The British Parliament

The British Parliament is the oldest in the world. It originatedin the 12th century as Witenagemot, the body of wise councillorsto consult the King in his policy. The BritishParliament consists of the House of Lords and the House ofCommons and the Queen as its head. The House of Commons plays themajor role in law-making. It consists of Members of Parliament(called MPs for short). Each of them represents an area inEngland, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. MPs are elected either at ageneral election or at a by-election following the death orretirement. Parliamentary elections are held every 5 years and itis the Prime Minister who decides on the exact day of theelection. The minimum voting age is 18. And the voting is takenby secret ballot. The election campaign lasts about 3 weeks, TheBritish parliamentary system depends on politicals parties. Theparty which wins the majority of seats forms the goverment andits leader usually becomes Prime Minister. The Prime Ministerchooses about 20 MPs from his party to become the cabinet ofministers. Each minister is responsible for a particular area inthe goverment. The second largest party becomes the officialopposition with its own leader and “shadow cabinet”. The leaderof the opposition is a recognized post in the House of Commons. The parliament and the monarch have different roles in thegoverment and they only meet together on symbolic occasions, suchas coronation of a new monarch or the opening of the parliament. In reality, the House of Commons is the one of three which hastrue power. The House of Commons is made up of six hundred andfifty elected members, it is presided over by the speaker, amember acceptable to the whole house. MPs sit on two sides of thehall, one side for the governing party and the other for theopposition. The first 2 rows of seats are occupied by the leadingmembers of both parties (called “front benches”) The back benchesbelong to the rank-and-life MPs. Each session of the House ofCommons lasts for 160-175 days. Parliament has intervals duringhis work. MPs are paid for their parliamentary work and have toattend the sittings. As mention above, the House of Commons playsthe major role in law making. The procedure is the following: aproposed law (“a bill”) has to go through three stages in orderto become an act of parliament, these are called “readings”. Thefirst reading is a formality and is simply the publication of theproposal. The second reading

involves debate on the principles ofthe bill, it is examination by parliamentary committy. And thethird reading is a report stage, when the work of the committy isreported on to the house. This is usually the most importantstage in the process. When the bill passes through the House ofCommons, it is sent to the House of Lords for discussion, whenthe Lords agree it, the bill is taken to the Queen for royalassent, when the Queen sings the bill, it becomes act of theParliament and the Law of the Land. The House of Lords has morethan 1000 members, although only about 250 take an active part inthe work in the house. Members of this Upper House are notelected, they sit there because of their rank, the chairman ofthe House of Lords is the Lord Chancellor. And he sits on aspecial seat, called “Wool Sack.” The members of the House of Lordsdebate the bill after it has been passed by the House of Commons. Some changes may be recommended and the agreement between the twohouses is reached by negotiations.

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