History of British Democratic System
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History of British Democratic System

The British democratic system has evolved through the centuries. Today, British parliament is regarded as one of the most powerful parliaments of world.

The origin of the democracy in Britain goes back to 1066 A.D. The feudal system that has developed after the Norman invasion made it difficult for monarchy to govern without the support of nobility and clergy. Conqueror William of Normandy had to take advice from the council of tenants-in-chief and ecclesiastics before making the law. Tenants-in-chief were the nobles who held their lands as tenants directly from monarch. The great councils were thus formed which consisted of arch bishop’s, bishops, earls, barons and abbots.

In 1215, the charter of Magna Carta further limited king’s authority. The charter asserted that king’s will should not be arbitrary and no freeman could be punished except through the law of land. The charter also forbade king from collecting taxes without the consent of royal council. King John refused to accept the terms of charter and this resulted in civil war. The struggle continued for many decades and in 1258 King Henry III was stripped of his powers of absolute monarchy. A fifteen member council was then formed and was given right to deal with the business of government.

In 1272, king Edward 1 of England willingly relinquished his powers for parliament. The basic motivation behind his reconciliatory approach was his vision to unite England, Wales and Scotland. He also encouraged such a system to avoid any rebellion. The effective power of parliament in those days depended heavily on the strength and weakness of monarch. The powerful monarchs easily by passed the parliament. The strong role of parliament though established during the reign of Edward III. The parliament of the time ensured that no tax could be levied and no law passed without the consent of both houses of parliament and sovereign.

The current structure of parliament originated during the reign of Tudor kings. By the time of Henry VIII the Tudor monarchs used to express their feelings through their supporters in both houses of parliament. The bills proposed by both houses were then passed to monarch who had the right to veto the bill. The power of veto was excessively used in 16th and 17th century but since 1707 it has not been used by any monarch.

The relation between parliament and monarchy has not remained always very smooth. Charles 1 dissolved the parliament in 1628 and it was only after great financial disaster of Bishop’s war in 1639-40 that he summoned the parliament again. The relations although deteriorated further which led once again to civil war. The parliamentarians were finally victorious and this established the supremacy of parliament and reduced the role of monarchy in the affairs of state. The next significant event was the creation of parliament of United Kingdom. The parliament of United Kingdom was created when parliament of England and parliament of Scotland merged in 1707 as result of the Treaty of Union.

The British parliament gained more popularity when in 1909 common passed the “People’s Budget” which asked for wealthy landowners to pay more tax. The wealthy landowners in House of Lords rejected the budget. This resulted in unpopularity of House of Lords and helped liberal party win two elections in 1910. The British prime minister then introduced the bill which limited the power of House of Lords.

Women were given their right to vote in 1918. Initially only those women who were above the age of 30 and were member of local registrar or married to member of local registrar were eligible for vote. In 1930, all such restrictions were removed and all women over the age of 18 were granted the right to vote.

The British parliament is often called as the mother of parliaments. The parliament is bicameral with lower house called House of Commons and upper house called House of Lords. It has no written constitution and is considered as one of the most powerful parliaments in world. The parliament of United Kingdom has evolved through many centuries. Today, the British democratic system acts as beacon for many countries around the world which are working to strengthen democratic system in their respective countries.


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