List of entries |  Feedback 
  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)
House of Commons

The lower but more powerful chamber in *parliament, made up of the *MPs who won a seat at the most recent *general election or *by-election. The number of seats in the House has varied: in 1983 the total was increased from 635 to 650 (523 for England, 38 for Wales, 72 for Scotland and 17 for Northern Ireland); an extra seat was added in England in 1992 (Milton Keynes became two constituencies), bringing the total to 651.

The early *Norman rulers gathered their funds from nobles and bishops (the members of the House of *Lords who owed the monarch direct feudal allegiance), but from the 13C the financial needs of the kings compelled them to involve knights from the shires and citizens from the increasingly rich towns. From the 14C the Commons sat in a separate chamber. Their ability to provide money gave them power first over the monarch and then over the upper house; by the end of the 17C it was accepted that the Lords could reject but not amend money bills, and since 1911 they have had no powers at all over financial legislation. In the early 20C the convention was also established that the *prime minister should invariably be in the Commons; the last to hold that office in the Lords was the marquess of *Salisbury (up to 1902).

The independence of the House of Commons was dramatically expressed when Charles I came to arrest the *Five Members, an incident which also emphasized the importance of the *Speaker. The sacrosanct nature of the chamber itself is symbolized by the Bar of the House, two rods which can be drawn across between the end benches (the furthest from the Speaker); anyone summoned to appear before the House stands at the Bar.

The benches run the length of the House, facing the central aisle. Since the 18C the party in power has sat on the left (if one is facing the Speaker) with the Opposition on the right; the leading members of each party sit on the *front benches. These arrangements have become widely familiar with the televising of debates, which began in 1989 after years of delay and controversy (they had been broadcast on radio occasionally from 1975 and on a regular basis from 1978). Sittings normally begin at 2.30 p.m. from Monday to Thursday and at 9.30 a.m. on Fridays.

The chamber was destroyed by bombs on the night of 10 May 1941, but was rebuilt to the same dimensions – with seats for only 437 of the members, thus creating an exciting sense of crush with many having to stand during an important debate.

A  B-BL  BO-BX  C-CH  CI-CX  D  E  F  G  H  IJK  L  M  NO  P  QR  S-SL  SM-SX  T  UV  WXYZ