The British Parliamentary System is commonly referred to as the “mother of all Parliaments”. It is the supreme parliamentary body in the United Kingdom and of its overseas territories. The system has three individual components which are separate from each other. These are: The Crown (Queen), The Upper House which is composed of the House of Lords who are appointed by the Queen, in consultation with the Prime minister, and the Lower House or The House of Commons whose members are directly elected in their constituencies (Pertersen, 2005).
In contrast, the United States Congress, which is the legislative bicameral arm of the Federal government of the United States, is composed of two houses: The Senate and the House of Representatives. The members of these houses are directly elected by citizens of the States for the Senate (each state by two senators) and Districts residents for House of Representatives (Remini, 2007).
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The Lower House of the British Parliament or the House of Commons consists of 645democratically elected Members of Parliament. These are elected by the British Population once every five years in constituencies, each constituency having a population of around 91,000 residents (Pertersen, 2005). The other member of the House is the Speaker who is traditionally elected from the winning party in the house and has to resign his seat to maintain impartiality while chairing house debates.
According to the UK parliament website (2009), parliament makes new laws, sets taxes and debates issues. Its primary role is to conduct governments legislative agenda while members represent their various constituencies. On the other hand, The House of Representatives comprises of 435 members each representing a district with an approximate population of around 670,000 residents and serving a two year term. Its primary role is legislation and policy oversight which may or may not coincide with that of the elected government and no member of this house can serve in the cabinet unless he resigns from his seat (US House of Representatives, 2009).
In both houses, a quorum is necessary to pass votes in the house. In the House of Representatives a total number of 218 members represent a quorum assuming no seats are vacant while in the House of Commons no vote is considered official if the number of participating members is less than 40. Also in both houses Yea and Nay voice votes are taken and when a member demands or when the chair is in doubt, a more formal system, called a division or standing vote takes place.
Both houses have committees, and the manner in which they exist and conduct business are different in both houses. Standing committees in the House of Commons are appointed to consider specific bills and are temporary (Pertersen, 2005). Its members come from all major parties. In the House of Representatives, Standing Committee members are more permanent and come from the majority party. Select committees in the House of Commons, usually backbenchers, serve the duration of the term and are there to oversee and review executive operations as well as issue reports to the house. The House of Representatives does not much use these committees, but on occasion uses them to study and report on special subjects. Other committees in the House of Commons include the Grand committee to deal with legislation for Scotland, Wales and Ireland and their members are typically from those lands (Pertersen, 2005). The Committee of the Whole House is used in both Houses to discuss issues with limited time periods.
Debate in the House of Commons is carried out in 150 sessional days annually. Any member can introduce a motion to bring in for discussion/debate. In the House of Representatives, Government legislations proposals have to be introduced by members “by request” and are often referred to the Standing committees after which they may be discussed or discarded on the recommendation of the committee. In both houses Party whips are used to link the party leadership with backbench members for unison of party activity in the house.
Most of the sessional legislations in the House of Commons are controlled by Government (Pertersen, 2005). A bill is typically introduced by a minister and it goes through three readings. The first is the introduction and has no debate. In the second, the bill is discussed by members opposing or agreeing, and then passed on to either Standing committees or the Committees of the Whole house for recommendations. After this, the House may agree with all the recommendations, overturn them or make amendments, after which they agree to the motion to order it to the third reading, to which a final vote of passing proceeds. In the House of Representatives the first reading is when the bill is taken into the house for debate. The second reading is usually not significant and the third is prior to final vote for passage (Remini, 2007).
The Practice of Parliamentary questions to the cabinet is non existent in the House of Representatives, although recommendations to this are being made. In the House of Commons, Ministers are expected to respond to questions from members on four days per week and the Prime minister appears to answer questions at noon on Wednesdays for 30 minutes. In the House of Commons, the leader moves a motion to adjourn to end legislative agenda of the day. As well in the House of Representatives, the Majority Leader calls for an end to legislative agenda for the day.
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