About the Palace of Westminster

Parliament: The political institution

Parliament, as a political institution, has developed over hundreds of years. During that period the two distinct Houses – Commons and Lords – emerged and the balance of power between Parliament and the monarchy changed dramatically.

Origins of Parliament – King’s councils

The origins of Parliament go back to the 12th century, when King’s councils were held involving barons and archbishops. They discussed politics and were involved in taxation and judgments.

Over time, these councils took a more formal role and saw knights representing each county. This was the beginning of a Commons element in Parliament. The word ‘Parliament’ was used to describe these meetings by the early 13th century.

Two Houses

By the 14th century two distinct Houses, the Commons and the Lords, had developed. The Commons involved representatives from counties, towns and cities, the Lords already consisted of members of the nobility and clergy.

Parliament and the monarchy

During the 15th century, King Henry V put the Commons on an equal footing with the Lords.

The 17th century saw civil war break out between supporters of Parliament and the monarchy. King Charles I was executed on 30 January 1649 and a Commonwealth led by Oliver Cromwell established. During the years 1649 to 1660 a series of Parliaments were elected using different constitutional rules.

In 1660 the monarchy was restored under King Charles II.

The Bill of Rights was agreed in 1689. This established Parliament’s authority over the monarch: Parliament would be responsible for passing or repealing all laws.

Parliament and the home nations

The 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland saw the nations’ individual Parliaments replaced by the new Parliament of Great Britain.

After the 1800 Act of Union with Ireland, the Dublin Parliament was abolished and Irish MPs and Lords were represented in the Westminster Parliament.

Parliament Acts – 1911 and 1949

The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 increased the authority of the Commons over the Lords when passing new laws. The Acts removed the powers of the Lords to amend any Bills concerning money and reduced the amount of time they could delay a Bill.

For more information about Parliament Past and Present click here