What is the role of the House of Commons in the British system?

The Parliament : the House of Commons

British parliament has been regarded as the earliest of the modern Parliaments and as such called Mother Parliament. King in Parliament regarded as the legal sovereign in British Constitutional System; and the constitutional validity of the laws enacted by the Parliament can not be challenged in any court of law.

The parliament consists of two chambers: House of Lords is the upper chamber which is basically hereditary one, whereas House of Commons, lower chamber, is a popular one. As a matter of fact, the powers of Parliament, in modern democratic age, are exercised by the House of Commons.

what is the House of Commons?

House of Commons consists of 646 members who are directly elected on the basis of adult suffrage, from single member constituencies. Every member represents approximately 57, 000 voters. Before 1922, the total strength of this House was 707, but after the separation of Ireland as an independent polity, it was decreased. Total seats of the House are divided on the basis of regional divisions and electoral districts formed.

Qualification of Voters:
All citizens of eighteen years and above are given the right to vote without any discrimination on the basis of cast, color, creed, religion, class or sex. Three months residential requirement in an electoral district is, however, prescribed for registration as voter in the electoral roll. Members of the House of Lords, aliens, lunatics, idiots and criminals who have sentenced for imprisonment for more than twelve months are exempted.

Qualification of Candidates:
The persons who are declared unfit for candidature are: Aliens, Parsons under 21 years of age, Bankrupts, Peers, Habitual criminals, mentally unsound persons, Priests of established churches of England, Judges of Supreme Court and all servants of crown excluding political office holders. All citizens who fulfill requisite qualifications are eligible to contest the election for membership of the parliament.

Loss of Membership:
A Member of Parliament can resign from its membership. In the past, this right was not secured as the members did not find incentive to attend the sessions of the Parliament and some would prefer to resign. At present, membership of the Parliament is a matter of great honor and prestige and it carries many privileges in addition to allowances.

House of Commons is constituted for a period of five years. It can be dissolved earlier by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Summoning and Prorogation of the Sessions:
The sessions of the Parliament are normally summoned more than once during a year but holding of at least one session a year, is a constitutional requirement based on a convention. The presence of at least 40 members constitutes the quorum in order to carry on the business of the House. If it is short of quorum and any member draws the attention of the Speaker to this effect, it is postponed till the completion of the quorum.

The Speaker

The office of the Speaker of the House of Commons is regarded as one of the most prestigious after that of the Prime Minister. It is difficult to trace the origin of this office, as it existed even at a time when this House was not really a legislative chamber. Sir Thomas Hungeford, who was appointed in 1377, seems to be the first Speaker.

Before the dawn of democratic era, the Speaker used to be nominated by the ruler while the House had no choice in this respect. Now the House is fully authorized to elect its own presiding officer while the Queen formally gives her consent. In order to preserve a long standing tradition of neutrality of the speaker; political parties do not contest the election of the Speaker; and usually the previous Speaker is re-elected. Accordingly, a Speaker is re-elected for as many terms as he cares to serve. He must be the member of Parliament.

The office of British Speaker holds an excellent record of impartiality and fairplay in politics. After election to this office, the Speaker remains aloof from practical politics and resigns from his party membership. He abstains from attending party meetings and tries to avoid mixing up with the politicians. In order to preserve the decorum of this office, he avoids attending even social gatherings.

what are the Functions of House of Commons?

The House of Commons enjoys superior powers of legislation and Supremacy of Parliament, practically implies the supremacy of the House. House of Commons performs the following functions:

  1. Legislation:
    The primary function of the House is to enact laws and make alterations in the existing ones so as to bring these in line with changing conditions. It enjoys unlimited powers of legislation since the bills passed by this House are neither rejected by the House of Lords nor vetoed by the Queen, nor declared void by the courts.

    2. Control over the Executive:
    Cabinet is merely a committee of the House and most of the Ministers are members of the House of Commons. They remain in power so long as they continue to command the confidence of the majority in the House, otherwise they have to resign.

    3. Control over Finance:
    The House enjoyed somewhat superior position even in the past, over the House of Lords, as far as financial legislation is concerned. According to a long standing tradition since 1407, all money bills would originate in the House of Commons. Under 1911 Act of the Parliament, the latter got complete hold over fiscal matters. The Cabinet submits the budget in this House for approval while the members participate in discussion and generally criticize the appropriation bi8ll and taxation policy. Without the authorization of the Parliament nothing can be spent from the national exchequer nor any tax raised. In order to make the control of the House effective over financial matters, different committees of the House examine the fiscal proposals.

    4. Selective Functions:
    Debates in the House of Commons are an effective channel of impacting political training to its members. Membership of this House for a longer period makes them seasoned and experienced in law and politics.

    5. Public Education:
    Free and frequent deliberations on the floor of this chamber, help in educating general public and the proceedings are reported in the newspapers. The Press gives full coverage which generates public interest in political affairs.

Role of Opposition

Opposition performs a vital role in the success of democracy. Fair and free discussion within disciplinary norms, is indispensable for the working of democratic institutions. The Opposition performs its due role by criticizing the policies of the Government and presenting alternate solution to different problems. According to Jennings, opposition is indispensable part of the Parliament. It is held in esteem and officially named as “Her Majesty’s Opposition”. The main functions of Opposition are:

  1. Substitute Leadership:
    Primary function of the Opposition is to provide substitute leadership in case of failure of Government. Queen invites the opposition leader and asks him to form the government. Shadow Cabinet, as explained elsewhere, already exists in the opposition circles, and it steps into the power under such conditions.

    2. Check on the Government:
    Another major role of the opposition is to criticize and scrutinize the policies of the government and bring in lime-light shortcomings in the administration. It also performs a positive function of bridging the gulf between the public and the government through political communication.

    3. Positive Role:
    The Opposition’s role is not confined merely to the performance of negative functions; it has to cooperate with the government in many ways. The politicians on both sides, have full perception of national interest, they move with caution and moderation and explore the areas of mutual cooperation.

    Role of Opposition in preserving the democratic spirit of a political system is imperative and its presence regarded indispensable. In United Kingdom, opposition is given proper representation in all House Committees according to its numerical strength. Leader of the Opposition provides list of his members for these committees while as important member of the opposition is the chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts.

    An established party system and adherence to party discipline, have also contributed in stabilizing the political system. Party members have rarely revolted against the leadership or changed their political affiliations, as it happens frequently in developing societies.