Parliament

Discuss the difference between Common Law and the Statutory Acts made by the Powers that be, (PTB)

Parliament

Postby holy vehm » Sat Nov 19, 2011 8:03 pm

A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name 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.



The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England. In 1066, William of Normandy introduced a feudal system, by which he sought the advice of a council of tenants-in-chief and ecclesiastics before making laws. In 1215, the tenants-in-chief secured Magna Carta from King John, which established that the king might not levy or collect any taxes (except the feudal taxes to which they were hitherto accustomed), save with the consent of his royal council, which gradually developed into a parliament.

Over the centuries, the English Parliament progressively limited the power of the English monarchy which arguably culminated in the English Civil War and the trial and execution of Charles I in 1649. After the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, the supremacy of parliament was a settled principle and all future English and later British sovereigns were restricted to the role of constitutional monarchs with limited executive authority. The Act of Union 1707 merged the English Parliament with the Parliament of Scotland to form the Parliament of Great Britain. When the Parliament of Ireland was abolished in 1801, its former members were merged into what was now called the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Under a monarchical system of government, the monarch usually must consult and seek a measure of acceptance for his policies if he is to enjoy the broad cooperation of his subjects. Early Kings of England had no standing army or police, and so depended on the support of powerful subjects. The monarchy had agents in every part of the country. However, under the feudal system that evolved in England following the Norman Conquest of 1066, the laws of the Crown could not have been upheld without the support of the nobility and the clergy. The former had economic and military power bases of their own through major ownership of land and the feudal obligations of their tenants (some of whom held lands on condition of military service). The Church - then still part of the Roman Catholic Church and so owing ultimate loyalty to Rome - was virtually a law unto itself in this period as it had its own system of religious law courts.

In order to seek consultation and consent from the nobility and the senior clergy on major decisions, post-1066 English monarchs called Great Councils. A typical Great Council would consist of archbishops, bishops, abbots, barons and earls, the pillars of the feudal system.

When this system of consultation and consent broke down it often became impossible for government to function effectively. The two most notorious examples of this prior to the reign of Henry III are Thomas Becket and King John.

Becket, who was Archbishop of Canterbury between 1162 and 1170, was murdered following a long running dispute with Henry II over the jurisdiction of the Church. John, who was king from 1199 to 1216, aroused such hostility from many leading nobles that they forced him to agree to Magna Carta in 1215. John's refusal to adhere to this charter led to civil war (see First Barons' War).

The Great Council evolved into the Parliament of England. The term itself came into use during the early 13th century, deriving from the Latin and French words for discussion and speaking. The word first appears in official documents in the 1230s. As a result of the work by historians G. O. Sayles and H. G. Richardson, it is widely believed that the early parliaments had a judicial as well as a legislative function.

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Kings began to call Knights of the Shire to meet when the monarch saw it as necessary. A notable example of this was in 1254 when sheriffs of counties were instructed to send Knights of the Shire to parliament to advise the king on finance.[1]

Initially, parliaments were mostly summoned when the king needed to raise money through taxes. Following Magna Carta this became a convention. This was due in no small part to the fact that King John died in 1216 and was succeeded by his infant son Henry III. Leading nobles and clergymen governed on Henry's behalf until he came of age, giving them a taste of power that they were not going to relinquish. Among other things, they ensured that Magna Carta was reissued by the young king.




The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland. The Acts created a new unified Kingdom of Great Britain and dissolved the separate English and Scottish parliaments in favour of a single parliament, located in the former home of the English parliament in the Palace of Westminster, London. It lasted nearly a century until the Acts of Union 1800 merged the separate British and Irish Parliaments into a single Parliament of the United Kingdom with effect from 1 January 1801.

Following the Treaty of Union in 1706, Acts of Union, ratifying the Treaty, were passed in both the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland, which created a new Kingdom of Great Britain.[1][2] The Acts dissolved both parliaments, replacing them with a new parliament, referred to as the 'Parliament of Great Britain', based in the home of the former English parliament. All the traditions, procedures, and standing orders of the English parliament were retained, as were the incumbent officers, and members representing England comprised the overwhelming majority of the new body. It was not even considered necessary to hold a new general election. While Scots law and Scottish legislation remained separate, new legislation was now to be dealt with by the new parliament.[3]

After the Hanoverian George I ascended the throne in 1714 through the Act of Settlement of 1701, power began to shift from the Sovereign. George was a German ruler, spoke poor English, and remained interested in his dominions in Europe. He thus entrusted power to a group of his ministers, the foremost of which was Sir Robert Walpole. and by the end of his reign, the position of the ministers—who had to rely on Parliament for support—was cemented. Towards the end of the 18th century the monarch still had considerable influence over Parliament, which was dominated by the English aristocracy, by means of patronage, but had ceased to exert direct power: for instance, the last occasion Royal Assent was withheld, was in 1708 by Queen Anne.[4] At general elections the vote was restricted to freeholders and landowners, in constituencies that were out of date, so that in many "rotten boroughs" seats could be bought while major cities remained unrepresented. Reformers and Radicals sought parliamentary reform, but as the Napoleonic Wars developed the government became repressive against dissent and progress toward reform was stalled.

George III sought to restore royal supremacy, but by the end of his reign, the position of the ministers — who would in turn have to rely on Parliament for support — was cemented.

During the first half of George III's reign, the monarch still had considerable influence over Parliament, which itself was dominated by the influence of the English nobility and by patronage. Most candidates for the House of Commons stood as Whigs or Tories, but once elected formed shifting coalitions of interests rather than splitting along party lines. At general elections the vote was restricted to property owners, in constituencies which were out of date and did not reflect the growing importance of manufacturing towns or shifts of population, so that in rotten boroughs seats could be bought or were controlled by rich landowners, while major cities remained unrepresented. Reformers like William Beckford and Radicals beginning with John Wilkes called for reform of the system. In 1780 a draft programme of reform was drawn up by Charles James Fox and Thomas Brand Hollis, and put forward by a sub-committee of the electors of Westminster. This included calls for the six points later adopted by the Chartists.

The American Revolutionary War ended in humiliating defeat of a policy which King George III had fervently advocated, and in March 1782 the King was forced to appoint an administration led by his opponents which sought to curb Royal patronage. In November 1783 he took his opportunity and used his influence in the House of Lords to defeat a Bill to reform the British East India Company, dismissed the government then appointed William Pitt the Younger as his Prime Minister. Pitt had previously called for Parliament to begin to reform itself, but he did not press for long for reforms the King did not like. Proposals Pitt made in April 1785 to redistribute seats from the "rotten boroughs" to London and the counties were defeated in the House of Commons by 248 votes to 174.

In the wake of the French Revolution of 1789, Radical organisations such as the London Corresponding Society sprang up to press for reform, but as the Napoleonic Wars developed the government took extensive stern measures against feared domestic unrest and progress toward reform was stalled.




The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland[1] (commonly referred to as the British Parliament, the Westminster Parliament or, formerly, the Imperial Parliament) is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London. Parliament alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all other political bodies in the UK and its territories. At its head is the Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II.

The parliament is bicameral, with an upper house, the House of Lords, and a lower house, the House of Commons.[2] The Queen is the third component of the legislature.[3][4] The House of Lords includes two different types of members: the Lords Spiritual (the senior bishops of the Church of England) and the Lords Temporal (members of the Peerage) whose members are not elected by the population at large, but are appointed by the Sovereign on advice of the Prime Minister.[5]

Prior to the opening of the Supreme Court in October 2009 the House of Lords also performed a judicial role through the Law Lords. The House of Commons is a democratically elected chamber with elections to it held at least every five years.[6] The two Houses meet in separate chambers in the Palace of Westminster (commonly known as the Houses of Parliament), in London. By constitutional convention, all government ministers, including the Prime Minister, are members of the House of Commons or, less often, the House of Lords, and are thereby accountable to the respective branches of the legislature.

The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Treaty of Union by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland passing Acts of Union. However, in practice the parliament was a continuation of the English parliament with the addition of Scottish MPs and peers. Parliament was further enlarged by the ratification by the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of Ireland of the Act of Union (1800), which abolished the Irish Parliament; this added 100 Irish members to the Commons and 32 to the Lords to create the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It has been called "the mother of parliaments",[7] its democratic institutions having set the standards for many democracies throughout the world,[8] and the United Kingdom parliament is the largest Anglophone legislative body in the world.[9]

In theory, supreme legislative power is vested in the Queen-in-Parliament; in practice in modern times, real power is vested in the House of Commons, as the Sovereign generally acts on the advice of the Prime Minister, and the powers of the House of Lords have been limited.[10]

Legislative functions
Parliament meets in the Palace of Westminster.Laws can be made by Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament. While Acts can apply to the whole of the United Kingdom including Scotland, due to the continuing separation of Scots law many Acts do not apply to Scotland and are either matched by equivalent Acts that apply to Scotland alone or, since 1999, by legislation set by the Scottish Parliament relating to devolved matters.

This has led to a paradox known as the West Lothian question. The existence of a devolved Scottish Parliament means that while Westminster MPs from Scotland may vote directly on matters that affect English constituencies, they may not have much power over their laws affecting their own constituency. While any Act of the Scottish Parliament may be overturned, amended or ignored by Westminster, in practice this has yet to happen. Furthermore, the existence of the Legislative Consent Motion enables English MPs to vote on issues nominally devolved to Scotland, as part of United Kingdom legislation. Since there is no devolved "English Parliament", the converse is not true.

Laws, in draft form known as bills, may be introduced by any member of either House, but usually a bill is introduced by a Minister of the Crown. A bill introduced by a Minister is known as a "Government Bill"; one introduced by another member is called a "Private Member's Bill". A different way of categorising bills involves the subject. Most bills, involving the general public, are called "Public Bills". A bill that seeks to grant special rights to an individual or small group of individuals, or a body such as a local authority, is called a "Private Bill". A Public Bill which affects private rights (in the way a Private Bill would) is called a "Hybrid Bill".

Private Members' Bills make up the majority of bills, but are far less likely to be passed than government bills. There are three methods for an MP to introduce a Private Member's Bill. The Private Members' Ballot (once per Session) put names into a ballot, and those who win are given time to propose a bill. The Ten Minute Rule is another method, where MPs are granted ten minutes to outline the case for a new piece of legislation. Standing Order 57 is the third method, which allows a bill to be introduced without debate if a day's notice is given to the Table Office. Filibustering is a danger, as an opponent to a bill can waste much of the limited time allotted to it. Private Members' Bills have no chance of success if the current government opposes them, but they are used in moral issues: the bills to decriminalise homosexuality and abortion were Private Members' Bills, for example. Governments can sometimes attempt to use Private Members' Bills to pass things it would rather not be associated with. "Handout bills" are bills which a government hands to MPs who win Private Members' Ballots.

Each Bill goes through several stages in each House. The first stage, called the first reading, is a formality. At the second reading, the general principles of the bill are debated, and the House may vote to reject the bill, by not passing the motion "That the Bill be now read a second time". Defeats of Government Bills are extremely rare, the last being in 2005.

Following the second reading, the bill is sent to a committee. In the House of Lords, the Committee of the Whole House or the Grand Committee are used. Each consists of all members of the House; the latter operates under special procedures, and is used only for uncontroversial bills. In the House of Commons, the bill is usually committed to a Public Bill Committee, consisting of between 16 and 50 members, but the Committee of the Whole House is used for important legislation. Several other types of committees, including Select Committees, may be used, but rarely. A committee considers the bill clause by clause, and reports the bill as amended to the House, where further detailed consideration ("consideration stage" or "report stage") occurs. However, a practice which used to be called the kangaroo (Standing Order 32) allows the Speaker to select which amendments are debated. This device is also used under Standing Order 89 by the committee chairman, to restrict debate in committee.

Once the House has considered the bill, the third reading follows. In the House of Commons, no further amendments may be made, and the passage of the motion "That the Bill be now read a third time" is passage of the whole bill. In the House of Lords further amendments to the bill may be moved. After the passage of the third reading motion, the House of Lords must vote on the motion "That the Bill do now pass." Following its passage in one House, the bill is sent to the other House. If passed in identical form by both Houses, it may be presented for the Sovereign's Assent. If one House passes amendments that the other will not agree to, and the two Houses cannot resolve their disagreements, the bill fails.

However, since the passage of the Parliament Act 1911 the power of the House of Lords to reject bills passed by the House of Commons has been restricted, and further restrictions were placed by the Parliament Act 1949. If the House of Commons passes a public bill in two successive sessions, and the House of Lords rejects it both times, the Commons may direct that the bill be presented to the Sovereign for his or her Assent, disregarding the rejection of the Bill in the House of Lords. In each case, the bill must be passed by the House of Commons at least one calendar month before the end of the session. The provision does not apply to bills originated in the House of Lords, to bills seeking to extend the duration of a Parliament beyond five years, or to Private Bills. A special procedure applies in relation to bills classified by the Speaker of the House of Commons as "Money Bills". A Money Bill concerns solely national taxation or public funds; the Speaker's certificate is deemed conclusive under all circumstances. If the House of Lords fails to pass a Money Bill within one month of its passage in the House of Commons, the Lower House may direct that the Bill be submitted for the Sovereign's Assent immediately.

Even before the passage of the Parliament Acts, the Commons possessed pre-eminence in cases of financial matters. By ancient custom, the House of Lords may not introduce a bill relating to taxation or Supply, nor amend a bill so as to insert a provision relating to taxation or Supply, nor amend a Supply Bill in any way. The House of Commons is free to waive this privilege, and sometimes does so to allow the House of Lords to pass amendments with financial implications. The House of Lords remains free to reject bills relating to Supply and taxation, but may be overruled easily if the bills are Money Bills. (A bill relating to revenue and Supply may not be a Money Bill if, for example, it includes subjects other than national taxation and public funds).

The last stage of a bill involves the granting of the Royal Assent. Theoretically, the Sovereign may either grant the Royal Assent (that is, make the bill a law) or withhold it (that is, veto the bill). Under modern conventions the Sovereign always grants the Royal Assent, in the Norman French words "La reyne le veult" (the Queen wishes it; "Le roy" instead in the case of a king). The last refusal to grant the Assent was in 1708, when Queen Anne withheld her Assent from a bill "for the settling of Militia in Scotland", in the words "La reyne s'avisera" (the Queen will think it over).

Thus, every bill obtains the assent of all three components of Parliament before it becomes law (except where the House of Lords is over-ridden under the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949). The words "BE IT ENACTED by the Queen's [King's] most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:-", or, where the House of Lords' authority has been overridden by use of the Parliament Acts, the words "BE IT ENACTED by The Queen's [King's] most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Commons in this present Parliament assembled, in accordance with the provisions of the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949, and by the authority of the same, as follows:-" appear near the beginning of each Act of Parliament. These words are known as the enacting formula.

[edit] Judicial functionsPrior to the creation of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in October 2009, Parliament also used to perform several judicial functions. The Queen-in-Parliament constituted the highest court in the realm for most purposes, but the Privy Council had jurisdiction in some cases (for instance, appeals from ecclesiastical courts). The jurisdiction of Parliament arose from the ancient custom of petitioning the Houses to redress grievances and to do justice. The House of Commons ceased considering petitions to reverse the judgements of lower courts in 1399, effectively leaving the House of Lords as the court of last resort. In modern times, the judicial functions of the House of Lords were performed not by the whole House, but by a group of "Lords of Appeal in Ordinary" (judges granted life peerage dignities under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 by the Sovereign) and by "Lords of Appeal" (other peers with experience in the judiciary). However, under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, these judicial functions were transferred to the newly created Supreme Court in 2009, and the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary became the first Justices of the Court. Peers who hold high judicial office are no longer allowed to vote or speak in the Lords until they retire as Justices.

In the late 19th century, Acts allowed for the appointment of Scottish Lords of Appeal in Ordinary and ended appeal in Scottish criminal matters to the House of Lords, so that the High Court of Justiciary became the highest criminal court in Scotland. Nowadays the House of Lords legislative committee usually has a minimum of two Scottish Judges to ensure that some experience of Scots law is brought to bear on Scottish appeals in civil cases, from the Court of Session.

Certain other judicial functions have historically been performed by the House of Lords. Until 1948, it was the body in which peers had to be tried for felonies or high treason; now, they are tried by normal juries. When the House of Commons impeaches an individual, the trial takes place in the House of Lords. Impeachments are now rare; the last one occurred in 1806. In 2006, a number of MPs attempted to revive the custom, having signed a motion for the impeachment of Tony Blair, but this was unsuccessful.

[edit] Relationship with the GovernmentThe British Government is answerable to the House of Commons. However, neither the Prime Minister nor members of the Government are elected by the House of Commons. Instead, the Queen requests the person most likely to command the support of a majority in the House, normally the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons, to form a government. So that they may be accountable to the Lower House, the Prime Minister and most members of the Cabinet are, by convention, members of the House of Commons. The last Prime Minister to be a member of the House of Lords was Alec Douglas-Home, 14th Earl of Home, who became Prime Minister in 1963. To adhere to the convention under which he was responsible to the Lower House, he disclaimed his peerage and procured election to the House of Commons within days of becoming Prime Minister.

Governments have a tendency to dominate the legislative functions of Parliament, by using their in-built majority in the House of Commons, and sometimes using their patronage power to appoint supportive peers in the Lords.[dubious – discuss] In practice, governments can pass any legislation (within reason) in the Commons they wish, unless there is major dissent by MPs in the governing party.[dubious – discuss] But even in these situations, it is highly unlikely a bill will be defeated, though dissenting MPs may be able to extract concessions from the government. In 1976, Lord Hailsham created a now widely used name for this behaviour, in an academic paper called "elective dictatorship".

Parliament controls the executive by passing or rejecting its Bills and by forcing Ministers of the Crown to answer for their actions, either at "Question Time" or during meetings of the parliamentary committees. In both cases, Ministers are asked questions by members of their Houses, and are obliged to answer.

Although the House of Lords may scrutinise the executive through Question Time and through its committees, it cannot bring down the Government. A ministry must always retain the confidence and support of the House of Commons. The Lower House may indicate its lack of support by rejecting a Motion of Confidence or by passing a Motion of No Confidence. Confidence Motions are generally originated by the Government in order to reinforce its support in the House, whilst No Confidence Motions are introduced by the Opposition. The motions sometimes take the form "That this House has [no] confidence in Her Majesty's Government" but several other varieties, many referring to specific policies supported or opposed by Parliament, are used. For instance, a Confidence Motion of 1992 used the form, "That this House expresses the support for the economic policy of Her Majesty's Government." Such a motion may theoretically be introduced in the House of Lords, but, as the Government need not enjoy the confidence of that House, would not be of the same effect as a similar motion in the House of Commons; the only modern instance of such an occurrence involves the 'No Confidence' motion that was introduced in 1993 and subsequently defeated.

Many votes are considered votes of confidence, although not including the language mentioned above. Important bills that form part of the Government's agenda (as stated in the Speech from the Throne) are generally considered matters of confidence. The defeat of such a bill by the House of Commons indicates that a Government no longer has the confidence of that House. The same effect is achieved if the House of Commons "withdraws Supply", that is, rejects the budget.

Where a Government has lost the confidence of the House of Commons, the Prime Minister is obliged either to resign, or seek the dissolution of Parliament and a new general election. Where a Prime Minister has ceased to retain a majority in that vote and requests a dissolution, the Sovereign can in theory reject his request, forcing his resignation and allowing the Leader of the Opposition to be asked to form a new government. This power is used extremely rarely. The conditions that should be met to allow such a refusal are known as the Lascelles Principles. These conditions and principles are merely informal conventions; it is possible, though highly improbable, for the Sovereign to refuse dissolution for no reason at all.

In practice, the House of Commons' scrutiny of the Government is very weak. Since the first-past-the-post electoral system is employed in elections, the governing party tends to enjoy a large majority in the Commons; there is often limited need to compromise with other parties. Modern British political parties are so tightly organised that they leave relatively little room for free action by their MPs. In many cases, MPs may be expelled from their parties for voting against the instructions of party leaders. During the 20th century, the Government has lost confidence issues only three times—twice in 1924, and once in 1979.

[edit] Sovereignty
Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Northern Ireland is home to the Northern Ireland Assembly.Several different views have been taken of Parliament's sovereignty. According to the jurist Sir William Blackstone, "It has sovereign and uncontrollable authority in making, confirming, enlarging, restraining, abrogating, repealing, reviving, and expounding of laws, concerning matters of all possible denominations, ecclesiastical, or temporal, civil, military, maritime, or criminal ... it can, in short, do every thing that is not naturally impossible."

A different view has been taken by the Scottish judge Lord Cooper of Culross. When he decided the 1953 case of MacCormick v. Lord Advocate as Lord President of the Court of Session, he stated, "The principle of unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle and has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law." He continued, "Considering that the Union legislation extinguished the Parliaments of Scotland and England and replaced them by a new Parliament, I have difficulty in seeing why the new Parliament of Great Britain must inherit all the peculiar characteristics of the English Parliament but none of the Scottish." Nevertheless, he did not give a conclusive opinion on the subject.

Thus, the question of Parliamentary sovereignty appears to remain unresolved. Parliament has not passed any Act defining its own sovereignty. A related possible limitation on Parliament relates to the Scottish legal system and Presbyterian faith, preservation of which were Scottish preconditions to the creation of the unified Parliament. Since the Parliament of the United Kingdom was set up in reliance on these promises, it may be that it has no power to make laws that break them.

Parliament's power has often been eroded by its own Acts. Acts passed in 1921 and 1925 granted the Church of Scotland complete independence in ecclesiastical matters. More recently, its power has been restricted by membership of the European Union, which has the power to make laws enforceable in each member state. In the Factortame case, the European Court of Justice ruled that British courts could have powers to overturn British legislation contravening European law.

Parliament has also created national devolved parliaments and assemblies with differing degrees of legislative authority in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Parliament still has the power over areas for which responsibility lies with the devolved institutions, but would gain the agreement of those institutions to act on their behalf. Similarly, it has granted the power to make regulations to Ministers of the Crown, and the power to enact religious legislation to the General Synod of the Church of England. (Measures of the General Synod and, in some cases proposed statutory instruments made by ministers, must be approved by both Houses before they become law.)

In every case aforementioned, authority has been conceded by Act of Parliament and may be taken back in the same manner. It is entirely within the authority of Parliament, for example, to abolish the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland or to leave the EU. However, Parliament also revoked its legislative competence over Australia and Canada with the Australia and Canada Acts: although the Parliament of the United Kingdom could pass an Act reversing its action, it would not take effect in Australia or Canada as the competence of the Imperial Parliament is no longer recognised there in law.

One well-recognised exception to Parliament's power involves binding future Parliaments. No Act of Parliament may be made secure from amendment or repeal by a future Parliament. For example, although the Act of Union 1800 states that the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland are to be united "forever", Parliament permitted southern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom in 1922.

[edit] PrivilegesMain article: Parliamentary privilege
Each House of Parliament possesses and guards various ancient privileges. The House of Lords relies on inherent right. In the case of the House of Commons, the Speaker goes to the Lords' Chamber at the beginning of each new Parliament and requests representatives of the Sovereign to confirm the Lower House's "undoubted" privileges and rights. The ceremony observed by the House of Commons dates to the reign of King Henry VIII. Each House is the guardian of its privileges, and may punish breaches thereof. The extent of parliamentary privilege is based on law and custom. Sir William Blackstone states that these privileges are "very large and indefinite", and cannot be defined except by the Houses of Parliament themselves.

The foremost privilege claimed by both Houses is that of freedom of speech in debate; nothing said in either House may be questioned in any court or other institution outside Parliament. Another privilege claimed is that of freedom from arrest; at one time this was held to apply for any arrest except for high treason, felony or breach of the peace but it now excludes any arrest on criminal charges; it applies during a session of Parliament, and 40 days before or after such a session.[13] Members of both Houses are no longer privileged from service on juries.[14]

Both Houses possess the power to punish breaches of their privilege. Contempt of Parliament—for example, disobedience of a subpoena issued by a committee—may also be punished. The House of Lords may imprison an individual for any fixed period of time, but an individual imprisoned by the House of Commons is set free upon prorogation.[15] The punishments imposed by either House may not be challenged in any court, and the Human Rights Act does not apply.[16]


"A ruler who violates the law is illegitimate. He has no right to be obeyed. His commands are mere force and coercion. Rulers who act lawlessly, whose laws are unlawful, are mere criminals".
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