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British House of Commons

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  • Humphrey Hooke, MP (1580 - bef.1659)
    Humphrey Hooke (1580 – c. 1658) was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1640 to 1642. He supported the Royalist cause in the English Civil War. Hooke was born in Chichester and ...
  • Sir Henry William Grattan (1746 - 1820)
    Wikipedia contributors. " Henry Grattan ." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.* " GRATTAN, Henry (1746-1820), of Tinnehinch, co. Wicklow. ", The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed....
  • Sir James Moodie of Melsetter, MP (1675 - 1724)
    SIR JAMES MOODIE OF MELSETTER younger MP======Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland 1715-22=== James Moodie of Melsetter, younger, is the son of Captain James Moodie of Melsetter, RN. The Moodie...
  • Hamish Watt, MP (1925 - 2014)
    Wikipedia Hamish Watt

The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Lords (the upper house), it meets in the Palace of Westminster.

The Commons is an elected body consisting of 650 members known as members of parliament (MPs). Members are elected to represent constituencies by first-past-the-post and hold their seats until Parliament is dissolved.

A House of Commons of England evolved in England during the 14th century, becoming the House of Commons of Great Britain after the political union with Scotland in 1707 and in the nineteenth century the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland after the political union with Ireland before assuming its current title after independence was given to the Irish Free State in 1922.

Under the Parliament Act 1911, the Lords' power to reject legislation was reduced to a delaying power. The Government is primarily responsible to the House of Commons and the prime minister stays in office only as long as he or she retains its support.

Since 1950 each Member of Parliament represents a single constituency. The boundaries of the constituencies are determined by four permanent and independent Boundary Commissions, one each for England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Currently the United Kingdom is divided into 650 constituencies, with 533 in England, 40 in Wales, 59 in Scotland, and 18 in Northern Ireland.

General elections occur whenever Parliament is dissolved by the Sovereign. The timing of the dissolution was normally chosen by the prime minister but, as a result of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, Parliamentary terms are now fixed at five years, except in the event of the Commons passing a vote of no confidence or an "early election" motion, the latter having to be passed by two-thirds majority.

Elections in the United Kingdom are held on a Thursday.

A candidate for a constituency must submit nomination papers signed by ten registered voters from that constituency, and pay a deposit of £500, which is refunded only if the candidate wins at least five per cent of the vote. Each constituency returns one Member, using the first-past-the-post electoral system, under which the candidate with a plurality of votes wins.

inors (that is, anyone under the age of 18), members of the House of Lords, prisoners, and insane persons are not qualified to become Members of the House of Commons.

To vote, one must be a resident of the United Kingdom as well as a citizen of the United Kingdom, of a British overseas territory, of the Republic of Ireland, or of a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. British citizens living abroad are allowed to vote for 15 years after moving from the United Kingdom. No person may vote in more than one constituency.

Once elected, Members of Parliament normally continue to serve until the next dissolution of Parliament. If a Member, however, dies or ceases to be qualified, his or her seat falls vacant. It is also possible for the House of Commons to expel a Member, but this power is exercised only in cases of serious misconduct or criminal activity. In each case, a vacancy may be filled by a by-election in the appropriate constituency, with the same electoral system as in general elections.

The term "Member of Parliament" is normally used only to refer to Members of the House of Commons, even though the House of Lords is also a part of Parliament. Members of the House of Commons may use the post-nominal letters "MP".

Members of parliament must be aged at least 18 and must be a citizen of the United Kingdom, of a British overseas territory, of the Republic of Ireland, or of a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Members of the House of Lords may not serve in the House of Commons, or even vote in parliamentary elections (just as the Queen does not vote); however, they are permitted to sit in the chamber during debates (unlike the Queen, who cannot enter the chamber).

A person may not sit in the Commons if he or she is the subject of a Bankruptcy Restrictions Order (applicable in England and Wales only), or if he or she is adjudged bankrupt (in Northern Ireland), or if his or her estate is sequestered (in Scotland).

MPs detained under the Mental Health Act for six months or more must vacate their seat. Under the Mental Health Act 1983, two specialists must report to the Speaker that a Member is suffering from mental illness before a seat can be declared vacant.

There is a common law precedent from the 18th century that the "deaf and dumb" are ineligible to sit in the Lower House; this precedent, however, has not been tested in recent years. Jack Ashley continued to serve as an MP for 25 years after becoming profoundly deaf.

Anyone found guilty of high treason may not sit in Parliament until he or she has either completed the term of imprisonment, or received a full pardon from the Crown. Anyone serving a prison sentence of one year or more is ineligible.

The Representation of the People Act 1983 disqualifies for ten years those found guilty of certain election-related offences. Other disqualifications are codified in the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975:

  • holders of high judicial offices,
  • civil servants,
  • members of the regular armed forces,
  • members of foreign legislatures (excluding the Republic of Ireland and Commonwealth countries), and
  • holders of several Crown offices.

Should a Member wish to resign from the Commons, he or she may request appointment to one of two ceremonial Crown offices: that of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds, or that of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. These offices are sinecures (that is, they involve no actual duties); they exist solely to permit the "resignation" of Members of the House of Commons. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is responsible for making the appointment, and, by convention, never refuses to do so when asked by a Member who desires to leave the House of Commons.


The Speaker presides over debates in the House of Commons, as depicted in the above print commemorating the destruction of the Commons Chamber by fire in 1834.

At the beginning of each new parliamentary term, the House of Commons elects one of its members as a presiding officer, known as the Speaker. If the incumbent Speaker seeks a new term, then the House may re-elect him or her merely by passing a motion; otherwise, a secret ballot is held. A Speaker-elect cannot take office until he or she has been approved by the Sovereign; the granting of the royal approbation, however, is a formality.

The Speaker is assisted by three Deputy Speakers, the most senior of which holds the title of Chairman of Ways and Means. The two other Deputy Speakers are known as the First and Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. These titles derive from the Committee of Ways and Means, a body over which the chairman once used to preside; even though the Committee was abolished in 1967, the traditional titles of the Deputy Speakers are still retained. The Speaker and the Deputy Speakers are always Members of the House of Commons.

The Clerk of the House is both the House's chief adviser on matters of procedure and chief executive of the House of Commons. He or she is a permanent official, not a Member of the House itself. The Clerk advises the Speaker on the rules and procedure of the House, signs orders and official communications, and signs and endorses bills. He or she chairs the Board of Management, which consists of the heads of the six departments of the House. The Clerk's deputy is known as the Clerk Assistant. Another officer of the House is the Serjeant-at-Arms, whose duties include the maintenance of law, order, and security on the House's premises. The Serjeant-at-Arms carries the ceremonial Mace, a symbol of the authority of the Crown and of the House of Commons, into the House each day in front of the Speaker, and the Mace is laid upon the Table of the House during sittings. The Librarian is head of the House of Commons Library, the House's research and information arm.

References and Sources