Jacquelyn Yeager

How and why was parliament established?

The legislature, or lawmaking body, of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia,India, and most other Commonwealth countries is called a parliament. The legislative assembly of the European Union is called the European Parliament. Many individual European countries and Japan also have parliamentary-type legislatures, though they use other names. Japan’s legislature, for example, is called the Diet, while Sweden’s is the Riksdag.

Most parliaments, like the Congress of the United States, are bicameral—they have two houses. Bicameral legislatures usually consist of an “upper” house of elected, appointed, or sometimes hereditary members and a larger “lower” house of popularly elected members. The term upper reflects the greater traditional prestige of the upper house and the social standing of its members, who traditionally represented the elite. The members of the lower house, on the other hand, traditionally represented the common people. One of the oldest parliaments, and the one on which most modern parliaments are modeled, is that of the United Kingdom, made up of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The world’s oldest continuous parliament is the Isle of Man’s Tynwald, which dates from the period of Scandinavian occupation in the early Middle Ages. It is composed of an upper house called the Legislative Council and a lower house called the House of Keys. Australia uses the terms Senate and House of Representatives, while Canada has a Senate and a House of Commons. Several European countries, including Sweden and Finland, have unicameral, or one-house, legislatures.

The word parliament is related to the French verb parler, which means “to speak,” and to the English word parley—a discussion or conference. Legislatures are places where elected representatives of the people meet to debate and to discuss proposed laws and other national businessThe federal government of the United States is noted for its separation of powers: it has three distinct branches—the presidency, the Congress, and the federal courts. No individual who is serving in one branch may, at the same time, be a member of another branch. In most parliamentary systems this separation does not exist in such a clear-cut fashion. In Britain the prime minister is always a member of Parliament, as are all the ministers, or heads of departments. A prime minister always holds office as leader of the majority party. If the party loses an election, the leader of the winning party becomes the new prime minister (see United Kingdom). In the United States the length of a president’s term is not affected by election results in Congress because the president is not and cannot be a member of Congress. In the early 21st century, however, Britain took historic steps toward the separation of powers. In 2009 a new Supreme Court replaced the House of Lords as the country’s highest court, separating the judiciary from Parliament.

The typical modern parliament is more than a lawmaking body. It spends much of its time on fiscal matters—the so-called money bills. These are appropriations of funds for such governmental needs as defense, construction of public works, and salaries of departmental employees. Through this control of the purse, parliaments have a large measure of control over government policy. Policy itself, however, is decided by the prime minister and the Cabinet (see cabinet government).

"Parliament." Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 19 Sep. 2016. Accessed 29 Sep. 2016.