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Commonwealth Parliament (Cromwell the Great)

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The principle of Parliamentary sovereignty means neither more nor less than this, namely, that Parliament thus defined has, under the English constitution, the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and, further, that no person or body is recognised by the law of England as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament. (A. V. Dicey)

Coat of Arms of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland

Coat of Arms Commonwealth

The Commonwealth Parliament is the supreme legislative authority of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. The Parliament is bicameral with a Senate having a power of veto over the Commons.

Organizations and powers of Parliament

The House of Commons and the Senate of the Commonwealth Parliament alone are given power to qualify or purge its own Members. Both Houses of the Parliament must sit jointly for a minimum period of five months annually.

The House of Common’s Sergeant-at-Arms and Senate’s Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod (Black Rod) are responsible for maintaining the buildings, services and security and are appointed by their respective legislative chambers.

In its beginning the Army controlled Parliament, either managing the elections to produce a result favorable to the government, preventing opponents from taking their seats at Westminster or outright exclusion of opponents from the debates and vote. Or as a last resort forcibly removing and arresting the MPs (like in Pride's Purge).

House of Commons

Old House of Commons chamber, F. G. O. Stuart

House of Commons chamber

The House of Commons has full sovereignty and authority in all matters regarding ecclesiastical, or temporal, civil, military, maritime, or criminal and is the only one of the two chambers of Parliament that can initiate legislation in money or supply bills. The Commons have the sole power to impeach officials of the executive, (the Senate then tries the impeachment). The presiding officer is the Speaker of the House of Commons, elected by the members of the House.

By the Quinquennial Act the MP of the House of Commons are elected every five years (three years until 1668) unless it is dissolved by the Lord Protector.

Voting for the MP depends on the type of parliamentary constituency. In county and borough constituencies all voters assemble at seat of the county or specified premises and declared their candidate openly that is noted down and published in a poll book by the poll clerks. In university constituencies voting is done within a week and by means of a ballot box.

Senate

House of Lords chamber, F. G. O. Stuart

Senate chamber

The Senate can vote only limited legislative matters, such as constitutional amendments, cannot initiate legislation on money and supply and has the sole power to try impeachments against officials of the executive, following enabling resolutions passed by the House of Commons. And more important, it can veto proposed legislation, though suspensive vetoes are permitted in some cases. It had judicial function from 1657 until the Judicature Acts of 1667. The Senate names the successor or candidate to the Protectorship in case of absence of such appoint or name. The Lord Speaker is the presiding officer of the Senate, elected by its members.

By The Senate Act of 1662, that replaced the Other House, it states that its membership consists of appointed and elected senators. The appointed senators are freely named by the Lord Protector for a six year tenure and can be reappointed, its elected members of the county and city corporations of each Home Nation that assemble as electors every six years, these senators can also be reelected.

Candidates to senator must register within three days to the poll so their names can be published in the candidates list. On polling day electors assemble at their county seats and proceed to declare their vote, on any of the published candidates, which is then is noted down and published in a poll book

Opening of Parliament and the Great Seal

The Opening of Parliament is an event in the Commonwealth that marks the commencement of a session of the Parliament and includes a Speech, known as the Lord Protector's Speech. This Speech is given out at the Senate’s chamber, joined by Senators and MP's.

Annually the chambers of the of Parliament jointly appoint the Commissioners of the Great Seal. The Great Seal is attached to the official documents of state that require the authorisation of the Protector, Council of State or Parliament to implement the advice of the Government and symbolise the Parliament’s approval of important state documents.

Parliamentary factions

As in all elected assemblies the MP of the Parliament organized or gather in factions and cabals (later in clubs or around the debates of the coffeehouses). It must be also considered that allegiance to any grouping tended to be fluid, influenced by individual responses to particular issues.

  • The main one is the Protectorate faction or Cromwellians
  • moderate Presbyterians
  • The republican Commonwealthmen
  • The royalist faction or Cavaliers
  • Levellers, Diggers
  • Various Dissents
  • The Fifth Monarchists and Millenarianists

For more details see Politics of the Commonwealth

Summary of Constituencies and Members of the House of Commons

The House of Commons had elections under the triennial Act in 1654 (dissolved by the Lord Protector in 1655), 1656 (also dissolved in 1657), 1659, 1662, 1665 and the Quinquennial Act since 1668.

Abbreviations: Boro' const. – Borough/Burgh constituencies, County const. – County/Shire constituencies, Univ. const. – University constituencies, Total Const. – Total constituencies.

Table 1: Constituencies and MPs, by type and country

Nations Boro'
const.
County
const.
Univ.
const.
Total
const.
Boro'
MPs
County
MPs
Univ.
MPs
Total
MPs
England 104 44 2 150 131 242 2 375
Wales 2 12 14 2 23 25
Scotland 9 20 29 10 20 30
Ireland 6 13 19 6 24 30
No. of constituencies 121 89 2 212        
Members returned 149 309 2 460 149 309 2 460

Table 2: After Universities Constituencies Act and Isle of Man and Channel Islands Constituencies Act - Constituencies and MPs, by type and country.

Nations and dependencies Boro'
const.
County
const.
Univ.
const.
Total
const.
Boro'
MPs
County
MPs
Univ.
MPs
Total
MPs
England 104 44 3 151 131 242 3 376
Wales 2 12 14 2 23 25
Scotland 9 20 4 34 10 20 4 34
Ireland 6 13 1 20 6 24 1 31
Isle of Man 1 1 1 1
Channel Islands 1 1 2 2
No. of constituencies 121 91 8 221        
Members returned 149 312 8 469 149 312 8 469

Membership of the Senate

The Senate, or the Other House as it was known from 1657 to 1663, initially consisted of 40 to 70 members nominated for life by the Lord Protector, with a quorum of 21. After 1662 its membership consisted of appointed and elected senators.

Table 3: Membership, includes reform by the Isle of Man and Channel Islands Constituencies Act.

Nations and dependencies Total
Other House (1657-1663)
Total Senate (1663-...)
Members named for life by the Lord Protector 40 to 70 n/a
Members named for a six-year term by the Lord Protector n/a 27
England n/a 27
Wales n/a 9
Scotland n/a 18
Ireland n/a 18
isle of Man and Channel Islands n/a 1
Total members (Senators 1663-... 40 to 70 100

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