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News How does the U.K. Parliamentary system work?

  1. Nov 13, 2005 #1
    I'm currently watching CSPAN, and they're broadcasting the Parliamentary debate about the bill that would allow (among other things) for the detention of individuals for 90 days without charge.

    First of all, the British Parliament is so much cooler than the American one. The only reason to watch CSPAN when the U.S. Congress is being shown is if there's some important hearing going on or some ridiculously important vote about to be held. But really, the debates in the U.S. Congress don't matter, no one changes their mind, and it isn't real debate, just people reading speeches counter to each other. Even if the British Parliament is arguing over something innane, it's awesome. I watch it every opportunity I get. If CSPAN just stopped covering the U.S. Congress and started covering the U.K. Parliament, they could become a pay-per view channel or something. It's that good. There was one point during Blair's opening statements when everyone was shouting at him, and he stopped reading his speech and said "Excuse me? Did the right honorable gentleman just say 'police state'?" I can't believe people just get to shout out stuff like that, he was getting heckled non-stop. No one in the U.S. Congress ever has to think on their feet, they all just read pre-prepared statements, know how much time they have, and that's it.

    But anyway, I've got lots of questions about how the British Parliament works.

    1.) What power does the House of Lords actually have?

    I've heard repeatedly that all the real power is in the House of Commons, but I just saw Charles Kennedey say that even if Tony Blair were to get the bill through the House of Commons, that it wouldn't pass in the House of Lords, and asked what Blair would do then. He asked specifically if Blair would then finally reach some sort of concensus about the 90 days provision, or whether he would "ram it through with a parliamentary motion," or something like that.

    2.) What does it mean when MP's stand up?

    After Blair, or anyone really, made any sort of point, you would see certain MP's stand up for a short while. Does this express agreement, disagreement, or something totally different?

    3.) Are there any regulations about speaking time and who gets to speak?

    It seemed that everyone, despite being rowdy and generally British, was good at taking turns speaking. Blair would talk for a short amount of time, Howard would then talk, request Blair answer a question, and then promptly allow for Blair to answer said question. Then Blair would say whatever he was going to say and quickly stop talking. In the U.S., Senators and Congressmen go on FOREVER. There are time limits and ****, but people just give up their time to let others blab on and on forever. How is it that the speaking time in British Parliament is so tidy?

    4.) What does the Home Secretary do?

    During the debate, Howard kept mentioning that the Home Secretary repeatedly said that 90 days wasn't set in stone, and was a rather arbitrary number. What does this guy do, is he like the Secretary of Homeland Security in the U.S., or does he have another analogous figure in the U.S. Government?

    5.) Do they have to say "Honorable Gentleman," when they adress someone?

    It seems that every time they adress someone, they say "Honorable Gentleman," or even "Right Honorable Gentleman," but when it's someone that they don't like, it seems that all they're doing is being really Britishly sarcastic about the whole title. Is using a title like that part of the Parliamentary procedure, or is that just British tradition?

    6.) Who is the guy in the judge-like outfit that calls order to Parliament?

    I noticed that once, and only once, there was this distinguished looking guy in a black robe who called order to Parliament. Who is he? In the U.S., there is a "President Pro-Tempore" in the Senate, who is just the most senior member of the majority party, and he will call order to Congress if it's needed. Is that guy something simmilar, or is he just there to be a sort of referee without having been elected to any position?
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2005
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  3. Nov 13, 2005 #2


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  4. Nov 14, 2005 #3
    Assuming it's anything like Canada (which it should be, we based ours off of theirs) it has solely legislative powers, and every bill must pass both in the House of Lords and the House of Commons in order to become Law. The House of Lords would probably be equivalent of the senate in the states.

    No Clue.

    la la la...

    no clue, no clue, no clue...

    Again, if it's anything Like Canada, that would be the Speaker. Supposed to keep order, kind of like a moderator and such. He has other powers too. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speaker_(politics)

    Austronuc appears to have forgotten the most important wiki in this line of questions.

    Wiki is your friend :wink:
  5. Nov 14, 2005 #4
    All bills passed in the House of Commons must be passed by the House of Lords, the idea being that the common man and the nobility must both agree on legislation. This has become a slightly redundant notion since the reform of the House of Lords. When Blair's attempts to ban foxhunting were repeatedly scuppered by the Lords (i.e. the exact kind of people who take part in foxhunting), Blair had the House reformed to be substantially elected (can't recall the proportion) by the House of Commons. This got the foxhunting ban through but hasn't helped Blair much since - the House of Lords is now giving him grief over the Iraq war. The Law Lords (not elected) state the war was illegal.

    It was traditionally noted that the House of Commons did have all the power, since if the House of Lords was too much out of line with the Commons the threat of reform loomed, much in the same way that the Queen in Parliament (the third entity required to pass legislation) is rather obliged to pass anything or else the monarchy would be dissolved. Now the reform has already happened, we may see a slight power shift since Blair would not get away with a second reform.

    The Prime Minister can, and Blair has occassionally threatened to, use the Act of Parliament to force a bill through without being passed by Parliament. It is an act that no Prime Minister would ever usually rely on, since it gives almost Divine Right of King-like status and you know how we Brits feel about that. Blair did threaten to use it to abolish the law banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools. Had he used it, he may not have been re-elected. Democracy is more important to most Brits than equality.

    They want to speak. Or leave. Or are really annoyed.

    It sounds like you were watching Prime Minister's Question Time. Only one person may speak at once and you must be standing up to speak. You signal your intention to speak by standing up at which point I imagine it is only decorum that demands the present speaker wrap up and sit down. Once that person has sat down, the next person may speak. On the big issues, the people who speak are usually members of the cabinet (members of the party in power), or a shadow cabinet (the people in another party who would be doing the job if they were elected) although members of Parliament not in any cabinet or shadow cabinet may represent their issues also. This is usually not shown on television as it is normally very boring: a lot of MPs complaining about niggling little laws or faults with, say, taxation systems or state pensions or whatnot. A counter-example of this was when my MP stood up and stated we should vote on going to war. Everyone laughed at him. That's why the big issues are left to the (shadow) cabinet. There is a pecking order to questions fielded, but I think it is informal.

    He is in charge of most home affairs, such as policing, although other major home affairs, such as education, employment, pensions, and health are other cabinet members' concerns. Clarke was not much in favour of the 90 day limit. In fact, pretty much no-one was except Blair and his more loyal back benchers.

    It is an archaic form of address now used ironically more than anything. 9 times out of 10 it's supposed to be sarcastic. I'm sure it isn't compulsory and if it is it is not enforced.

    The speaker. A kind of chairperson. No-one messes with the speaker.
  6. Nov 17, 2005 #5
    I believe 'Right Honorable Gentleman' means you are addressing a member of the privy council, which is a group of select MP's who are 'privy' to information other MP's and the public are not privy to such as intel.
  7. Nov 17, 2005 #6


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