Aspen Parliament

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Aspen Parliament
Parliament Logo new.png
Type
TypeBicameral Legislature
HousesAspen House of Commons, Aspen Senate
Leadership
EmperorJames II, Aspen Emperor
Prime MinisterVacant
Speaker of the House of CommonsVacant
Majority LeaderVacant
Opposition LeaderVacant
Lord SpeakerVacant
Structure
voting systemSingle Transferable Vote
Appointment


The Parliament of the Aspen Empire is the supreme legislative body of the Aspen Empire, the Commonwealths, and other territories. It alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all other political bodies in the Aspen Empire and overseas territories. Parliament is bicameral but has three parts, consisting of the Sovereign (Emperor-in-Parliament), the Senate, and the House of Commons (the primary chamber).

The Senate includes members appointed by the provincial governments to represent the provincial legislatures in the parliament. Members of the senate are known as Senators. the Senate is presided over by the Lord Speaker of the Senate and the Senate government bench is occupied by the Senate Majority Leader and the other Senatorial ministers.

The House of Commons is a directly elected chamber with elections to a number of members elected through the Single Transferable Vote. All government ministers, including the Prime Minister, are members of the House of Commons. Cabinet ministers must be from the Commons, whilst junior ministers can be from either House. However, the Leader of the Senate must be a Senator.

Composition and powers

In theory, the Aspen Empire's supreme legislative power is officially vested in the Crown-in-Parliament. However, the Crown normally acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and the powers of the Senate are limited to only delaying legislation; thus power is de facto vested in the House of Commons.

The legislative authority, the Crown-in-Parliament, has three separate elements: the Monarch, the Senate, and the House of Commons. No individual may be a member of both Houses.

Royal Assent of the Monarch is required for all Bills to become law, and certain delegated legislation must be made by the Monarch by Order in Council. The Crown also has executive powers which do not depend on Parliament, through prerogative powers, including the power to make treaties, declare war, award honors, and appoint officers and civil servants. In practice these are always exercised by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister and the other ministers of HM Government. The Prime Minister and government are directly accountable to Parliament, through its control of public finances, and to the public, through the election of members of parliament.

The Monarch also appoints the Prime Minister, who then forms a government from members of the Houses of Parliament. This must be someone who could command a majority in a confidence vote in the House of Commons.

The Senate is formally styled "The Right Honorable Senators in Parliament Assembled," the Senate is composed of members appointed by the provincial parliaments to represent the interests of the states.

All bills except money bills are debated and voted upon in the Senate; however, by voting against a bill, the Senate can only delay it for a maximum of two parliamentary sessions over a year. After that time, the House of Commons can force the Bill through without the Senate's consent. The Senate can also hold the government to account through questions to government ministers and the operation of a small number of select committees.

The House of Commons, which is formally styled "The Honorable Representatives in Parliament Assembled". Each Member of Parliament (MP) is chosen by a multi member constituency through a Single Transferable Vote system. Universal adult suffrage exists for those 16 and over; citizens of the Aspen Empire are qualified to vote, unless they are in prison at the time of the election. The term of members of the House of Commons depends on the term of Parliament, a maximum of one year; a general election, during which all the seats are contested, occurs after each dissolution.

All legislation must be passed by the House of Commons to become law and it controls taxation and the supply of money to the government. Government ministers (including the Prime Minister) must regularly answer questions in the House of Commons and there are a number of select committees that scrutinize particular issues and the workings of the government. There are also mechanisms that allow members of the House of Commons to bring to the attention of the government particular issues affecting their constituents.

State Opening of Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament is an annual event that marks the commencement of a session of the Parliament of the Aspen Empire.

Upon the assembly of both Houses of Parliament the monarch reads a speech, known as the Speech from the Throne, which is prepared by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, outlining the Government's agenda for the coming year. The speech reflects the legislative agenda for which the Government intends to seek the agreement of both Houses of Parliament.

After the monarch leaves, each Chamber proceeds to the consideration of an "Address in Reply to His Majesty's Gracious Speech." But, first, each House considers a bill pro forma to symbolize their right to deliberate independently of the monarch. In the Senate, the bill is called the Select Vestries Bill, while the Commons equivalent is the Outlawries Bill. The Bills are considered for the sake of form only, and do not make any actual progress.

Legislative procedure

Both houses of the Aspen Parliament are presided over by a speaker, the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker in the Senate.

For the Commons, the approval of the Sovereign is required before the election of the Speaker becomes valid, but it is, by modern convention, always granted. The Speaker's place may be taken by an appointed deputy.

Decisions on points of order and on the disciplining of unruly members in the Senate are made by the whole body, but by the Speaker alone in the Lower House. Speeches in the Senate are addressed to the House as a whole (using the words "Honorable Senators"), but those in the House of Commons are addressed to the Speaker alone (using "Mr Speaker" or "Madam Speaker"). Speeches may be made to both Houses simultaneously.

Both Houses may decide questions by voice vote; members shout out "Aye!" and "No!" in the Commons—or "Content!" and "Not-Content!" in the Senate—and the presiding officer declares the result. The pronouncement of either Speaker may be challenged, and a recorded vote (known as a division) demanded. (The Speaker of the House of Commons may choose to overrule a frivolous request for a division, but the Lord Speaker does not have that power.) In each House, a division requires members to announce a voice vote upon the call of their name from a roll; their names are recorded by clerks. In the case of a tie; the Lord Speaker, however, votes along with the other Senators.

Both Houses normally conduct their business in public.

Duration

Parliament has a fixed term of one year.

The Parliamentary term is fixed at 5 years, unless one of two situations arises, mentioned below.

Following a general election, a new Parliamentary session begins. Parliament is formally summoned seven days in advance by the Sovereign, who is the source of parliamentary authority. On the day indicated by the Sovereign's proclamation, the two Houses assemble in their respective chambers. The Representatives are then summoned to the Senate, where Lords Commissioners (representatives of the Sovereign) instruct them to elect a Speaker. The Representatives perform the election; on the next day, they return to the Senate, where the Lords Commissioners confirm the election and grant the new Speaker the royal approval in the Sovereign's name.

The business of Parliament for the next few days of its session involves the taking of the oaths of allegiance. Once a majority of the members have taken the oath in each House, the State Opening of Parliament may take place. The Sovereign then reads the Speech from the Throne—the content of which is determined by the Ministers of the Crown—outlining the Government's legislative agenda for the upcoming year. Thereafter, each House proceeds to the transaction of legislative business.

By custom, before considering the Government's legislative agenda, a bill is introduced pro forma in each House—the Select Vestries Bill in the Senate and the Outlawries Bill in the House of Representatives. These bills do not become laws; they are ceremonial indications of the power of each House to debate independently of the Crown. After the pro forma bill is introduced, each House debates the content of the Speech from the Throne for several days. Once each House formally sends its reply to the Speech, legislative business may commence, appointing committees, electing officers, passing resolutions and considering legislation.

A session of Parliament is brought to an end by a prorogation. There is a ceremony similar to the State Opening, but much less well known to the general public. Normally, the Sovereign does not personally attend the prorogation ceremony in the Senate; he or she is represented by Lords Commissioners. The next session of Parliament begins under the procedures described above, but it is not necessary to conduct another election of a Speaker or take the oaths of allegiance afresh at the beginning of such subsequent sessions. Instead, the State Opening of Parliament proceeds directly. To avoid the delay of opening a new session in the event of an emergency during the long summer recess, Parliament is no longer prorogued beforehand, but only after the Houses have reconvened in the autumn; the State Opening follows a few days later.

Each Parliament comes to an end, after a number of sessions, in anticipation of a general election. Parliament is dissolved seven days in advance of the date of election by the Emperor. If the Prime Minister loses the support of the House of Commons, Parliament will dissolve and a new election will be held. Parliament can also be dissolved if two-thirds of the House of Commons votes for an early election.

After each Parliament concludes, the Crown issues writs to hold a general election and elect new members of the House of Representatives, though membership of the Senate does not change.

Legislative functions

Laws can be made by Acts of the Aspen Parliament. While Acts can apply to the whole of the Aspen Empire including Pazistan, due to the continuing separation of Pazistani law many Acts do not apply to Pazistan and may be matched either by equivalent Acts that apply to Pazistan alone or by legislation set by the Pazistani National Assembly relating to devolved matters.

Laws, in draft form known as bills, may be introduced by any member of either House. A bill introduced by a Minister is known as a "Government Bill"; one introduced by another member is called a "Private Member's Bill." A different way of categorizing bills involves the subject. Most bills, involving the general public, are called "public bills." A bill that seeks to grant special rights to an individual or small group of individuals, or a body such as a local authority, is called a "Private Bill." A Public Bill which affects private rights (in the way a Private Bill would) is called a "Hybrid Bill," although those that draft bills take pains to avoid this.

Each Bill goes through several stages in each House. The first stage, called the first reading, is a formality. At the second reading, the general principles of the bill are debated, and the House may vote to reject the bill, by not passing the motion "That the Bill be now read a second time." Defeats of Government Bills in the Representatives are extremely rare, and may constitute a motion of no confidence. (Defeats of Bills in the Senate never affect confidence and are much more frequent.)

Following the second reading, the bill is sent to a committee. In the Senate, the Committee of the Whole House or the Grand Committee are used. Each consists of all members of the House; the latter operates under special procedures, and is used only for uncontroversial bills. In the House of Commons, the bill is usually committed to a Public Bill Committee, consisting of eleven members, but the Committee of the Whole House is used for important legislation. Several other types of committees, including Select Committees, may be used, but rarely. A committee considers the bill clause by clause, and reports the bill as amended to the House, where further detailed consideration ("consideration stage" or "report stage") occurs. The Speaker, who is impartial as between the parties, by convention selects amendments for debate which represent the main divisions of opinion within the House. Other amendments can technically be proposed, but in practice have no chance of success unless the parties in the House are closely divided. If pressed they would normally be casually defeated by acclamation.

Once the House has considered the bill, the third reading follows. In the House of Commons, no further amendments may be made, and the passage of the motion "That the Bill be now read a third time" is passage of the whole bill. In the Senate further amendments to the bill may be moved. After the passage of the third reading motion, the Senate must vote on the motion "That the Bill do now pass." Following its passage in one House, the bill is sent to the other House. If passed in identical form by both Houses, it may be presented for the Sovereign's Assent. If one House passes amendments that the other will not agree to, and the two Houses cannot resolve their disagreements, the bill will normally fail.

The power of the Senate to reject bills passed by the House of Commons is severely restricted. If the House of Commons passes a public bill in two successive sessions, and the Senate rejects it both times, the Commons may direct that the bill be presented to the Sovereign for his or her Assent, disregarding the rejection of the Bill in the Senate. In each case, the bill must be passed by the House of Commons at least one calendar month before the end of the session. The provision does not apply to Private bills or to Public bills if they originated in the Senate or if they seek to extend the duration of a Parliament beyond one year. A special procedure applies in relation to bills classified by the Speaker of the House of Commons as "Money Bills." A Money Bill concerns solely national taxation or public funds; the Speaker's certificate is deemed conclusive under all circumstances. If the Senate fails to pass a Money Bill within one month of its passage in the House of Commons, the Lower House may direct that the Bill be submitted for the Sovereign's Assent immediately.

The Senate may not introduce a bill relating to taxation or Supply, nor amend a bill so as to insert a provision relating to taxation or Supply, nor amend a Supply Bill in any way. The House of Commons is free to waive this privilege, and sometimes does so to allow the Senate to pass amendments with financial implications. The Senate remains free to reject bills relating to Supply and taxation, but may be over-ruled easily if the bills are Money Bills. (A bill relating to revenue and Supply may not be a Money Bill if, for example, it includes subjects other than national taxation and public funds).

The last stage of a bill involves the granting of the Royal Assent. Theoretically, the Sovereign may either grant or withhold Royal Assent (make the bill a law or veto the bill). Constitutionally the Sovereign always grants the Royal Assent.

Thus, every bill obtains the assent of all three components of Parliament before it becomes law (except where the Senate is over-ridden). The words "BE IT ENACTED by the Emperor's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:-," or, where the Senate's authority has been over-ridden, the words "BE IT ENACTED by The Emperor's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:-" appear near the beginning of each Act of Parliament. These words are known as the enacting formula.

Relationship with the Aspen Government

The Aspen Government is answerable to the House of Commons. The Prime Minister is elected by a secret ballot at the beginning of each Parliament and is ceremonially appointed by the Emperor. So that they may be accountable to the Lower House, the Prime Minister and most members of the Cabinet are, always members of the House of Commons.

Governments have a tendency to dominate the legislative functions of Parliament, by using their in-built majority in the House of Commons. In practice, governments can pass any legislation (within reason) in the Commons they wish, unless there is major dissent by MPs in the governing party. But even in these situations, it is highly unlikely a bill will be defeated, though dissenting MPs may be able to extract concessions from the government.

Parliament controls the executive by passing or rejecting its Bills and by forcing Ministers of the Crown to answer for their actions, either at "Question Time" or during meetings of the parliamentary committees. In both cases, Ministers are asked questions by members of their Houses, and are obliged to answer.

Although the Senate may scrutinize the executive through Question Time and through its committees, it cannot bring down the Government. A ministry must always retain the confidence and support of the House of Commons. The Lower House may indicate its lack of support by rejecting a Motion of Confidence or by passing a Motion of No Confidence. Confidence Motions are generally originated by the Government to reinforce its support in the House, whilst No Confidence Motions are introduced by the Opposition. The motions sometimes take the form "That this House has [no] confidence in His Majesty's Government" but several other varieties, many referring to specific policies supported or opposed by Parliament, are used.

Many votes are considered votes of confidence, although not including the language mentioned above. Important bills that form part of the Government's agenda (as stated in the Speech from the Throne) are generally considered matters of confidence. The defeat of such a bill by the House of Commons indicates that a Government no longer has the confidence of that House. The same effect is achieved if the House of Commons "withdraws Supply," that is, rejects the budget.

Where a Government has lost the confidence of the House of Commons, in other words has lost the ability to secure the basic requirement of the authority of the House of Commons to tax and to spend Government money, the Prime Minister is obliged either to resign, or seek the dissolution of Parliament and a new general election. Otherwise the machinery of government grinds to a halt.

Where a Prime Minister has ceased to retain the necessary majority and requests a dissolution, the Sovereign can in theory reject his or her request, forcing a resignation and allowing the Leader of the Opposition to be asked to form a new government. This power is used extremely rarely. The conditions that should be met to allow such a refusal are known as the Lascelles Principles. These conditions and principles are constitutional conventions arising from the Sovereign's reserve powers as well as longstanding tradition and practice, not laid down in law.

Parliamentary questions

In the Aspen Empire, question time in the House of Commons lasts for an hour each day from Monday to Thursday. Each Government department has its place in a rota which repeats every two weeks. The exception to this sequence are the Business Questions (Questions to the Leader of House of Commons), in which questions are answered each Thursday about the business of the House the following week. Also, Questions to the Prime Minister takes place each Wednesday from noon to 12:30 pm.

Additionally, each Member of Parliament is entitled to table questions for written answer. Written questions are addressed to the Ministerial head of a government department, usually a Secretary of State, but they are often answered by a Minister of State or Parliamentary Under Secretary of State. Written Questions are submitted to the Clerks of the Table Office, either on paper or electronically, and answers are recorded in The Official Report so as to be widely available and accessible.

In the Senate, a half-hour is set aside each afternoon at the start of the day's proceedings for Senate's oral questions. A Senator submits a question in advance, which then appears on the Order Paper for the day's proceedings. The peer shall say: "Honorable Senators, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper." The Minister responsible then answers the question. The peer is then allowed to ask a supplementary question and other peers ask further questions on the theme of the original put down on the order paper. (For instance, if the question regards immigration, peers can ask the Minister any question related to immigration during the allowed period.)

Emblem

The crowned portcullis came to be accepted during the Emperor's Revival as the emblem of both houses of parliament as inspired by the British Westminster system. The emblem now appears on official stationery, publications and papers.

See also