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House of Commons (Aspen Empire)
|House of Commons|
|Leader of The Opposition||Vacant|
The House of Commons, is the lower house of the Parliament of the Aspen Empire. Like the upper house, the Senate, it meets in the Aspen Capitol Building.
The Commons is an elected body consisting of a number members known as Members of Parliament (MPs). Members are elected to represent constituencies by the single transferable vote system, in which a number of Members of Parliament are elected from each constituency.
The House of Commons was not originally established in the Charter of the Aspen Empire, but was instead known as the Federal Council. over time the Federal Council gradually grew into the Imperial Council and the elected house became the Federal Diet.
The Government is solely responsible to the House of Commons and the Prime Minister stays in office only as long as he or she retains the confidence of a majority of the Commons.
Relationship with His Majesty's Government
Though formally appointed by the Emperor, the House of Commons elects the Prime Minister and his or her proposed cabinet by a motion of confidence. In which case the Member who commands the majority of Parliament submits a question of confidence to the chair stating “and the question to this house is whether the honorable member from (name of constituency) has the confidence of the majority of this house.” If a majority are in favor, the Prime Minister is formally appointed by the Emperor at noon the next day.
The House of Commons may at any time remove the Prime Minister and His Majesty’s Government through a vote of no confidence. If a majority of members vote in favor of removal of a Prime Minister then he or she is removed from that office and a leadership election held. If a parliamentary leadership election fails, the Emperor appoints a caretaker Prime Minister until a general election can be held.
Scrutiny of the government
The House of Commons formally scrutinizes His Majesty’s Government, and holds those ministers in cabinet positions and subsequently the Prime Minister accountable for their actions through questions. Questions are formally submitted to the chair by the Opposition and Members of Parliament to be asked upon the conclusion of the prayer.
Scrutiny of the Government is a particularly important facet of the position of the House of Commons, due the fact that the Prime Minister is accountable to the confidence of Parliament. This scrutiny also gives members of the governing party a chance to speak on matters that affect their constituency and the government’s reaction.
Though bills may be introduced in either house, the House of Commons usually introduces bills of significant importance to the government, including bills relating to government agencies and finance. As it is representative of the whole people of the Empire, the House of Commons is the sole house that may introduce taxation and supply motions, though the Senate may amend these motions, it may not introduce them or block them.
Bills are regularly introduced to the floor of the House of Commons, of these bills there are two types, Public bills which affect the whole of the people of the Empire, and Private Members Bills which affect only a member’s constituency, or a person residing within a member’s constituency. Though Private Members Bills are rare, they are occasionally used to highlight societal issues or economic issues within a member’s constituency.
Members and Elections
Members of the House of Commons are elected from multi-member constituencies through a Single Transferable Vote system. Constituencies are the geographic area in which a member is elected from and the boundaries of constituencies are decided by an independent Electoral Commission which analyzes population data and demographics to better protect constituents from gerrymandering. The Electoral Commission presents these statistics to Parliament annually and may recommend changes in boundaries. Parliament is required to review boundary changes and may introduce legislation to change boundaries.
Membership, Term and Qualifications
Members serve one year terms, but may be recalled by their constituency.
Qualifications to become a Member of Parliament are regulated by the House of Commons. The present qualifications are that a member must be at least fifteen years of age, a resident of the constituency in which he or she will represent, and a citizen of the Aspen Empire for at least six months. Additionally, members of parliament may not be presently serving in the armed forces or have been charged with a criminal offense within the past year and six months.
Running for a seat in two constituencies simultaneously is a criminal offense and will result in a fine or community service, and disqualification from the next election.
Should a member be disqualified during their term, he or she will be removed from Parliament and a by-election held in their constituency for that seat.
If a member of parliament wishes to resign before the expiration of their term, he or she must submit a formal letter of resignation to the speaker, who will then request that a by-election be held in that member’s constituency.
General elections occur whenever Parliament is dissolved. If a Prime Minister resigns or is removed from office by a vote of no confidence and the subsequent leadership election fails to find a suitable candidate, a general election may commence.
Once elected, Members of Parliament continue to serve until the next dissolution of Parliament. But if a member dies or ceases to be qualified, his or her seat falls vacant. It is also possible for the House of Commons to expel a member, a power exercised only in cases of serious misconduct or criminal activity. In each case, the vacancy is filled by a by-election in the constituency, with the same electoral system as in general elections.
At the beginning of each new parliamentary term, the House of Commons elects one of its members as a presiding officer, known as the Speaker. A Speaker-elect cannot take office until she or he has been approved by the monarch; the granting of the royal approbation, however, is a formality. The Speaker is assisted by three Deputy Speakers. The Speaker and the Deputy Speakers are always members of the House of Commons.
The Speaker is also chairman of the House of Commons Committee on Rules and Procedure, which oversees the running of the House, and controls debates by calling on members to speak. A member who believes that a rule (or Standing Order) has been breached may raise a "point of order", on which the Speaker makes a ruling that is not subject to any appeal. The Speaker may discipline members who fail to observe the rules of the House. The Speaker also decides which proposed amendments to a motion are to be debated. Thus, the Speaker is far more powerful than his or her Senate counterpart, the Lord Speaker, who has no disciplinary powers. Customarily, the Speaker and the deputies are non-partisan; they do not vote (except for during ties), or participate in the affairs of any political party.
The Clerk of the House is both the House's chief adviser on matters of procedure and chief executive of the House of Commons. The Clerk advises the Speaker on the rules and procedure of the House, signs orders and official communications, and signs and endorses bills. The Clerk's deputy is known as the Clerk Assistant. Another officer of the House is the Sergeant-at-Arms, whose duties include the maintenance of law, order, and security on the House's premises. The Sergeant-at-Arms carries the ceremonial mace, a symbol of the authority of the Crown and of the House of Commons, into the House each day in front of the Speaker, and the Mace is laid upon the Table of the House during sittings. The Librarian is head of the House of Commons Library.
During debates, Members may speak only if called upon by the Speaker (or a Deputy Speaker, if the Speaker is not presiding). Usually, the presiding officer alternates between calling Members from the Government and Opposition. The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and other leaders from both sides are normally given priority.
Speeches are addressed to the presiding officer, using the words "Mr Speaker", "Madam Speaker", "Mr Deputy Speaker", or "Madam Deputy Speaker". Only the presiding officer may be directly addressed in debate; other members must be referred to in the third person. members do not refer to each other by name, but by constituency, using forms such as "the Honorable Member for [constituency]", or, in the case of Privy Counsellors, "the Right Honorable Member for [constituency]". Members of the same party (or allied parties or groups) refer to each other as "my (Right) Honorable friend". (A member of the Armed Forces used to be called "the Honorable and Gallant Member", a barrister "the Honorable and Learned Member", and a woman "the Honorable Lady the Member".) This may not always be the case during the actual oral delivery, when it might be difficult for a member to remember another member's exact constituency, but it is invariably followed in the transcript entered in the Archives. The Speaker enforces the rules of the House and may warn and punish members who deviate from them. Disregarding the Speaker's instructions is a breach of the rules of the House and may result in the suspension of the offender from the House. In the case of grave disorder, the Speaker may adjourn the House without taking a vote.
The Standing Orders of the House of Representatives do not establish any formal time limits for debates. The Speaker may, however, order a member who persists in making a tediously repetitive or irrelevant speech to stop speaking. The time set aside for debate on a particular motion is, however, often limited by informal agreements between the parties. Debate may also be restricted by the passage of "Allocation of Time Motions", which are more commonly known as "Guillotine Motions". Alternatively, the House may put an immediate end to debate by passing a motion to invoke Closure. The Speaker is allowed to deny the motion if she or he believes that it infringes upon the rights of the minority. bills are scheduled according to a Timetable Motion, which the whole House agrees in advance, negating the use of a guillotine.
When the debate concludes, or when the Closure is invoked, the motion in question is put to a vote. The House first votes by voice vote; the Speaker or Deputy Speaker puts the question, and Members respond either "Aye!" (in favor of the motion) or "No!" (against the motion). The presiding officer then announces the result of the voice vote, but if his or her assessment is challenged by any member or the voice vote is unclear, a recorded vote known as a division follows. The presiding officer, if she or he believes that the result of the voice vote is clear, may reject the challenge. When a division occurs, members are called by roll and respond with either an Aye or No.
Once the division concludes, the clerk reads back the results of the division to the speaker, who then announces them to the House. If there is an equality of votes, the Speaker or Deputy Speaker has a casting vote. Traditionally, this casting vote is exercised to allow further debate, if this is possible, or otherwise to avoid a decision being taken without a majority (e.g. voting 'No' to a motion or the third reading of a bill). The quorum of the House of Commons is one-third of its members for any vote, including the Speaker. If fewer than a quorum of members have participated, the division is invalid.
The outcome of most votes is largely known beforehand, since political parties normally instruct members on how to vote. A party normally entrusts some members of parliament, known as whips, with the task of ensuring that all party members vote as desired. Ministers, junior ministers and parliamentary private secretaries who vote against the whips' instructions usually resign. The independence of Members of Parliament is generally high as members are not legally required to vote with their party, but voting against their party may result in expulsion from the party and prevention from running as that party’s candidate in their constituency.
A bisque is permission from the Whips given to a member to miss a vote or debate in the House to attend to constituency business or other matters.
The Aspen Parliament uses committees for a variety of purposes, e.g., for the review of bills. Committees consider bills in detail, and may make amendments. Bills of great constitutional importance, as well as some important financial measures, are usually sent to the "Committee of the Whole House", a body that includes all members of the House of Commons. Instead of the Speaker, the chairman or a Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means presides.
Standing committees are established at the beginning of each Parliamentary session. Standing committeeS are permanent committees that review bills and may propose amendments or changes to a bill, hold hearings, and generally gather information about the nature of a bill. The chairman of each committee is formally elected by the House of Commons, but the party that holds the confidence of the House of Commons usually controls the position of committee chairs.
The House of Commons also has several Select Committees. The membership of these bodies, like that of the Standing Committees, reflects the strength of the parties. The chairman of each committee is voted on in a secret ballot of the whole house during the first session of a parliamentary term, or when a vacancy occurs. The primary function of a Select Committee is to scrutinise and investigate the activities of a particular facet of the government or a particular social or economic field. To fulfil these aims, it is permitted to hold hearings and collect evidence. Bills may be referred to Select Committees, but such a procedure is seldom used.
Other committees of the House of Commons include Joint Committees (which also include members of the Senate), the Committee on Standards and Privileges (which considers questions of parliamentary privilege, as well as matters relating to the conduct of the members), and the Committee of Selection (which determines the membership of other committees).