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Facts and History of the British Parliament for Kids

Gathered by: Will

  • The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the British Parliament, Westminster Parliament or simply “Westminster”, is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories.
  • The parliament is bicameral, with an upper house, the House of Lords, and a lower house, the House of Commons.
  • 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 the advice of the Prime Minister.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The principle of ministerial responsibility to the lower House did not develop until the 19th century—the House of Lords was superior to the House of Commons both in theory and in practice.
  • In many cases, members of the Upper House also controlled tiny constituencies, known as pocket or rotten boroughs, and could ensure the election of their relatives or supporters.
  • Using the result as a mandate, the Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, introduced the Parliament bill, which sought to restrict the powers of the House of Lords.
  • When the Lords refused to pass the bill, Asquith countered with a promise extracted from the King in secret before the second general election of 1910 and requested the creation of several hundred Liberal peers so as to erase the Conservative majority in the House of Lords.
  • The legislative authority, the Crown-in-Parliament, has three separate elements: the Monarch, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons.
  • Royal Assent of the Monarch is required for all Bills to become law, and certain Delegated Legislation must be made by the Monarch by Order in Council.
  • The highest court in England & Wales and Northern Ireland used to be a committee of the House of Lords, but it became an independent supreme court in 2009.
  • The State Opening of Parliament is an annual event that marks the commencement of a session of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
  • 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.
  • The Private Members’ Ballot (once per Session) put names into a ballot, and those who win are given time to propose a bill.
  • 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.
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