamentary sovereignty is a principle of the UK constitution. It makes Parliament the supreme legal authority in the UK, which can create or end any law. Generally, the courts cannot overrule its legislation and no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change. Parliamentary sovereignty is the most important part of the UK constitution.

The House of Commons consists of 659 elected MPs, of whom 529 represent constituencies in England, 40 in Wales, 72 in Scotland and 18 in Northern Ireland. In July 2004 there were 119 women MPs and 13 MPs who had declared that they were of minority ethnic origin. After a Parliament has been dissolved, and a General Election has been held, the Sovereign summons a new Parliament.When an MP dies, resigns3 or is made a member of the House of Lords, a by-election takes place.

The United Kingdom is divided into 659 constituencies, each of which returns one Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons. Constituencies vary in size and area; the average electorate is around 67,300. The largest electorate in December 2003 was the Isle of Wight (with 106,600 registered voters) and the smallest the sparsely populated Eilean Siar (21,300).

The maximum sum a candidate may spend on a General Election campaign is currently 5,483 plus 4.6 pence for each elector in a borough or district constituency, or 6.2 pence for each elector in a county constituency. A higher limit of 100,000 has been set for by-elections as they are often seen as tests of national opinion in the period between General Elections. All election expenses, apart from the candidate's personal expenses, are subject to these statutory rules.

Ministers are chosen by the Prime Minister from the members of the House of Commons and House of Lords. They are responsible for the actions, successes and failures of their departments. Some departments, like the Ministry of Defence, cover the whole UK. Others dont the Department for Work and Pensions doesn't cover Northern Ireland. This is because some aspects of government are devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Non-ministerial departments are headed by senior civil servants and not ministers. They usually have a regulatory or inspection function like the Charity Commission.

Laws go through several stages before they are passed by Parliament. The House of Commons and the House of Lords work together to make them. White papers outline proposals for new laws. Green papers ask for public comments before the white paper is published. Bills are proposals for new laws or changes to existing ones. Once agreed by Parliament, they have to be approved by The Sovereign before becoming law. Acts of Parliament are bills which have been approved by the Commons, the Lords, and The Queen. The relevant government department is responsible for putting the act into practice.

MPs and Lords get the opportunity to question government ministers either directly on the floor of the House during the regular oral question times or in writing. Question time takes place for an hour from 2.35 pm on Mondays, 11.35am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 9.35am on Thursdays. Ministers from each government department attend the Commons on a rota basis to answer oral questions. Each major Government department is allocated to a particular day of the week, with a rota agreed by the Government and Opposition parties. Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) the Prime Minister answers questions every sitting Wednesday from 12.00noon -12.30pm.

Debates in the Commons provide an opportunity for MPs to look at the creation and amendment of laws as well as national and international issues and can be on any subject. Votes are often taken to see whether a majority of Members either support or reject any discussed laws or proposals. Committees of smaller groups of MPs look at specific policy issues or legislation in detail. Different committees have different roles ranging from offering advice, to producing reports or altering legislation. The House of Commons has departmental select committees. These were established to 'shadow' government departments and scrunitise the spending, adminstration and policy of each department. The Liaison Committee is responsible for matters relating to the work of select committees in the House of Commons. It also regularly hears evidence from the Prime Minister on matters of public policy.

The Liaison Committee has a major role to play in holding the Prime Minister to account. Weekly bear-baiting at PMQs has not proved to be a particularly successful way of cross-examining the PM; and although some enjoy the parliamentary theatre, much of the public finds the spectacle distasteful. The Prime Minister's appearances before the Liaison Committee provide a high profile platform for scrutinising the head of government which had potential to seize the public's imagination.

The Tory / Lib Dem coalition government had a Cabinet subcommittee called the Coalition Committee, jointly chaired by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister and sat on by equal numbers of Lib Dem and Conservative Ministers. This aims to resolve disputes within government - rather than allowing policy disagreements to spill over into counterproductive public rows.

A Money Bill (or Supply Bill) is a Bill that in the Speaker's opinion is concerned only with national taxation, public money or loans. A Bill that is certified as a Money Bill and which has been passed by the Commons will become law after one month, with or without the approval of the House of Lords, under the terms of the Parliament Acts. The Peers cannot amend money-bills.

When a Bill has completed all its parliamentary stages in both Houses, it must have Royal Assent before it can become an Act of Parliament (law). Royal Assent is the Monarch's agreement to make the Bill into an Act and is a formality. There is no set time period between the consideration of amendments to the Bill and Royal Assent. At prorogation (the formal end to a parliamentary year), Black Rod interrupts the proceedings of the Commons and summons MPs to the Lords Chamber to hear the Lords Commissioners announce Royal Assent for each Bill.

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Page last modified: 24-04-2017 16:04:35 ZULU