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The British Parliament of the Commonwealth of Britain is a very old institution, dating from at least the 13th century, possibly earlier. It serves as the legislative branch of the British government.
Prior to the Civil War, Parliament was bicameral, consisting of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Cromwell abolished the House of Lords but it was later re-introduced. However, as there was no monarchy the importance and relevance of the nobility declined, and the House of Lords was abolished in 1801. The House of Commons is still the formal name of Parliament, but this name is rarely used.
Parliament consists of 653 members, elected from single-member constituencies. Since the Reform Act, these constituencies are roughly even in size and population. The leader of the Parliament is the Speaker, who is so-called because he is Parliament's spokesman. The Speaker is always a member of the party with a majority in Parliament. In practice the Speaker tends to be the leader of his party in Parliament - each party has a parliamentary leader as well. The present Speaker is the Rt. Hon. Liam Fox from the Conservative Party.
Parliament is considered by many to be an undemocratic institution, as members (MPs) are elected by a first-past-the-post system. The unicameral nature of Parliament means the governing party often has a large majority and almost unchecked power. However, party unity is not always strong, and it is certainly not uncommon for members of one party to vote with another on the floor of Parliament.
Officers of the British Parliament
(as of 2005)
Speaker: Rt. Hon. Dr. Liam Fox, MP (Conservative)
Deputy Speaker: Hon. Phillip Hammond, MP (Conservative)
Leader of the Majority: Rt. Hon Michael Howard, MP (Conservative)
Leader of the Minority: Rt. Hon Geoff Hoon, MP (Liberal)
Deputy Leader of the Majority: Rt. Hon David Davis, MP (Conservative)
Deputy Leader of the Minority: Rt. Hon Menzies Campbell, MP (Liberal)
Chief Majority Whip: Hon. George Osborne, MP (Conservative)
Chief Minority Whip: Hon. Jack Straw, MP
Composition of the current Parliament
Conservative Party: 337
Liberal Party: 295
Popular Democratic Party: 11
Ulster Unionist Party: 7
The latest Parliamentary election was held in October 2004. The Conservative Party won a sweeping majority, its first for fifteen years. The previous Speaker, George Robertson, lost his seat in the election.