What is the House of Commons?

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  • Written By: Jason C. Chavis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
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The House of Commons is one of the legislative bodies in the bicameral parliaments of both the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada. In the case of the UK, it operates with the House of Lords, while Canada has a Senate. The name is derived from the legislative practice of allowing the commoners to have a voice in the government. The House of Commons became the basis for the lower house of other bicameral legislative bodies such as the United States House of Representatives.

In the UK, the House of Commons was established in the 14th century as a way for the political power to include the subjects of the kingdom rather than lords and clergy, which had already secured a position with the House of Lords. Most of the representatives chosen were of the middle to upper class of the business sector. These were democratically elected but had a significant lack of power as compared to the House of Lords for many years. With the Parliament Act of 1911, the House of Commons was given more power in regards to legislative bills. The House of Lords's ability to reject provisions was reduced heavily due to this law.


The modern House of Commons of the UK consists of 650 representatives, known as Members of Parliament (MP). They are elected by a constituency for no more than five years, although the Prime Minister can call for an election at any time. All of the government ministers, who are in charge of specific departments called ministries, are picked from the lower house.

In Canada, the House of Commons stems from the Constitution Act of 1867 when the country was established. There are 308 members distributed around the country, based on population count. It is elected by the voters similar to the British system with a limit of four years. Like the British system, elections can be called before the end of the term.

The Senate of Canada has much less power than the House of Commons, especially since the Prime Minister serves only as long as he or she can retain support in the lower house. The Senate can reject bills, although it rarely does. Essentially, this gives the lower house near-complete control over the government.

Within both the UK and Canadian system, various features exist which define the actions of the representatives. MPs may pass an early day motion in which legislation or a debate is tabled, meaning put aside for a later day. An adjournment debate is the process by which the House can have a debate without a motion to pass a law or resolution. There is also the Speaker Denison's rule in which the Speaker of the House can cast a vote in the event of a tie.


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What is the point of a debate in the House without passing a law or resolving an issue?

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