Westminster system

The Westminster system is a parliamentary system of government developed in the United Kingdom. This term comes from the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British Parliament. The system is a series of procedures for operating a legislature. It is used, or was once used, in the national and subnational legislatures of most former British Empire colonies upon gaining responsible government,[1][2] beginning with the first of the Canadian provinces in 1848 and the six Australian colonies between 1855 and 1890.[3][4][5] However, some former colonies have since adopted either the presidential system (Nigeria for example) or a hybrid system (like South Africa) as their form of government.

The Westminster system of government is often contrasted with the presidential system that originated in the United States, or with the semi-presidential system, based on the government of France.

Houses.of.parliament.overall.arp
The British Houses of Parliament are situated within the Palace of Westminster, in London

Characteristics

A Westminster system of government may include some of the following features:[6]

Most of the procedures of the Westminster system originated with the conventions, practices, and precedents of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which form a part of what is known as the Constitution of the United Kingdom. Unlike the uncodified British constitution, most countries that use the Westminster system have codified the system, at least in part, in a written constitution.

However, uncodified conventions, practices, and precedents continue to play a significant role in most countries, as many constitutions do not specify important elements of procedure: for example, some older constitutions using the Westminster system do not mention the existence of the cabinet or the prime minister, because these offices were taken for granted by the authors of these constitutions. Sometimes these conventions, reserve powers, and other influences collide in times of crisis and in such times the weaknesses of the unwritten aspects of the Westminster system, as well as the strengths of the Westminster system's flexibility, are put to the test. As an illustrative example, in the Australian constitutional crises of 1975 the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and replaced him with opposition leader Malcolm Fraser.

Summary of the Typical Structure of The Westminster Model:

Type:

Bicameral (unicameral in some circumstances)

  • Upper House (approves laws)
  • Lower House (represents the people)

Leadership of Parliament:

Head of State: Monarch or Ceremonial President (otherwise represented by a Vice-Regal/Governor or Governor-General)

Head of Government:

  • Prime Minister (sovereign state/country)
  • Premier/Chief Minister (provinces, states, territories)
  • Other titles include, First Minister, Chief Executive, President of the Council of Ministers.

Speaker of The Upper House

Speaker of The Lower House

General:

  • Government: Led by the Prime Minister. A cabinet is formed out of the government, chosen by the Head of Government. The Government is responsible for representing the interests and values of the people it serves. It is also responsible to the rest of parliament, in that it is accountable and subject to obligation and report to the parliament.
  • Opposition:  Led by the Leader of The Opposition. A shadow cabinet is formed out of the opposition, chosen by the party leader.
  • Public Service: Available to the people of the state, that will work for various government organisations (Health, Education, Defense)
  • Armed Forces: Defensive organisation of the state/country.

Operation

The pattern of executive functions within a Westminster System is quite complex. In essence, the head of state, usually a monarch or president, is a ceremonial figurehead who is the theoretical, nominal or de jure source of executive power within the system. In practice, such a figure does not actively exercise executive powers, even though executive authority may be exercised in their name.

The head of government, usually called the prime minister or premier, will ideally have the support of a majority in the responsible house, and must in any case be able to ensure the existence of no absolute majority against the government. If the parliament passes a resolution of no confidence, or refuses to pass an important bill such as the budget, then the government must either resign so that a different government can be appointed or seek a parliamentary dissolution so that new general elections may be held in order to re-confirm or deny the government's mandate.

Executive authority within a Westminster System is essentially exercised by the Cabinet, along with more junior ministers, although the head of government usually has the dominant role within the ministry. In the United Kingdom, the sovereign theoretically holds executive authority, even though the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Cabinet effectively implement executive powers. In a parliamentary republic like India, the President is the de jure executive, even though executive powers are essentially instituted by the Prime Minister of India and the Council of Ministers. In Israel, however, executive power is vested de jure and de facto in the cabinet, and the President of Israel is de jure and de facto a ceremonial figurehead.

As an example, the Prime Minister and Cabinet (as the de facto executive body in the system) generally must seek the permission of the head of state when carrying out executive functions. If, for instance the British Prime Minister wished to dissolve parliament in order for a general election to take place, the Prime Minister is constitutionally bound to request permission from the sovereign in order to attain such a wish. This power (along with others such as appointing ministers in the government, appointing diplomats, declaring war, and signing treaties, for example) is known as the Royal Prerogative, which in modern times is exercised by the sovereign solely on the advice of the Prime Minister. Since the British sovereign is a constitutional monarch, he or she abides by the advice of his or her ministers, except when executing reserve powers in times of crisis.

This custom also occurs in other Westminster Systems in the world, in consequence from the influence of British colonial rule. In Commonwealth realms such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the Prime Minister is obligated to seek permission from the Governor-General when implementing executive decisions, in a manner similar to the British practice. An analogous scenario also exists in Commonwealth republics, such as India or Trinidad and Tobago, where there is a President, though not in Israel or Japan, where the respective prime ministers have the full legal power to implement executive decisions, and presidential (in Israel) or imperial (in Japan) approval is not required.

The head of state will often hold meetings with the head of government and cabinet, as a means of keeping abreast of governmental policy and as a means of advising, consulting and warning ministers in their actions. Such a practice takes place in the United Kingdom and India. In the UK, the sovereign holds confidential weekly meetings with the Prime Minister to discuss governmental policy and to offer her opinions and advice on issues of the day. In India, the Prime Minister is constitutionally bound to hold regular sessions with the President, in a similar manner to the aforementioned British practice. In essence, the head of state, as the theoretical executive authority, "reigns but does not rule". This phrase means that the head of state's role in government is generally ceremonial and as a result does not directly institute executive powers. The reserve powers of the head of state are sufficient to ensure compliance with some of their wishes. However, the extent of such powers varies from one country to another and is often a matter of controversy.

Such an executive arrangement first emerged in the United Kingdom. Historically, the British sovereign held and directly exercised all executive authority. George I of Great Britain (reigned 1714 to 1727) was the first British monarch to delegate some executive powers to a Prime Minister and a cabinet of the ministers, largely because he was also the monarch of Hanover in Germany and did not speak English fluently. Over time, arrangement continued to exercise executive authority on the sovereign's behalf. Such a concept was reinforced in The English Constitution (1876) by Walter Bagehot, who distinguished between the separate "dignified" and "efficient" functions of government. The sovereign should be a focal point for the nation ("dignified"), while the PM and cabinet actually undertook executive decisions ("efficient").

Role of the head of state

The head of state or his or her representative (such as a governor-general) formally appoints as the head of government whomever commands the confidence of the elected chamber of the legislature and invites him or her to form a government. In the UK, this is known as kissing hands. Although the dissolution of the legislature and the call for new elections is formally performed by the head of state, the head of state, by convention, acts according to the wishes of the head of government.

A president, monarch, or governor-general might possess clearly significant reserve powers. Examples of the use of such powers include the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975 and the Canadian King–Byng affair in 1926. The Lascelles Principles were an attempt to create a convention to cover similar situations, but have not been tested in practice. Because of differences in their written constitutions, the formal powers of monarchs, governors-general, and presidents vary greatly from one country to another. However, as sovereigns and governors-general are not elected, and some presidents may not be directly elected by the people, they are often shielded from any public disapproval stemming from unilateral or controversial use of their powers.

Cabinet government

In the book The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot emphasised the divide of the constitution into two components, the Dignified (that part which is symbolic) and the Efficient (the way things actually work and get done), and called the Efficient "Cabinet Government".[9] Although there have been many works since emphasising different aspects of the "Efficient", no one has seriously questioned Bagehot's premise that the divide exists in the Westminster system, though Israel and Japan operates without the "Dignified" part of government.

Members of the Cabinet are collectively seen as responsible for government policy, a policy termed cabinet collective responsibility. All Cabinet decisions are made by consensus, a vote is rarely taken in a Cabinet meeting. All ministers, whether senior and in the Cabinet, or junior ministers, must support the policy of the government publicly regardless of any private reservations. When a Cabinet reshuffle is imminent, a lot of time is taken up in the conversations of politicians and in the news media, speculating on who will, or will not, be moved in and out of the Cabinet by the Prime Minister, because the appointment of ministers to the Cabinet, and threat of dismissal from the Cabinet, is the single most powerful constitutional power which a Prime Minister has in the political control of the Government in the Westminster system.

The Official Opposition and other major political parties not in the Government, will mirror the governmental organisation with their own Shadow Cabinet made up of Shadow Ministers.

Bicameral and unicameral parliaments

Canadian Parliament at night
Canadian Parliament at night
New Delhi government block 03-2016 img3
The Sansad Bhavan (संसद भवन) (Parliament House) building in New Delhi, India
MalaysianParliament
The Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
LeinsterHouseDublin2010
Dáil Éireann building Leinster House in Dublin, Ireland

In a Westminster system, some members of parliament are elected by popular vote, while others are appointed. Nearly all Westminster-based parliaments have a lower house with powers based on those of the House of Commons (under various names), comprising local, elected representatives of the people (with the only exception being elected entirely by nationwide Proportional Representation). Most also have a smaller upper house, which is made up of members chosen by various methods:

In the UK, the lower house is the de facto legislative body, while the upper house practices restraint in exercising its constitutional powers and serves as a consultative body. In other Westminster countries, however, the upper house can sometimes exercise considerable power.

Some Westminster-derived parliaments are unicameral for two reasons:

Hong Kong, a former British crown colony and currently a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China, has a unicameral Legislative Council. While the Legislative Councils in British Australasian and North American colonies were unelected upper houses and some of them had since abolished themselves, the Legislative Council of Hong Kong has remained the sole chamber and had in 1995 evolved into a fully elected house, yet only part of the seats are returned by universal suffrage. Responsible government was never granted during British colonial rule, and the Governor remained the head of government until the transfer of sovereignty in 1997, when the role was replaced by the Chief Executive. Secretaries had remained to be chosen by the Chief Executive not from the Legislative Council, and their appointments need not be approved by the Legislative Council. Although essentially more presidential than parliamentary, the Legislative Council had inherited many elements of the Westminster system, including parliamentary powers, privileges and immunity, and the right to conduct inquiries, amongst others. Minutes are known as Hansards, and the theme colour of the meeting chamber is red as in other upper houses. Government secretaries and other officials are seated on the right hand side of the President in the chamber. The Chief Executive may dissolve the Legislative Council under certain conditions, and is obliged to resign, e.g., when a re-elected Legislative Council passes again a bill that he or she had refused to sign.

'Washminster' system of Australia

Australia is, in many respects, a unique hybrid with influences from the United States Constitution as well as from the traditions and conventions of the Westminster system. Australia is exceptional because the government faces a fully elected upper house, the Senate, which must be willing to pass all its legislation. Although government is formed in the lower house, the House of Representatives, the support of the Senate is necessary in order to govern. The Senate maintains the ability similar to that held by the British House of Lords, prior to the enactment of the Parliament Act 1911, to block supply against the government of the day. A government that is unable to obtain supply can be dismissed by the Governor-General: however, this is generally considered a last resort and is a highly controversial decision to take, given the conflict between the traditional concept of confidence as derived from the lower house and the ability of the Senate to block supply. Many political scientists have held that the Australian system of government was consciously devised as a blend or hybrid of the Westminster and the United States systems of government, especially since the Australian Senate is a powerful upper house like the U.S. Senate; this notion is expressed in the nickname "the Washminster mutation".[11] The ability of upper houses to block supply also features in the parliaments of most Australian states.

Ceremonies

The Westminster system has a very distinct appearance when functioning, with many British customs incorporated into day-to-day government function. A Westminster-style parliament is usually a long, rectangular room, with two rows of seats and desks on either side, and in some countries with a perpendicular row of seats and desks at the furthermost point from the Speaker's Chair at the opposite end of the chamber. In the Australian Parliament, in both the Upper House (Senate) and the Lower House (House of Representatives), the rows of chairs and desks are rounded at the end, opposite to the Speaker's Chair. This area in which the rows are rounded at one end of the chamber, is usually where the independent parties and minor parties are situated. The chairs in which both the government and opposition sit, are positioned so that the two rows are facing each other. This arrangement is said to have derived from an early Parliament which was held in a church choir. Traditionally, the opposition parties will sit in one row of seats, and the government party will sit in the other. Of course, sometimes a majority government is so large that it must use the "opposition" seats as well. In the lower house at Westminster (the House of Commons) there are lines on the floor in front of the government and opposition benches that members may cross only when exiting the chamber. It is often rumoured that the distance between the lines is that of the length of two swords although no documentary evidence exists to support this and, in fact, weapons have never been allowed in the Palace of Westminster at any time.

At one end of the room sits a large chair, for the Speaker of the House. The speaker usually wears black robes, and in some countries, a wig. Robed parliamentary clerks often sit at narrow tables between the two rows of seats, as well. These narrow tables in the centre of the chamber, is usually where ministers or members of the house come to speak.

Other ceremonies sometimes associated with the Westminster system include an annual Speech from the Throne (or equivalent) in which the Head of State gives a special address (written by the government) to parliament about what kind of policies to expect in the coming year, and lengthy State Opening of Parliament ceremonies that often involve the presentation of a large ceremonial mace.

Current countries

Countries that use variations on the theme of the Westminster system, as of 2018, include the following:

Country Parliament System of Govt. Notes
Antigua and Barbuda Antigua and Barbuda Parliament:
Senate
House of Representatives
Monarchy
Australia Australia Parliament:
Senate
House of Representatives
Monarchy Federated Nation, meaning that the power to govern the country and its people, is shared and divided between national and state governments.
The Bahamas The Bahamas Parliament:
Senate
House of Assembly
Monarchy
Bermuda Bermuda Parliament:
Senate of Bermuda
House of Assembly
Monarchy
Bangladesh Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad Republic
Barbados Barbados Parliament:
Senate
House of Assembly
Monarchy
Belize Belize National Assembly:
Senate
House of Assembly
Monarchy
Canada Canada Parliament of Canada:
Senate
House of Commons
Monarchy Federated Nation, meaning that the power to govern the country and its people, is shared and divided between national and provincial governments.
Dominica Dominica House of Assembly Republic
Grenada Grenada Parliament:
Senate
House of Representatives
Monarchy
India India Parliament:
Rajya Sabha
Lok Sabha
Republic Federated Nation, meaning that the power to govern the country and its people, is shared and divided between national and state governments.
Republic of Ireland Ireland Oireachtas:
Seanad Éireann
Dáil Éireann
Republic
Israel Israel Knesset Republic Disintermediated Westminster system: Powers which would have been exercised by the President of Israel are divided between the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and the speaker of the legislature.
Japan Japan National Diet:
House of Councillors
House of Representatives
Monarchy Disintermediated Westminster system: many non-reserve powers which would have been exercised by the Emperor of Japan on the advice of the Cabinet in an unmodified system are exercised directly by the Prime Minister, and Imperial reserve powers do not exist.
Jamaica Jamaica Parliament:
Senate
House of Representatives
Monarchy
Kuwait Kuwait National Assembly Monarchy
Malaysia Malaysia Parliament:
Dewan Negara
Dewan Rakyat
Constitutional monarchy The Yang-di-Pertuan Agong shares characteristics of heads of state in both monarchies and republics.
Malta Malta Parliament Republic
Mauritius Mauritius National Assembly Republic
Nauru Nauru Parliament Republic
Nepal Nepal Parliament Republic[12]
New Zealand New Zealand Parliament Monarchy
Pakistan Pakistan Parliament:
Senate
National Assembly
Islamic Republic
Papua New Guinea Papua New Guinea Parliament Monarchy
Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Kitts and Nevis National Assembly Monarchy
Saint Lucia Saint Lucia Parliament:
Senate
House of Assembly
Monarchy
Singapore Singapore Parliament Republic
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Saint Vincent and the Grenadines House of Assembly Monarchy
Solomon Islands Solomon Islands Parliament of the Solomon Islands Monarchy
Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago Parliament:
Senate
House of Representatives
Republic
Tuvalu Tuvalu Parliament Monarchy
United Kingdom United Kingdom Parliament:
House of Lords
House of Commons
Monarchy
Vanuatu Vanuatu Parliament Republic

Former countries

The Westminster system was adopted by a number of countries which subsequently evolved or reformed their system of government departing from the original model. In some cases, certain aspects of the Westminster system were retained or codified in their constitutions. For instance South Africa and Botswana, unlike Commonwealth realms or parliamentary republics such as India, have a combined head of state and head of government but the President remains responsible to the lower house of parliament; it elects the President at the beginning of a new Parliament, or when there is a vacancy in the office, or when the sitting President is defeated on a vote of confidence. If the Parliament cannot elect a new President within a short period of time (a week to a month) the lower house is dissolved and new elections are called.

  • The Union of South Africa between 1910 and 1961, and the Republic of South Africa between 1961 and 1984. The 1983 constitution abolished the Westminster system in South Africa.
  • Newfoundland gave up self-government in 1934 and reverted to direct rule from London. Use of the Westminster system resumed in 1949 when Newfoundland became a province of Canada.
  • Rhodesia between 1965 and 1979, and Zimbabwe between 1980 and 1987. The 1987 constitution abolished the Westminster system.
  • Nigeria following the end of British colonial rule in 1960, which resulted in the appointment of a Governor-General and then a President, Nnamdi Azikiwe. The system ended with the military coup of 1966.
  • Ceylon between 1948 and 1972, and Sri Lanka from 1972 until 1978 when the constitution was remodelled into an Executive presidential system.
  • Burma following independence in 1948 until the 1962 military coup d'état.
  • Ghana between 1957 and 1960.
  • Swaziland between 1968 and 1973.
  • Tanganyika between 1961 and 1962.
  • Sierra Leone between 1961 and 1971.
  • Uganda between 1962 and 1963.
  • Kenya between 1963 and 1964.
  • Malawi between 1964 and 1966.
  • The Gambia between 1965 and 1970.
  • Guyana between 1966 and 1980.
  • Fiji between 1970 and 1987.
  • Japan between 1890 and 1947, under the Meiji Constitution the Diet of Japan was a bicameral legislature modelled after both the German Reichstag and the Westminster system.[13] Influence from the Westminster system remained in Japan's Postwar Constitution.[14][15][16]

See also

References

  1. ^ Julian Go (2007). "A Globalizing Constitutionalism?, Views from the Postcolony, 1945-2000". In Arjomand, Saïd Amir. Constitutionalism and political reconstruction. Brill. pp. 92–94. ISBN 978-9004151741.
  2. ^ "How the Westminster Parliamentary System was exported around the World". University of Cambridge. 2 December 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
  3. ^ Seidle, F. Leslie; Docherty, David C. (2003). Reforming parliamentary democracy. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780773525085.
  4. ^ Johnston, Douglas M.; Reisman, W. Michael (2008). The Historical Foundations of World Order. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 571. ISBN 978-9047423935.
  5. ^ Fieldhouse, David; Madden, Frederick (1990). Settler self-government, 1840-1900 : the development of representative and (1. publ. ed.). New York: Greenwood Press. p. xxi. ISBN 9780313273261.
  6. ^ "The Westminster System - Public Service Commission". www.psc.nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 2017-08-22.
  7. ^ a b "OBA.org - Articles". www.oba.org.
  8. ^ "Reinvigorating The Westminster Tradition". Archived from the original on 27 March 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  9. ^ "The English Constitution" see Bibliography.
  10. ^ "Chapter 2: The development of the Westminster system". www.aph.gov.au. Retrieved 2017-08-22.
  11. ^ Thompson, Elaine. "The 'Washminster' Mutation," in Responsible Government in Australia, eds. P. Weller and D. Jaensch, Drummond, Richmond, 1980
  12. ^ "CONSTITUTION OF NEPAL 2015" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 December 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  13. ^ Hein, Patrick (2009). How the Japanese became foreign to themselves : the impact of globalization on the private and public spheres in Japan. Berlin: Lit. p. 72. ISBN 978-3643100856.
  14. ^ Moore, Ray A.; Robinson, Donald L. (2004). Partners for democracy : crafting the new Japanese state under MacArthur. Oxford University Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0195171761.
  15. ^ Hook, Glenn D., ed. (2005). Contested governance in Japan : sites and issues. London: RoutledgeCurzon. p. 55. ISBN 978-0415364980.
  16. ^ "Special Issue Constitutional Law in Japan and the United Kingdom". King's Law Journal. 2 (2). 2015.

Bibliography

External links

Backbencher

In Westminster parliamentary systems, a backbencher is a member of Parliament (MP) or a legislator who holds no governmental office and is not a frontbench spokesman in the Opposition, being instead simply a member of the "rank and file". The term dates from 1855. The term derives from the fact that they sit physically behind the frontbench in the House of Commons. A backbencher may be a new parliamentary member yet to receive high office, a senior figure dropped from government, someone who for whatever reason is not chosen to sit either in the ministry or the opposition Shadow Ministry, or someone who prefers to be a background influence, not in the spotlight. By extension, those who are not reliable supporters of all of their party's goals and policies and have resigned or been forced to resign may be relegated to the back benches. For example, Clive Lewis becoming a backbencher after resigning from Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet over Brexit, or Boris Johnson who became a backbencher again, after resigning as Foreign Secretary in Theresa May's cabinet, also over Brexit.In most parliamentary systems, backbenchers individually do not have much power to influence government policy. However, they play a role in providing services to their constituents, in relaying the opinions and concerns of their constituents. For example, asking the government for funding for a project in their constituency. Some backbenchers also sit on parliamentary committees, where legislation is considered in more detail than there is time for on the floor of the House and, thereby, provide input into the legislative process. The Wright Committee reforms introduced in the UK provided backbenchers with much more power in committees, giving Parliament greater control of its agenda, increasing backbench membership in committees vastly. In addition, since backbenchers generally form the vast majority of MPs, collectively they can sometimes exercise considerable power especially in cases where the policies of the government are unpopular or when a governing party is internally split. Backbenchers carry a considerable amount of influence when the government majority is small, for example, Theresa May's government from 2017 onwards has been defeated sixteen times in the House of Commons, whereas, David Cameron's majority government was defeated three times in the House of Commons.

In some legislative assemblies, sitting at the back of the chamber is not necessarily associated with having a minor role. In Switzerland, senior figures sit in the back rows in order to have a better overview and be closer to the doors for discussions outside the plenary. In Germany, the party leaders sit in the front row, but there are no designated places for other senior figures. The term backbenchers („Hinterbänkler“) therefore refers to largely unknown MPs without much influence - regardless of where they sit. Originally, the importance of the front rows for the leaders had also to do with the fact that acoustics were often unsatisfactory before microphones were introduced.

The term "backbencher" has also been adopted outside parliamentary systems, such as the United States Congress. While legislative branches in presidential systems do not share the firm front bench/back bench dichotomy of the Westminster system, the term has been used to denote junior legislators, or legislators who are not part of party leadership within a legislative body. When Democrat Tim Ryan of Ohio ran against Nancy Pelosi of California for House Minority Leader in 2016, the Washington Post reported that he "emerged from the backbench — he literally sits on the last bench in the chamber".

Conscience vote

A conscience vote or free vote is a type of vote in a legislative body where legislators are allowed to vote according to their own personal conscience rather than according to an official line set down by their political party. In a parliamentary system, especially within the Westminster system, it can also be used to indicate crossbench members of a hung parliament where confidence and supply is provided to allow formation of a minority government but the right to vote on conscience is retained. Free votes are found in Canadian and some British legislative bodies; conscience votes are used in Australian and New Zealand legislative bodies.

Under the Westminster system, MPs who belong to a political party are usually required by that party to vote in accordance with the party line on significant legislation, on pain of censure or expulsion from the party. Sometimes a particular party member known as the party whip is responsible for maintaining this party discipline. However, in the case of a conscience vote, a party declines to dictate an official party line to follow and members may vote as they please. In countries where party discipline is less important and voting against one's party is more common, conscience votes are generally less important.

In most countries, conscience votes are quite rare and are often about issues which are very contentious, or a matter on which the members of any single party differ in their opinions; thus making it difficult for parties to formulate official policies. Usually, a conscience vote will be about religious, moral or ethical issues rather than about administrative or financial ones. Matters such as the prohibition of alcohol, homosexuality law reform and the legality of prostitution are often subject to conscience votes.

Sometimes a vote may be free for some parties but not for others. For instance, when the Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed a motion to re-open the debate on Canada's same-sex marriage laws, his Conservatives and the opposition Liberals declared it a free vote for their members, while the Bloc Québécois and the New Democrats both maintained party discipline to defeat the measure.

Crossing the floor

In politics, crossing the floor is when a politician changes their allegiance or votes against their party in a Westminster system parliament. Crossing the floor may be voting against the approved party lines, or changing to another party after being elected while a member of a first party. While these practices are legally permissible, crossing the floor can lead to controversy and media attention. As well, voting against party lines may lead to consequences such as losing a position (e.g., as minister or a portfolio critic) or being ejected from the party caucus.

Some countries like India, Maldives and Bangladesh have laws which remove the member from parliament due to floor-crossing.

Early day motion

An early day motion (EDM), in the Westminster system, is a motion, expressed as a single sentence, tabled by Members of Parliament that formally calls for debate "on an early day". In practice, they are rarely debated in the House and their main purpose is to draw attention to particular subjects of interest. Government ministers, Whips, Parliamentary Private Secretaries, the Speaker of the House of Commons and Deputy Speakers do not normally sign EDMs. EDMs remain open for signature for the duration of the parliamentary session.

EDMs can be tabled on matters ranging from trivial or humorous topics to those of great importance. The censure motion by which the Labour Government of James Callaghan was ejected had its origin in an early day motion (no. 351 of 1978–79), put down on 22 March 1979, by Margaret Thatcher.

MPs may ensure the text of an EDM is printed in Hansard by mentioning it by number in questions to the Leader of the House of Commons after the Business Statement (normally on a Thursday when the house is in session).

EDMs tabled on serious topics have included one demanding the release of Nelson Mandela when he was incarcerated in apartheid South Africa, and one calling for a consultation on the fingerprinting of children in schools without parental permission. Shortly after the 2005 general election, 412 of the 646 MPs signed EDM 178 calling for a Climate Change Bill; only three other early day motions had ever been signed by more than 400 MPs.

Gazette

A gazette is an official journal, a newspaper of record, or simply a newspaper.

In English- and French-speaking countries, newspaper publishers have applied the name Gazette since the 17th century; today, numerous weekly and daily newspapers bear the name The Gazette.

House of Commons

The House of Commons is the elected lower house of the bicameral parliaments of the United Kingdom and Canada and historically was the name of the lower houses of the Kingdom of England, Kingdom of Great Britain, Kingdom of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Southern Ireland. Roughly equivalent bodies in other countries which were once part of the British Empire include the United States House of Representatives, the Australian House of Representatives, the New Zealand House of Representatives, and India's Lok Sabha.

In the UK and Canada, the Commons holds much more legislative power than the respective upper house of parliament. The leader of the majority party in the House of Commons usually becomes the prime minister. Since 2010 the House of Commons of the United Kingdom has had 650 elected members, and since 2015 the House of Commons of Canada has had 338 members. The Commons' functions are to consider through debate new laws and changes to existing ones, authorise taxes, and provide scrutiny of the policy and expenditure of the Government. It has the power to give a Government a vote of no confidence.

House of Commons of England

The House of Commons of England was the lower house of the Parliament of England (which incorporated Wales) from its development in the 14th century to the union of England and Scotland in 1707, when it was replaced by the House of Commons of Great Britain. In 1801, with the union of Great Britain and Ireland, that house was in turn replaced by the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.

House of Commons of Great Britain

The House of Commons of Great Britain was the lower house of the Parliament of Great Britain between 1707 and 1801. In 1707, as a result of the Acts of Union of that year, it replaced the House of Commons of England and the third estate of the Parliament of Scotland, as one of the most significant changes brought about by the Union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain.

In the course of the 18th century, the office of Prime Minister developed. The notion that a government remains in power only as long as it retains the support of Parliament also evolved, leading to the first ever motion of no confidence, when Lord North's government failed to end the American Revolution. The modern notion that only the support of the House of Commons is necessary for a government to survive, however, was of later development. Similarly, the custom that the Prime Minister is always a Member of the Lower House, rather than the Upper one, did not evolve until the twentieth century.

The business of the house was controlled by an elected Speaker. The Speaker's official role was to moderate debate, make rulings on procedure, announce the results of votes, and the like. The Speaker decided who may speak and had the powers to discipline members who break the procedures of the house. The Speaker often also represented the body in person, as the voice of the body in ceremonial and some other situations. The title was first recorded in 1377 to describe the role of Thomas de Hungerford in the Parliament of England. By convention, Speakers are normally addressed in Parliament as Mister Speaker, if a man, or Madam Speaker, if a woman.

In 1801, the House was enlarged to become the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, as a result of the Act of Union of 1800 which combined Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Leader of the Official Opposition (Canada)

The Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition (French: chef de la loyale opposition de Sa Majesté) is the leader of Canada's Official Opposition, the party possessing the most seats in the House of Commons that is not the governing party or part of the governing coalition. The current Leader of the Opposition is Andrew Scheer, M.P., who was elected Leader of the Conservative Party on May 27, 2017.

Though the Leader of the Opposition must be a member of the House of Commons, the office should not be confused with the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, which is the formal title of the opposition house leader. There is also a Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, who is usually of the same party as the Leader of the Opposition in the house.

The Leader of the Opposition is entitled to the same levels of pay and protection as a Cabinet minister. He or she is entitled to reside at the official residence of Stornoway and ranks fourteenth on the Order of Precedence, after Cabinet ministers and before lieutenant governors of the provinces. In the House of Commons seating plan, the Leader of the Opposition sits directly across from the Prime Minister.

Leader of the Opposition

The Leader of the Opposition is a title traditionally held by the leader of the largest party not in government in a Westminster System of parliamentary government. The Leader of the Opposition is seen as the alternative Prime Minister, Premier or Chief Minister to the incumbent and heads a rival alternative government known as the Shadow Cabinet or Opposition Front Bench.

In many Commonwealth realms the full title is Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal opposition.

Minister (government)

A minister is a politician who heads a government department, making and implementing decisions on policies in conjunction with the other ministers. In some jurisdictions the head of government is also a minister and is designated the "prime minister", "premier", "chief minister", "Chancellor" or other title.

In Commonwealth realm jurisdictions which use the Westminster system of government, ministers are usually required to be members of one of the houses of Parliament or legislature, and are usually from the political party that controls a majority in the lower house of the legislature. In other jurisdictions — such as Belgium, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines — the holder of a cabinet-level post or other government official is not permitted to be a member of the legislature. Depending on the administrative arrangements in each jurisdiction, ministers are usually heads of a government department and members of the government's ministry, cabinet and perhaps of a committee of cabinet. Some ministers may be more senior than others, and some may hold the title "assistant minister" or "deputy minister". Some jurisdictions, with a large number of ministers, may designate ministers to be either in the inner or outer ministry or cabinet.

In some jurisdictions — such as Hong Kong, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and the United States — holders of an equivalent cabinet-level post are called secretaries (e.g., the Home Secretary in the United Kingdom, Secretary of State in the United States). Some holders of a cabinet-level post may have another title, such as "Attorney-General" or "Postmaster-General".

Parliamentary group

A parliamentary group, parliamentary party, or parliamentary caucus is a group consisting of members of the same political party or electoral fusion of parties in a legislative assembly such as a parliament or a city council.

In some countries, the only way that parties and members of Parliament can receive financial and personal support and join parliamentary committees is by organizing themselves in parliamentary groups. Parliamentary group leaders are often important political players. Parties that are not in government often choose the party's political leader as the chairperson. Parliamentary groups often use party discipline to control the votes of their members.

Some parliamentary systems allow smaller political parties, who are not numerous enough to form parliamentary groups in their own names, to join with other parties of differing ideologies (or with independent politicians) in order to benefit from rights or privileges that are only accorded to formally recognised groups. Such groups are termed technical groups.

Parliamentary opposition

Parliamentary opposition is a form of political opposition to a designated government, particularly in a Westminster-based parliamentary system. This article uses the term government as it is used in Parliamentary systems, i.e. meaning the administration or the cabinet rather than the state. The title of "Official Opposition" usually goes to the largest of the parties sitting in opposition with its leader being given the title "Leader of the Opposition".

In First Past the Post assemblies, where the tendency to gravitate into two major parties or party groupings operates strongly, government and opposition roles can go to the two main groupings serially in alternation.

The more proportional a representative system, the greater the likelihood of multiple political parties appearing in the parliamentary debating chamber. Such systems can foster multiple "opposition" parties which may have little in common and minimal desire to form a united bloc opposed to the government of the day.

Some well-organised democracies, dominated long-term by a single faction, reduce their parliamentary opposition to tokenism. Singapore exemplifies a case of a numerically weak opposition; South Africa under the apartheid regime maintained a long-term imbalance in the parliament. In some cases tame "opposition" parties are created by the governing groups in order to create an impression of democratic debate.

Parliamentary privilege

Parliamentary privilege is a legal immunity enjoyed by members of certain legislatures, in which legislators are granted protection against civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made in the course of their legislative duties. It is common in countries whose constitutions are based on the Westminster system.

Private member's bill

A private member's bill in a parliamentary system of government is a bill (proposed law) introduced into a legislature by a legislator who is not acting on behalf of the executive branch. The designation "private member's bill" is used in most Westminster System jurisdictions, in which a "private member" is any member of parliament (MP) who is not a member of the cabinet (executive). Other labels may be used for the concept in other parliamentary systems; for example, the label member's bill is used in the Scottish Parliament and in the Parliament of New Zealand. In presidential systems with a separation of the executive from the legislature, the concept does not arise since the executive cannot initiate legislation, and bills are introduced by individual legislators (or sometimes by popular initiative).

In the Westminster System, most bills are "government bills" introduced by the executive, with private members' bills the exception; however, some time is set aside in the schedule for reading such bills. They may be introduced by non-ministerial MPs from government-supporting parties (backbenchers), by members of opposition parties (frontbencher or backbencher), or by independents or crossbenchers. The United Kingdom parliament has a long history of enacting private members' bills. In contrast, the Oireachtas (parliament) of the Republic of Ireland rarely passes private members' bills, with the overwhelming number of bills being passed being introduced by members of the cabinet.A private member's bill is not to be confused with a private bill, which is a bill that only affects an individual citizen or group.

Responsible government

Responsible government is a conception of a system of government that embodies the principle of parliamentary accountability, the foundation of the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. Governments (the equivalent of the executive branch) in Westminster democracies are responsible to parliament rather than to the monarch, or, in a colonial context, to the imperial government, and in a republican context, to the president, either in full or in part. If the parliament is bicameral, then the government is responsible first to the parliament's lower house, which is more representative than the upper house, as it has more members and they are always directly elected.

Responsible government of parliamentary accountability manifests itself in several ways. Ministers account to Parliament for their decisions and for the performance of their departments. This requirement to make announcements and to answer questions in Parliament means that ministers must have the privileges of the "floor", which are only granted to those who are members of either house of Parliament. Secondly, and most importantly, although ministers are officially appointed by the authority of the head of state and can theoretically be dismissed at the pleasure of the sovereign, they concurrently retain their office subject to their holding the confidence of the lower house of Parliament. When the lower house has passed a motion of no confidence in the government, the government must immediately resign or submit itself to the electorate in a new general election.

Lastly, the head of state is in turn required to effectuate their executive power only through these responsible ministers. They must never attempt to set up a "shadow" government of executives or advisors and attempt to use them as instruments of government, or to rely upon their "unofficial" advice. They are bound to take no decision or action that is put into effect under the colour of their executive power without that action being as a result of the counsel and advisement of their responsible ministers. Their ministers are required to counsel them (i.e., explain to them and be sure they understand any issue that they will be called upon to decide) and to form and have recommendations for them (i.e., their advice or advisement) to choose from, which are the ministers' formal, reasoned, recommendations as to what course of action should be taken.

An exception to this is Israel, which operates under a simplified version of the Westminster system.

Select committee (United Kingdom)

In British politics, parliamentary select committees can be appointed from the House of Commons, like the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, from the House of Lords, like the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, or as a "Joint Committee of Parliament" drawn from both, such as the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Committees may exist as "sessional" committees – i.e. be near-permanent – or as "ad-hoc" committees with a specific deadline by which to complete their work, after which they cease to exist, such as the Lords Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change.The Commons select committees are generally responsible for overseeing the work of government departments and agencies, whereas those of the Lords look at general issues, such as the constitution, considered by the Constitution Committee, or the economy, considered by the Economic Affairs Committee. Both houses have their own committees to review drafts of European Union directives: the European Union Committee in the House of Lords, and the European Scrutiny Committee in the House of Commons.

The Intelligence and Security Committee is not a select committee, though it contains members from both houses. It is a unique committee of parliamentarians nominated by the Prime Minister and reporting to him or her, not Parliament.

Shadow Cabinet

The Shadow Cabinet is a feature of the Westminster system of government. It consists of a senior group of opposition spokespeople who, under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, form an alternative cabinet to that of the government, and whose members shadow or mirror the positions of each individual member of the Cabinet. It is the Shadow Cabinet's responsibility to scrutinise the policies and actions of the government, as well as to offer an alternative program. The Shadow Cabinet makes up the majority of the Official Opposition frontbench.

In most countries, a member of the shadow cabinet is referred to as a Shadow Minister. In the United Kingdom's House of Lords and in New Zealand, the term "spokesperson" is used instead of "shadow". In Canada, however, the term Opposition Critic is more common.

The shadow minister's duties may give them considerable prominence in the party caucus hierarchy especially if it is a high-profile portfolio, although their salary and benefits remain the same as a backbencher. Members of a shadow cabinet may not necessarily be appointed to the corresponding Cabinet post if and when their party forms a government.

The London Gazette

The London Gazette is one of the official journals of record of the British government, and the most important among such official journals in the United Kingdom, in which certain statutory notices are required to be published. The London Gazette claims to be the oldest surviving English newspaper and the oldest continuously published newspaper in the UK, having been first published on 7 November 1665 as The Oxford Gazette. This claim is also made by the Stamford Mercury (1712) and Berrow's Worcester Journal (1690), because The Gazette is not a conventional newspaper offering general news coverage. It does not have a large circulation.

Other official newspapers of the UK government are The Edinburgh Gazette and The Belfast Gazette, which, apart from reproducing certain materials of nationwide interest published in The London Gazette, also contain publications specific to Scotland and Northern Ireland, respectively.

In turn, The London Gazette carries not only notices of UK-wide interest, but also those relating specifically to entities or people in England and Wales. However, certain notices that are only of specific interest to Scotland or Northern Ireland are also required to be published in The London Gazette.

The London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes are published by TSO (The Stationery Office) on behalf of Her Majesty's Stationery Office. They are subject to Crown copyright.

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