A parliament is a legislature. More generally, "parliament" may simply refer to a democratic government's legislature. The term is derived from the French parlement, the action of parler ("to speak"): a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which such a discussion took place.[when?] It acquired its modern meaning as it came to be used for the body of people (in an institutional sense) who would meet to discuss matters of state.
Generally, a parliament has three functions: representation, legislation and parliamentary control (i.e., hearings, inquiries).
The Sicilian Parliament is considered one of the oldest in the world (together with that Icelandic and Faroese, which, however, had no decision-making powers, a fact which makes the Sicilian Parliament the first in the modern sense). In 1097 came the first conference in Mazara del Vallo convened by Roger I the Great Count of a parliament initially travelling. The Sicilian Parliament was made up of three branches: from feudalism, from the Ecclesiastical and from the State Property. The first Norman parliament was not a deliberative, and had only an advisory function and confirmation of the sovereign, especially in taxation, economics and wars. Members were chosen from the more powerful nobles. The use of the term 'parliament' to designate such a body first occurred amongst the French-speaking nobility in England in 1236. The word “parliament” comes from the French “parler”, which means “to talk” or “to discuss”.
A nation's prime minister (PM) is almost always the leader of the majority party in the lower house of parliament, but only holds his or her office as long as the "confidence of the house" is maintained. If members of the lower house lose faith in the leader for whatever reason, they can call a vote of no confidence and force the PM to resign.
This can be particularly dangerous to a government when the distribution of seats among different parties is relatively even, in which case a new election is often called shortly thereafter. However, in case of general discontent with the head of government, his replacement can be made very smoothly without all the complications that it represents in the case of a presidential system.
The parliamentary system can be contrasted with a presidential system, on the model of the United States' congressional system, which operate under a stricter separation of powers whereby the executive does not form part of, nor is appointed by, the parliamentary or legislative body. In such a system, congresses do not select or dismiss heads of governments, and governments cannot request an early dissolution as may be the case for parliaments. Some states have a semi-presidential system which falls between parliamentary and congressional systems combines a powerful head of state (president) with a head of government (PM) responsible to parliament.
Since ancient times, when societies were tribal, there were councils or a headman whose decisions were assessed by village elders. This is called tribalism. Some scholars suggest that in ancient Mesopotamia there was a primitive democratic government where the kings were assessed by council. The same has been said about ancient India, where some form of deliberative assemblies existed, and therefore there was some form of democracy. However, these claims are not accepted by most scholars, who see these forms of government as oligarchies.
Ancient Athens was the cradle of democracy. The Athenian assembly (ἐκκλησία ekklesia) was the most important institution, and every citizen could take part in the discussions. However, Athenian democracy was not representative, but rather direct, and therefore the ekklesia was different from the parliamentary system.
The Roman republic had legislative assemblies, who had the final say regarding the election of magistrates, the enactment of new statutes, the carrying out of capital punishment, the declaration of war and peace, and the creation (or dissolution) of alliances. The Roman Senate controlled money, administration, and the details of foreign policy.
Some Muslim scholars argue that the Islamic shura (a method of taking decisions in Islamic societies) is analogous to the parliament. However, others highlight what they consider fundamental differences between the shura system and the parliamentary system.
In Anglo-Saxon England, the Witenagamot was an important political institution. The name derives from the Old English ƿitena ȝemōt, or witena gemōt, for "meeting of wise men". The first recorded act of a witenagemot was the law code issued by King Æthelberht of Kent ca. 600, the earliest document which survives in sustained Old English prose; however, the witan was certainly in existence long before this time. The Witan, along with the folkmoots(local assemblies), is an important ancestor of the modern English parliament.
England has long had a tradition of a body of men who would assist and advise the King on important matters. Under the Anglo-Saxon Kings, there was an advisory council, the Witenagemot ("meeting of wise men"). As part of the Norman Conquest of England, the new King, William I, did away with the Witenagemot, replacing it with a Curia Regis ("King's Council"). Membership of the Curia was largely restricted to the tenants in chief, the few nobles who "rented" great estates directly from the King, along with certain senior ecclesiastics.
Most historians date the emergence of a parliament with some degree of power to which the throne had to defer no later than the rule of Edward I. (Kaeuper, Richard W., War Justice and Public Order: England and France in the Later Middle Ages, Oxford U. Press, 1988.) Like previous kings, Edward called leading nobles and church leaders to discuss government matters, especially finance. A meeting in 1295 became known as the Model Parliament because it set the pattern for later Parliaments. The significant difference between the Model Parliament and the earlier Curia Regis was the addition of the Commons, that is, elected representatives of rural landowners and of townsmen. In 1307, Edward I agreed not to collect certain taxes without consent of the realm. He also enlarged the court system.
The tenants-in-chief often struggled with their spiritual counterparts and with the King for power. In 1215, they secured from John the Magna Carta, which established that the King may not levy or collect any taxes (except the feudal taxes to which they were hitherto accustomed), save with the consent of a council. It was also established that the most important tenants-in-chief and ecclesiastics be summoned to the council by personal writs from the Sovereign, and that all others be summoned to the council by general writs from the sheriffs of their counties. Modern government has its origins in the Curia Regis; parliament descends from the Great Council later known as the parliamentum established by Magna Carta.
The English Parliaments during the reign of King Henry III in the 13th century incorporated elected representation from shires and towns, and is considered the forerunner of the modern parliament. In 1265, Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, who was in rebellion against Henry III, summoned a parliament of his supporters without royal authorization. The archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls and barons were summoned, as were two knights from each shire and two burgesses from each borough. Knights had been summoned to previous councils, but the representation of the boroughs was unprecedented. De Montfort's scheme of representation and election was formally adopted by Edward I in the so-called "Model Parliament" of 1295. At first, each estate debated independently; by the reign of Edward III, however, Parliament had been separated into two Houses and was recognisably assuming its modern form.
Parliament under Henry VIII and Edward VI
The purpose and structure of parliament in Tudor England underwent a significant transformation under the reign of Henry VIII. Originally its methods were primarily medieval and the monarch still had inarguable dominion over the decisions. According to Elton, it was Cromwell who then initiated the beginnings of change within parliament.
The Reformation Acts gave parliament unlimited power over the country, and authority over every matter, be it social, economic, political or even religious; it legalised the Reformation, officially and indisputably. The King had to rule through the council, not over it, and there had to be mutual agreement when creating or passing laws, changing religions or adjusting taxes. The monarch no longer had sole control over the country. For instance, during the later years of Mary, the parliament originally rejected Mary's intent to revive Catholicism in the realm, and even later, denied Elizabeth her request for marriage. If parliament had had this power before Cromwell, during Wolsey's reign as Secretary, the reformation might never have happened as the king would have had to gain the consent of all parliament members before so drastically changing the country's religious laws.
The effectiveness of parliament considerably increased after Cromwell's adjustments. It gave the country an unprecedented stability when dealing with dynastic complications, such as a minor king or the lack of a suitable heir. When an acceptable monarch was not available, the changes in government meant that the country could still run efficiently through the parliament, without having to succumb to civil war. Management and organisation was also improved and parliamentary procedure was documented, statutes printed. The fact that the monarch was suddenly dependent on another political body meant that decisions were more thoroughly considered and the rash whims of Henry VIII were trivialised and reduced. He could not establish supremacy by proclamation; he needed the parliament to enforce statute, to add felonies and treasons. One of the main liberties of parliament was its freedom of speech; Henry allowed anything to be spoken openly within parliament and the speakers were not allowed to be arrested, a fact which they exploited incessantly. Despite this fact however, parliament held very little objection to the desires of the monarch, and under Henry and Edward's reign it complied willingly to the majority of the Kings' decisions.
As Williams described it, "King and parliament were not separate entities, but a single body, of which the monarch was the senior partner and the Lords and the Commons the lesser, but still essential, members."
Originally, there was only the Parliament of Paris, born out of the Curia Regis in 1307, and located inside the medieval royal palace, now the Paris Hall of Justice. The jurisdiction of the Parliament of Paris covered the entire kingdom. In the thirteenth century, judicial functions were added. In 1443, following the turmoil of the Hundred Years' War, King Charles VII of France granted Languedoc its own parliament by establishing the Parliament of Toulouse, the first parliament outside of Paris, whose jurisdiction extended over the most part of southern France. From 1443 until the French Revolution several other parliaments were created in some provinces of France (Grenoble, Bordeaux).
All the parliaments could issue regulatory decrees for the application of royal edicts or of customary practices; they could also refuse to register laws that they judged contrary to fundamental law or simply as being untimely. Parliamentary power in France was suppressed more so than in England as a result of absolutism, and parliaments were eventually overshadowed by the larger Estates General, up until the French Revolution, when the National Assembly became the lower house of France's bicameral legislature.
From the 10th century the Kingdom of Alba was ruled by chiefs (toisechs) and subkings (mormaers) under the suzerainty, real or nominal, of a High King. Popular assemblies, as in Ireland, were involved in law-making, and sometimes in king-making, although the introduction of tanistry—naming a successor in the lifetime of a king—made the second less than common. These early assemblies cannot be considered "parliaments" in the later sense of the word, and were entirely separate from the later, Norman-influenced, institution.
By the early fourteenth century the attendance of knights and freeholders had become important, and from 1326 burgh commissioners attended. Consisting of the Three Estates; of clerics, lay tenants-in-chief and burgh commissioners sitting in a single chamber, the Scottish parliament acquired significant powers over particular issues. Most obviously it was needed for consent for taxation (although taxation was only raised irregularly in Scotland in the medieval period), but it also had a strong influence over justice, foreign policy, war, and all manner of other legislation, whether political, ecclesiastical, social or economic. Parliamentary business was also carried out by "sister" institutions, before c. 1500 by General Council and thereafter by the Convention of Estates. These could carry out much business also dealt with by Parliament – taxation, legislation and policy-making – but lacked the ultimate authority of a full parliament.
Iceland's parliament House, at Austurvöllur in Reykjavík, built in 1880–1881. Home of one of the oldest still-acting parliaments in the world.
A thing or ting (Old Norse and Icelandic: þing; other modern Scandinavian: ting, ding in Dutch) was the governing assembly in Germanic societies, made up of the free men of the community and presided by lawspeakers. Today the term lives on in the official names of national legislatures, political and judicial institutions in the North-Germanic countries. In the Yorkshire and former Danelaw areas of England, which were subject to much Norse invasion and settlement, the wapentake was another name for the same institution.
The thing was the assembly of the free men of a country, province or a hundred(hundare/härad/herred). There were consequently, hierarchies of things, so that the local things were represented at the thing for a larger area, for a province or land. At the thing, disputes were solved and political decisions were made. The place for the thing was often also the place for public religious rites and for commerce.
The thing met at regular intervals, legislated, elected chieftains and kings, and judged according to the law, which was memorised and recited by the "law speaker" (the judge).
Later national diets with chambers for different estates developed, e.g. in Sweden and in Finland (which was part of Sweden until 1809), each with a House of Knights for the nobility. In both these countries, the national parliaments are now called riksdag (in Finland also eduskunta), a word used since the Middle Ages and equivalent of the German word Reichstag[disambiguation needed].
Chamber of the Sejm showing the hemicycle seating pattern.
According to the Chronicles of Gallus Anonymus, the first legendary Polish ruler, Siemowit, who began the Piast Dynasty, was chosen by a wiec. The veche (Russian: вече, Polish: wiec) was a popular assembly in medieval Slavic countries, and in late medieval period, a parliament. The idea of the wiec led in 1182 to the development of the Polish parliament, the Sejm.
The term "sejm" comes from an old Polish expression denoting a meeting of the populace. The power of early sejms grew between 1146–1295, when the power of individual rulers waned and various councils and wiece grew stronger. The history of the national Sejm dates back to 1182. Since the 14th century irregular sejms (described in various Latin sources as contentio generalis, conventio magna, conventio solemna, parlamentum, parlamentum generale, dieta or Polish sejm walny) have been called by Polish kings. From 1374, the king had to receive sejm permission to raise taxes. The General Sejm (Polish Sejm Generalny or Sejm Walny), first convoked by the king John I Olbracht in 1493 near Piotrków, evolved from earlier regional and provincial meetings (sejmiks). It followed most closely the sejmik generally, which arose from the 1454 Nieszawa Statutes, granted to the szlachta (nobles) by King Casimir IV the Jagiellonian. From 1493 forward, indirect elections were repeated every two years. With the development of the unique Polish Golden Liberty the Sejm's powers increased.
The Commonwealth's general parliament consisted of three estates: the King of Poland (who also acted as the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Russia/Ruthenia, Prussia, Mazovia, etc.), the Senat (consisting of Ministers, Palatines, Castellans and Bishops) and the Chamber of Envoys—circa 170 nobles (szlachta) acting on behalf of their Lands and sent by Land Parliaments. Also representatives of selected cities but without any voting powers. Since 1573 at a royal election all peers of the Commonwealth could participate in the Parliament and become the King's electors.
Cossack Rada was the legislative body of a military republic of cossacks that grew rapidly in the 15th century from serfs fleeing the more controlled parts of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. The republic did not regard social origin/nobility and accepted all people who declared to be Orthodox Christians.
The zemsky sobor (Russian: зе́мский собо́р) was the first Russian parliament of the feudal Estates type, in the 16th and 17th centuries. The term roughly means assembly of the land. It could be summoned either by tsar, or patriarch, or the Boyar Duma. Three categories of population, comparable to the Estates-General of France but with the numbering of the first two Estates reversed, participated in the assembly:
Nobility and high bureaucracy, including the Boyar Duma
The Holy Sobor of high Orthodox clergy
Representatives of merchants and townspeople (third estate)
The name of the parliament of nowadays Russian Federation is the Federal Assembly of Russia. The term for its lower house, Duma (which is better known than the Federal Assembly itself, and is often mistaken for the entirety of the parliament) comes from the Russian word думать (dumat), "to think". The Boyar Duma was an advisory council to the grand princes and tsars of Muscovy. The Duma was discontinued by Peter the Great, who transferred its functions to the Governing Senate in 1711.
Novgorod and Pskov
The veche was the highest legislature and judicial authority in the republic of Novgorod until 1478. In its sister state, Pskov, a separate veche operated until 1510.
Since the Novgorod revolution of 1137 ousted the ruling grand prince, the veche became the supreme state authority. After the reforms of 1410, the veche was restructured on a model similar to that of Venice, becoming the Commons chamber of the parliament. Аn upper Senate-like Council of Lords was also created, with title membership for all former city magistrates. Some sources indicate that veche membership may have became full-time, and parliament deputies were now called vechniks. It is recounted that the Novgorod assembly could be summoned by anyone who rung the veche bell, although it is more likely that the common procedure was more complex. This bell was a symbol of republican sovereignty and independence. The whole population of the city—boyars, merchants, and common citizens—then gathered at Yaroslav's Court. Separate assemblies could be held in the districts of Novgorod. In Pskov the veche assembled in the court of the Trinity cathedral.
Although there are documented councils held in 873, 1020, 1050 and 1063, there was no representation of commoners. What is considered to be the first Spanish parliament (with the presence of commoners), the Cortes, was held in the Kingdom of León in 1188. Prelates, nobles and commoners met separately in the three estates of the Cortes. In this meeting new laws were approved to protect commoners against the arbitrarities of nobles, prelates and the king. This important set of laws is known as the Carta Magna Leonesa.
After the union of the Kingdoms of Leon and Castile under the Crown of Castile, their Cortes were united as well in 1258. The Castilian Cortes had representatives from Burgos, Toledo, León, Seville, Córdoba, Murcia, Jaén, Zamora, Segovia, Ávila, Salamanca, Cuenca, Toro, Valladolid, Soria, Madrid, Guadalajara and Granada (after 1492). The Cortes' assent was required to pass new taxes, and could also advise the king on other matters. The comunero rebels intended a stronger role for the Cortes, but were defeated by the forces of Habsburg Emperor Charles V in 1521. The Cortes maintained some power, however, though it became more of a consultative entity. However, by the time of King Philip II, Charles's son, the Castilian Cortes had come under functionally complete royal control, with its delegates dependent on the Crown for their income.
"Conciliarism" or the "conciliar movement", was a reform movement in the 14th and 15th century Roman Catholic Church which held that final authority in spiritual matters resided with the Roman Church as corporation of Christians, embodied by a general church council, not with the pope. In effect, the movement sought – ultimately, in vain – to create an All-Catholic Parliament. Its struggle with the Papacy had many points in common with the struggle of parliaments in specific countries against the authority of Kings and other secular rulers.
The British Parliament is often referred to as the Mother of Parliaments (in fact a misquotation of John Bright, who remarked in 1865 that "England is the Mother of Parliaments") because the British Parliament has been the model for most other parliamentary systems, and its Acts have created many other parliaments. Many nations with parliaments have to some degree emulated the British "three-tier" model. Most countries in Europe and the Commonwealth have similarly organised parliaments with a largely ceremonial head of state who formally opens and closes parliament, a large elected lower house and a smaller, upper house.
In the United Kingdom, Parliament consists of the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the Monarch. The House of Commons is composed of 650 members who are directly elected by British citizens to represent single-member constituencies. The leader of a Party that wins more than half the seats or less than half but can count on support of smaller parties to achieve enough support to pass law is invited by the Queen to form a government. The House of Lords is a body of long-serving, unelected members: 92 of whom inherit their titles (and of whom 90 are elected internally by members of the House to lifetime seats), 26 bishops while they remain in office, and 588 of whom have been appointed to lifetime seats.
Legislation can originate from either the Lords or the Commons. It is voted on in several distinct stages, called readings, in each house. First reading is merely a formality. Second reading is where the bill as a whole is considered. Third reading is detailed consideration of clauses of the bill.
In addition to the three readings a bill also goes through a committee stage where it is considered in great detail. Once the bill has been passed by one house it goes to the other and essentially repeats the process. If after the two sets of readings there are disagreements between the versions that the two houses passed it is returned to the first house for consideration of the amendments made by the second. If it passes through the amendment stage Royal Assent is granted and the bill becomes law as an Act of Parliament.
The House of Lords is the less powerful of the two houses as a result of the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949. These Acts removed the veto power of the Lords over a great deal of legislation. If a bill is certified by the Speaker of the House of Commons as a money bill (i.e. acts raising taxes and similar) then the Lords can only block it for a month. If an ordinary bill originates in the Commons the Lords can only block it for a maximum of one session of Parliament. The exceptions to this rule are things like bills to prolong the life of a Parliament beyond five years.
In addition to functioning as the second chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords was also the final court of appeal for much of the law of the United Kingdom—a combination of judicial and legislative function that recalls its origin in the Curia Regis. This changed in October 2009 when the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom opened and acquired the former jurisdiction of the House of Lords.
Since 1998, there has been a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, which is a national, unicameral legislature for Scotland. However, the Scottish Parliament does not have complete power over Scottish Politics, as it only holds the powers which were devolved to it by Westminster in 1997. It cannot legislate on defence issues, currency, or national taxation (e.g. VAT, or Income Tax). Additionally, the Scottish Parliament can be dissolved at any given time by the British Parliament without the consent of the devolved government. This applies to all devolved governments within the United Kingdom, a limit on the sovereignty of the devolved governments.
In the federal (bicameral) kingdom of Belgium, there is a curious asymmetrical constellation serving as directly elected legislatures for three "territorial" regions—Flanders (Dutch), Brussels (bilingual, certain peculiarities of competence, also the only region not comprising any of the 10 provinces) and Wallonia (French)—and three cultural communities—Flemish (Dutch, competent in Flanders and for the Dutch-speaking inhabitants of Brussels), Francophone (French, for Wallonia and for Francophones in Brussels) and German (for speakers of that language in a few designated municipalities in the east of the Walloon Region, living alongside Francophones but under two different regimes)
Vlaams Parliament ("Flemish Parliament"; originally styled Vlaamse Raad "Flemish Council") served both the Flemish Community (whose same it uses) and, in application of a Belgian constitutional option, of the region of Flanders (in all matters of regional competence, its decisions have no effect in Brussels)
within the capital's regional assembly however, there also exist two so-called Community Commissions (fixed numbers, not an automatic repartition of the regional assembly), a Dutch-speaking one and a Francophone one, for various matters split up by linguistic community but under Brussels' regional competence, and even 'joint community commissions' consisting of both for certain institutions that could be split up but are not.