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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

The legislative assembly of the United Kingdom, consisting of the House of *Lords and the House of *Commons, both of which have their chambers at Westminster in the *Houses of Parliament. The word (deriving from the French parler, to speak) is also applied to the life-span of such an assembly from the time of its being summoned until it is officially dismissed. Nowadays this means the period between one *general election and the next. The life of a parliament is divided into separate sessions, each beginning with a *state opening of parliament.

All rulers, however autocratic, have a council of some kind. The history of the English parliament is essentially the prolonged struggle of such a council to become first independent and then more powerful than the monarch. England was the first country to undertake and achieve this aim, causing John *Bright, in a speech in 1865, to declare her the 'mother of parliaments'.

The word *parliament (from the French parler, to speak) was first used in England in the 13C of an assembly convened by the monarch. It was in this same century that Simon de *Montfort introduced the beginnings of popular representation, and that the pattern of the future was established in the *Model Parliament of 1295.

Over the next two centuries parliament, and in particular the Commons, steadily acquired more power. From 1341 the Commons sat in their own chamber; from 1377 they had their own elected *Speaker; from 1407 they were granted priority over the Lords in the matter of voting funds for the monarch (since the greater part of the burden fell on them); and from 1414 it was accepted that when the Commons had drafted a bill and sent it for royal approval, the monarch could accept or reject it but not amend it.

By the end of the 15C the strength of the Commons was considerable, and in an oblique manner it increased during the 16C. The *Tudor monarchs were autocratic, but it suited them to rule through parliament; and so, though members were unduly compliant to the royal will, the practice of parliamentary government steadily developed. Under the next dynasty, the *Stuarts, the House of Commons finally flexed its muscles. The struggle against *Charles I ended with the execution of the king and the establishment of the *Commonwealth.

The introduction of *constitutional monarchy after the revolution of 1688 led to a century or more in which parliament was at last undeniably the power in the land. But it was increasingly corrupt, representative only of upper-class interests; and the active support of the king was essential if a *prime minister was to remain in power. The final stage in the creation of the modern parliament was the *Reform Act of 1832, inaugurating a gradual extension of the *franchise in a process not finally completed until 1928.

Since 1832 power in parliament has continued to alternate on a *two-party system. The *Conservative party has at all times been one of the contenders; its rival was the *Liberal party until World War I and subsequently the *Labour party.

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