Chapter 5 Parliament

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the House of Commons: structure and members

  • house of commons is a democratically elected chamber of 650 Members of Parliament
  • each MP is elected in a single member constituency by the first past the post system
  • number of MPs is not fixed
  • can change following reviews of parliamentary constituencies
  • 2016- conservative government confirmed its commitment to cut the number of MPs to 600 and equalise constituency size by 2020
  • the governing party sits on the benches to right of the speaker's chair
  • members of the opposition parties sit on the benches to its left
  • more than 100 MPs hold ministerial positions in the government
  • the main opposition party appoints shadow ministers
  • almost all MPs represent a political party but there are exceptions

pay and privilege

  • MPs are paid a salary- £75,000 in 2016
  • increases set by the Independent Parliamentary Salaries Authority- also regulates and pays MP's parliamentary expenses
  • cover the costs of running an office, employing staff, accomodation and travel
  • system overhauled after 2009 MP's expenses scandal- resulted in hundreds of MPs having to pay back expenses they had claimed, 4 jailed
  • MPs who faced criminal charges over their expenses unsuccessfully claimed that they should not face prosecution because of parliamentary privilege- ensures they can carry out their parliamentary duties without interference
  • freedom of speech- members of both houses are free to raise any issue in parliament without fear of prosecution; e.g. MPs have revealed information subject to court injunctions
  • exclusive cognisance- right of each hosue to regulate its own internal affairs without interference from outside bodies
  • does not mean MPs are above the law
  • MPs who are imprisoned or suspended from the hosue for at least 21 sitting days may be dismissed by voters under the recall of MPs Act 2015
  • if after 8 weeks 10% of eligible electors have signed the recall petition, their seat is declared vacant and a by-election scheduled
  • the MP subject to recall can stand in this election
  • no right of recall where an MP defects to another party or where constituents disapprove of their voting record

key office holders

whips

  • ensure that MPs attend parliamentary divisions and approve the absence of MPs when their vote will not be required
  • issue instructions on how MPs should vote
  • enforce discipline within the parliamentary party- seek to persuade wavering MPs to vote with their party by providing assurances, making offers and issuing threats; rebellious MPs may be expelled from the parliamentary party by having the whip withdrawn

the speaker

  • presides over debates in the chamber
  • selects MPs to speak
  • maintains order
  • may temporarily suspend MPs who break parliamentary rules
  • elected by MPs in a secret ballot
  • must stand down from the post at a general election but is normally re-elected at the start of the next parliament
  • gives up their party affiliation and is non partisan
  • does not vote unless there is a tie- has the casting vote
  • uses it to provide further debate rather than a final decision
  • Michael Martin became the 1st speaker to…

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