- This article is about the legislative institution. For alternative meanings, see: Parliament (disambiguation).
The debating chamber or 'hemicycle' of the European Parliament in Brussels.
A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system derived from that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French parlement, the action of parler (to speak) : a parlement is a talk, a discussion, hence a meeting (an assembly, a court) where people discuss matters. While all parliaments are legislatures, not all legislatures are parliaments.
The British Parliament is traditionally referred to as the "Mother of Parliaments" because it has been the model for most other parliamentary systems, and its Acts have created many other parliaments. The first English Parliament was formed during the reign of King Henry III in the 13th century. 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 over 600 members who are directly elected by British citizens to represent various cities, communities, and other electoral districts. The party that can win the most seats in the House of Commons forms the government, and the party leader becomes the Prime Minister and head of government. Legislation originates from and is voted on by members of the House of Commons. If passed, it goes to the House of Lords. The House of Lords is a body of long-serving, unelected members: 92 of whom inherit their seats and 574 of whom have been appointed to lifetime seats. The Lords must vote to approve all legislation from the House before it can go before the monarch and receive the formal ratification to become a law (however, under certain circumstances the House of Commons may overrule it using the Parliament Acts). In addition, specific members of the House of Lords act as the ultimate court of appeal in the United Kingdom.
In a similar fashion, most other nations with parliaments have to some degree emulated the British, "three-tier" model. Most countries in Europe and the Commonwealth have similarly organized parliaments with a largely ceremonial Head of State who formally opens and closes parliament, a large elected lower house (usually called the "House of Represenatives") and a smaller, upper house. The lower house is almost always the originator of legislation, and the upper house is the body that offers the "second look" and decides whether to veto or approve the bills. This style of two houses is called bicameral; also parliaments with only one house exist (see unicameralism).
A parliament's lower house is usually composed of at least 200 members, in countries with populations of over 3 million. The number of seats rarely exceeds 400, even in very large countries. The upper house customarily has anywhere from 20, 50, or 100 seats, but almost always significantly fewer than the lower house.
A nation's 'Prime Minister' 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 parliament lose faith in the leader for whatever reason, they can often call a vote of no confidence and force the PM to resign. New elections are often called shortly thereafter.
Parliaments can be contrasted with congresses in the model of the United States. Typically, congresses do not select or dismiss the head of government, and cannot themselves be dissolved early as is often the case for parliaments.
List of parliaments
Last updated: 10-23-2005 19:29:37