Parliament (low Lat. parlamentum; Fr. parlement, fromparler, "to speak"), originally a meeting or assembly for conference or deliberation; afterward applied in France to the principal judicial courts, and in England to the legislature of the kingdom. The word, or one very like it, was long in use in France, and was first applied there to general assemblies in the time of Louis VII., about the middle of the 12th century.
The earliest mention of the word parliament in the statutes of England occurs in the preamble to the statute of Westminster, 1272. Many writers have asserted the identity of the modern parliament with the general councils of the Saxons, with their michel-gemote or great meeting, or their witena-gemote or meeting of the wise men; and also with the commune concilium and magnum concilium of later times. It is indeed indisputable, as Blackstone says, that general councils are coeval with the kingdom itself; but that those of early times bore any essential resemblance to the present parliament is far from certain. We may probably with safety assume that the present constitution of parliament existed early in the 14th century. In Magna Charta, King John promises to summon all archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons personally, and all other tenants in chief under the crown by the sheriffs and bailiffs; and there are still extant writs of the date of 1265, summoning " knights, citizens, and burgesses " to parliament.
A statute passed in the reign of Edward II. (1322) declares that certain matters shall be established in parliament "by the king and by the assent of the prelates, earls, barons, and the commonalty of the realm, as has before been accustomed." The imperial parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is composed of the crown and the three estates of the realm, the lords spiritual, the lords temporal, and the commons. It is the prerogative of the crown to convoke, continue, or dissolve it. Formerly it was the theory of English constitutional law, that the power of the crown in these respects was measured only by its pleasure; that the sovereign might omit during his whole reign to call a parliament; or if he called one, might keep it undissolved for the same period. But now, on the authority of statute and otherwise, it is established that no parliament can last longer than seven years, and that writs for summoning a new parliament shall issue within three years from the dissolution of the last one. The sessions of parliament may be suspended by adjournment or prorogation, and ended by dissolution. The power of adjournment belongs to each house respectively; the sovereign may request but not command an adjournment.
A royal proclamation may issue, however, summoning parliament to meet within not less than 14 days, notwithstanding an adjournment beyond that period. Parliament may be prorogued to a certain day only by the sovereign; it is effected through the lord chancellor, or by writ under the great seal, or by commission. The effect of a prorogation is to put an end to all proceedings pending at the time, except impeachments by the commons and appeals and writs of error in the house of lords. On the meeting of parliament after prorogation, a bill pending before must be renewed as if it had never been introduced. The power of dissolving parliament is vested in the sovereign; its existence is ended by dissolution, after which writs of election for a new parliament must be issued. In practice, parliaments assemble annually, and must continue to do so while the legislation for the army, the judiciary, and the whole service of the kingdom has validity and makes appropriations for only a twelvemonth. Among the other constitutional prerogatives of the crown, as a branch of parliament, are its negative upon the choice of a speaker by the commons, and upon bills passed by both houses.
But neither of these prerogatives could now with safety be arbitrarily asserted by the 'sovereign. - House of Lords. This body is composed of the lords spiritual and temporal, the former consisting of the archbishops of Canterbury and York, and 24 bishops. Until the dissolution of the monasteries in the time of Henry VIII., the mitred abbots and two priors had seats with the lords; and after the union with Ireland one archbishop and three bishops of the church of Ireland also had seats until the disestablishment of that church on Jan. 1, 1871. The whole number of peers in 1873 was 479. Most of the peerages are of recent creation. The three oldest date from the 13th century, and only four others go back to the 14th. Up to 1874, 239 had been created within the pres ent century. The bishops were excluded from parliament during the commonwealth, but were restored by statute. With this single interruption, they have always been present in parliament, and with unquestioned right. The lords spiritual are lords of parliament, though not peers of the realm. When therefore a peer is to be tried, the bishops are entitled to take part in the proceedings, though, in conformity with the canons of the church, which forbid them to vote in capital causes, they are generally absent from the judgment.
Being not of noble blood, like the hereditary peers, for a capital offence they are tried by a jury like other commoners. The lords temporal are divided into dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, and barons. They are the hereditary peers of the realm, ennobled in blood, and subject to loss of their dignities only by attainder or by act of parliament. Since the union with Scotland in 1707, and with Ireland in 1801,16 Scottish and 28 Irish representative peers have been returned to parliament by the peerages of those countries. The former sit during one parliament only; the latter are chosen for life. They enjoy all the privileges of parliament, and may sit upon the trial of peers. A peer is made so by the royal patent or writ which summons him to parliament, and the dignity is usually made hereditary by limitation to the heirs male of his body, although it is sometimes provided that it may descend to others, as for instance to his nephew or brother. The power of the crown to create a life peerage raised in 1856 an important question, which was earnestly debated. On retiring from the bench Sir James Parke (Lord Wensleydale) was created baron of the United Kingdom for and during his life, instead of the usual limitation.
Government urged as a reason for granting life peerages, the convenience of adding to the number of law lords in the house, these being peers who have held high judicial office in the kingdom, and who substantially alone determine all judicial causes. It had happened in 1855 that only two law lords, the lord chancellor and Lord St. Leonards, had sat to hear arguments. Upon some of the causes they differed in opinion, and as, upon a familiar maxim in the procedure of the lords, this equality of votes led in each case to affirmance of the decrees brought up from inferior courts, appellants argued that there was virtually no decision, and expressed great discontent. For the remedy of this and other mischiefs the creation of life peerages was proposed. After prolonged discussion, the lords decided, if not against the strict legality of the measure, yet against its constitutional expediency. The crown retreated from its position, and Lord Wensleydale received a patent in the usual form. The peers of the realm possess titles of honor which give them the privileges of rank and precedence, and they are individually the hereditary counsellors of the crown; with the lords spiritual they form, when not assembled in parliament, the permanent council of the sovereign, though they may act in the same capacity when so assembled, as for example in addressing the throne upon matters of foreign or of domestic policy.
When sitting in parliament the peers form in conjunction with the lords spiritual a branch of the supreme legislature of the kingdom; and, in the exercise of peculiar functions, they constitute a court of judicature. In its judicial office the house of lords has a distinctive character as the highest tribunal of the realm. The lords have an original and exclusive jurisdiction in the trial of peers, and under reference from the crown upon claims of peerage and affairs of honors. By the acts of union they have a like jurisdiction over cases of contested elections, or the rotation of the Scottish or Irish representative peers. They also had until recently a general jurisdiction as the supreme court of appeals. These judicial functions the house of lords had as the representative of the ancient concilium regis, or council of the king, which under the early Norman kings had jurisdiction both in civil and criminal causes, especially in those relating to great persons and to officers of state, and by way of appeal from all other courts. In respect to the construction of the house for any legislative purpose, there is no distinction between the lords temporal and the lords spiritual.
The presence of three members who have been duly summoned and sworn constitutes a quorum; and when a speaker has been appointed, the house may proceed to act either as a branch of the legislature or as a supreme court of judicature. The lord chancellor or lord keeper of the great seal is speaker ex officio, and an ancient order declares it to be " his duty ordinarily to attend the lords' house of parliament." To make provision for his necessary absence, deputy speakers are appointed by commission from the crown, "to officiate from time to time during the royal pleasure in the room and place of the lord chancellor." The office is generally conferred upon the chief justice of the king's bench, or the chief baron of the exchequer. In the absence of both the lord chancellor or keeper and the deputy speakers, the lords themselves select a speaker pro tempore. The person who acts as speaker need not be a member of the house, nor indeed of the peerage. Commoners have often been raised to the office. They may sit as speakers upon the woolsack, for constitutionally that is not within the limits of the house.
The lords answer "Content" or "Not content" in voting, and on an equality of votes the effect is the same as if there were a majority of "not content," for the maxim of the house is: Semper prcesumitur pro negante. - Until the establishment of the supreme court of England (1873-5) the lords had jurisdiction of writs of error and appeals from the common law and equity courts. The former was of great antiquity; the latter dates only from 1621, and was not acquiesced in until after angry and prolonged disputes between the two houses of parliament. The right to exercise it was questioned by some of the first lawyers of the time, including Sir Matthew Hale. The triumph of the peers is usually ascribed to the earl of Shaftesbury, who insisted that the lords' power of review extended over all the courts in the kingdom, civil, criminal, and ecclesiastical. But from the last named courts appeals have never been entertained. So orders made on motion or petition in matters of idiocy, lunacy, or bankruptcy were not carried up to the lords, but to the king in council. Writs of error to the lords were confined to matters of law.
They might lie from all judgments of the courts of exchequer chamber in England and Ireland, and from all judgments in common law of the court of exchequer of Scotland; from all such judgments of the courts of queen's bench in England or Ireland as were not intermediately reviewable by the courts of exchequer chamber of the two countries; from all judgments of the common law or "petty bag" side of the high court of chancery; and from the decisions of the commissioners of error appointed to review the common law proceedings of the London municipal jurisdictions. The act of 1873 (which as originally enacted was to take effect in November, 1874, but in August of that year was postponed to November, 1875), creating the supreme court of England, takes from the house of lords its jurisdiction on writs of error and appeals from the several superior courts of England, and confers it upon " Her Majesty's Court of Appeal" thereby provided for. (See Couet.) - House of Commons. The lowest branch of parliament, the third estate in dignity, but in fact the foremost in substantial power, is the commons; or, to use the title which suggests the composition of this house, the knights, citizens, and burgesses. "We have seen that the first clear intimation of two branches of parliament (not then necessarily sitting separate, however) is afforded by Magna Charta. That instrument provides a mode of summons according to rank.
The greater barons were to be individually cited by special writs, while the other tenants in capite were to be called by general summons. That is to say, with regard to the former of these classes an individual and absolute right seems to be conceded; while with regard to the-latter, those were considered to be entitled and summoned whom the general body should select as their representatives. Thus these inferior landed proprietors, or lesser barons as they have been called, ceasing gradually to be regarded as peers, were allowed and sometimes directed to be summoned as knights of shires. Gradually, too, their privilege diminished, till they lost altogether the right of sitting with their superiors; and, merging in the commonalty, they came, probably at the close of the 13th century, to form with the representatives of cities and boroughs the lower house. During the reigns of the first three Edwards, the power of the commons was materially enlarged and firmly established; and to the time of Edward IV. Hallam refers the foundation of the principle that the assent of the two houses is necessary to every legislative act. But owing to the jealousy of the upper house, and to its opportunities for defeating the rights of the commons, the principle was for a long time not carried out.
In the reign of Henry VI. it first became true in fact, as it had long been in the theory of the government, that "the law of the land is made in parliament by the king and the lords spiritual and temporal and all the commonalty of the realm." - It is the exclusive right of the commons to originate all bills which either directly or by construction impose any burden or charge on the people; and these bills include not only those which provide supplies for the general administration of the government, but also all those which contemplate a tax upon the public for any purpose or in any mode. All other bills of whatever nature may originate in either house indifferently. In practice, each house appropriates to itself peculiar cognizance of those matters of which, from its experience and constitution, it is the most competent judge. For example, bills which concern the settlement of peerages begin naturally with the lords; while bills for regulating elections originate as naturally with the commons. The commons have not final appellate jurisdiction like the lords; yet in certain cases they exercise judicial functions, and when proceeding in such cases they are a court of record, and their journals bear the credit of public records.
Examples of these functions are the consideration of cases of contested elections and returns, and the hearing and punishing of contempts. Acting in concurrence with the lords, they exercise higher powers of judicature, as in matters of attainder and pardon, and until lately of divorce. The house of commons consists at present of 658 members. Of these England and Wales send from counties 187, from the universities 5, and from the towns 308. Of the Scottish members, 30 come from counties and 23 from towns. Ireland returns 64 members for counties, 39 for towns, and 2 for the university of Dublin. Although the ordinary cost of an election to parliament is considerable, and immense sums are sometimes spent in a close contest, the members receive no salary. Formerly they were paid a prescribed amount by their constituencies, the poorer of which sometimes got excused from electing members to avoid the expense. The religious disqualifications which formerly excluded some persons from parliament were removed, partly by the repeal of the test act in 1828, and partly by the Catholic emancipation act of 1829. Until 1858 Jews were shut out from both houses by that clause which required the oath to be taken " on the true faith of a Christian." This disabling clause has not been stricken from the formulas of the oaths, but in the year just named a statute was passed which permits either house to dispense with it at its pleasure in the administration of them.
No peer of parliament is eligible to the commons; yet any Irish peer, not of the number of the 28 representatives, may sit in the lower house. This rule is not true of the same class of Scottish peers. No person officially employed about duties or taxes created since 1692 (except commissioners of the treasury), no officer of excise, customs, stamps, etc, no pensioner of the crown, no contractor with government, no judge of the king's bench, common pleas, or exchequer, no chancellor or vice chancellor (it is otherwise with the master of the rolls), and no police justice of London, is eligible; and by statute 6 Anne, c. 27, it is provided that no person holding any new office under the crown created since 1705 is eligible. If any member of the house of commons accept any office of profit under the crown while he is a member, his seat becomes vacant, but he may be again elected. The house of commons has given various constructions of this statute, and expressly excepted from it a large number of offices. The clergy of the church of England and Ireland are ineligible. Sheriffs of counties, mayors, and bailiffs of boroughs, as returning officers, are also incapacitated.
Ministers of the crown, however, are required to hold seats in one house or the other; and members of the lower house, on receiving a cabinet appointment, resign their seats and appeal to their constituents for reelection, as an indication of confidence in the ministry. - Until it was remodelled in 1832 by the reform act, the parliamentary franchise remained as it had been fixed by statutes of the time of Henry VI. It had been narrowly restricted by these statutes, both in the counties and in the boroughs, and the necessity of a thorough change had long been insisted on. The tory ministry of the duke of Wellington in 1830 was brought to an end by the determined opposition of the premier to any change in the representation and suffrage, and was succeeded by a ministry headed by Earl Grey, who had been the steady advocate of parliamentary reform for 40 years, and who then stood at the head of the whig aristocracy. The first reform bill was introduced into the house of commons, March 1,1831, by Lord John Russell, and was carried on the second reading after great debates, by a vote of 302 to 301. Subsequently the ministers were defeated on several questions, and parliament was dissolved, April 22. The new house of commons was chosen under great popular excitement, and in a full house the ministerial majority was about 130. Another reform bill was brought forward, and after a discussion of many weeks was passed, 345 to 236. The house of lords threw out the bill by 41 majority.
This caused great indignation. Immense popular meetings were held, and there were riots at Derby, Nottingham, and Bristol. On Dec. 12 a third reform bill was brought forward, which passed to a second reading by 162 majority. The lords passed it to a second reading by 9 majority, April 14, 1832; but on May 7, in committee, they defeated the ministry by a majority of 35. The court was almost entirely opposed to reform, and the king's mind had been acted on by most persons who surrounded him adversely to the popular cause. He had been averse to the creation of peers, and it was understood that the peers should allow the bill to pass. This understanding having been departed from, the ministry demanded a creation of peers from the king. He refused, and they resigned. Wellington undertook to form a government, but the house of commons set itself in resolute opposition to the duke, and advised the king to create as many peers as should be necessary to carry the bill through the upper house. On May 15 the whigs announced their return to power, and in June the lords passed the reform bill.
Fifty-six boroughs that had returned 111 members were extinguished; 30 others lost one member each; and 2 united boroughs that had sent 4 members were reduced to 2. As no reduction of the numbers of the lower house was made, this left 143 members to be disposed of, 65 of whom were given to counties, 22 to the metropolitan districts and other boroughs with populations of 25,000 and upward, and 21 to boroughs having 12,000 inhabitants and upward. New and great constituencies were created in England and Wales. Numerous improvements in elections were provided. Inhabitancy was made the basis of the borough franchise. Under certain regulations occupants of houses of the yearly value of £10 became electors. The county franchise was extended to copyholders and leaseholders, and under some circumstances to occupiers of the value of 40s., thus destroying the monopoly of the freeholders, who were not allowed to vote for both county and borough. It was also extended to tenants at will of the annual value of £50. In 1867-8 a new reform bill was carried through by the conservative ministry of Disraeli. Under this, voters may be classed as follows: In counties: 1, 40s. freeholders, or those owning property in fee of that value per annum; 2, those possessing an estate for life or-lives of the annual value of 4:0s., which, if not occupied by them, must have been possessed before June 7, 1832, or must have been acquired by marriage, marriage settlement, or devise, or by virtue of some benefice or office; 3, those possessing an estate for life or lives of the annual value of £5; 4, lessees for terms not less than 60 years of the annual value of £5, or not less than 20 years of the annual value of £50; 5, occupiers of lands rated at £12 per annum.
In boroughs: 1, the rated occupiers of dwelling houses within the borough who have duly paid their poor rates; 2, rated occupiers of premises other than dwelling houses of the annual value of £10; 3, occupiers of lodgings of the annual value of £10 if let unfurnished and in one and the same dwelling house. Following this reform bill others were passed for Scotland and Ireland, enlarging the franchise, but not in entire conformity to that in England. Voting for members of parliament had always been by show of hands or viva voce until, after long agitation, the secret ballot was adopted under the Gladstone administration in 1872. - The presiding officer of the commons is called the speaker, who is chosen by the house from among its own members, subject to the approval of the crown, holding his office till the dissolution of the parliament in which he was elected. His salary is £6,000 a year, exclusive of a furnished residence. At the end of his official labors he is generally rewarded with a peerage and a pension. Until 1853 business could not be transacted in his absence; but in August of that year it was resolved that, during his unavoidable absence, the chairman of committees of the whole house should preside in his stead.
Forty members must be present to constitute a house, excepting when the commons are summoned by the sovereign or the royal commissioners to attend at the bar of the. lords, which per se constitutes a house, whether 40 members be present or not. According to ancient practice, the house always adjourns to 10 o'clock in the morning, and should the speaker take the chair (40 members being present) at any time between that hour and 4 P. M., the appointed proceedings may immediately commence; otherwise no business can be transacted on that day, and the house will consequently adjourn to 10 o'clock A. M. on the following day. The present general practice is to commence business at 4 P. M., with the exception of Wednesdays, when the house sits from 12 to 6. The house does not usually sit on Saturday. It was an ancient privilege of the house of commons to judge of the qualification and return of its own members, and this has never seriously been questioned since the quarrel with James I. regarding it in 1603. The royal proclamation for the election of members to the first parliament of that monarch expressly commanded that care be had that there be not chosen any persons bankrupts or outlawed;" and when Sir Francis Goodwin, who had been outlawed in civil proceedings, was chosen by the electors of Bucks, the returning officer refused to return him, and Sir John Fortescue was sent up in his stead.
Nevertheless the house seated Sir Francis Goodwin, and refused to confer with the lords on the subject, or to defer to the opinion of the judges that his election was void, insisting upon its right to judge solely and finally in the premises. A prolonged controversy took place, ending in a compromise under which a new election was had. Under recent legislation, however, in the belief that the house is an unsuitable body to try contested questions of fact, election cases are tried before judges assigned for the purpose.
Scotland while an independent kingdom had a parliament, dating, it is supposed, from the 13th century, and very similar at first to that of England, but never like the English divided into two houses. It comprised the high ecclesiastics, the great nobles, and the representatives of the freeholders of the counties and of the citizens of the royal burghs, who all sat in one hall. The functions of a house of lords or higher house were performed in some degree by a committee called "the lords of the articles," consisting latterly of 32 members, who did all the work of parliament, the house doing scarcely more than to pass the acts proposed by the committee. The Scottish parliament was abolished by the legislative union of Scotland with England in 1707. - In Ireland a parliament was formed by the English settlers toward the end of the 13th century, but it was not till the reign of James I. that the whole island was represented. The Irish parliament, however, was held to be subordinate to that of England till 1783, when its exclusive authority in matters of legislation and judicature for Ireland was formally admitted.
Its brief independence and its existence, however, terminated in 1800 by the union of Ireland with Great Britain.
These bodies were supreme courts of law, and were established at successive periods in the principal cities of the kingdom. The most ancient and important was the parliament of Paris, the foundation of which is ascribed to Louis VII. about the middle of the 12th century. It was at first a court of justice which accompanied the king wherever he went, till Philip the Fair fixed it at Paris by an ordinance dated March 23, 1302. The other principal parliaments of France were instituted in the following order: Toulouse, 1302; Grenoble, 1451; Bordeaux, 1462; Burgundy, 1497 (established in Dijon, 1494); Aix, 1501; Rouen, 1499 and 1515; Rennes, 1553; Pau, 1620; Metz, 1633; Besancon (at first at Dole), 1676; Douai (at first at Tournay), 1713. The chief officers of these bodies were a first president and nine presidents d mortier, as they were called from the shape of their caps. The parliaments received appeals from the lower tribunals, and had jurisdiction over causes relating to peers, bishops, seneschals, chapters, communities, and bailiwicks; and they registered the laws, edicts, and orders promulgated by the king. The members of these courts were at first appointed by the crown.
Francis I. introduced the practice of selling seats in them, and they continued thenceforth to be objects of purchase. The parliament of Paris, which was at first merely judicial, gradually assumed a considerable degree of political power. It frequently refused to register laws which it did not approve, and held spirited contests with the crown on some occasions. But the king had the right to compel it to register his decrees by appearing in person in the court and giving the order to register, a proceeding which, from some of the attendant forms, was called holding a bed of justice. The parliament of Paris played an important part in the troubles of the Fronde at the beginning of the reign of Louis XIV., and also in the latter part of the reign of his successor. It was finally suppressed, with all the other parliaments of France, by a decree of the constituent assembly, Sept. 7, 1790.