Parliament of Great Britain

Parliament of Great Britain

The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland. The Acts created a new unified Kingdom of Great Britain and dissolved the separate English and Scottish parliaments in favour of a single parliament, located in the former home of the English parliament in the Palace of Westminster, London.

It was only after the Hanoverian George I ascended the Throne in 1714 that power began to shift from the Sovereign. George was a German ruler, spoke poor English and preferred to concentrate on his dominions in Europe. He thus entrusted power to a group of his ministers, the foremost of which was Sir Robert Walpole. George III sought to restore royal supremacy, but by the end of his reign, the position of the ministers—who would in turn have to rely on Parliament for support—was cemented.

Towards the end of the 18th century the monarch still had considerable influence over Parliament which itself was dominated by the English aristocracy and by patronage. Candidates for the House of Commons stood as Whigs or Tories, but once elected formed shifting coalitions of interests rather than splitting along party lines. At general elections the vote was restricted to property owners, in constituencies which were out of date and did not reflect the growing importance of manufacturing towns or shifts of population, so that in rotten boroughs seats could be bought or were controlled by rich landowners, while major cities remained unrepresented. Reformers like William Beckford and Radicals beginning with John Wilkes called for reform of the system. In 1780 a draft programme of reform was drawn up by Charles James Fox and Thomas Brand Hollis, and put forward by a sub-committee of the electors of Westminster. This included calls for the six points later adopted by the Chartists.

The American Revolutionary War ended in humiliating defeat of a policy which King George III had fervently advocated, and in March 1782 the King was forced to appoint an administration led by his opponents which sought to curb Royal patronage. In November 1783 he took his opportunity and used his influence in the House of Lords to defeat a Bill to reform the British East India Company, dismissed the government then appointed William Pitt the Younger as his Prime Minister. Pitt had previously called for Parliament to begin to reform itself, but he did not press for long for reforms the King did not like. Proposals Pitt made in April 1785 to redistribute seats from the "rotten boroughs" to London and the counties were defeated in the House of Commons by 248 votes to 174.

In the wake of the French Revolution of 1789, Radical organisations such as the London Corresponding Society sprang up to press for reform, but as the Napoleonic Wars developed the government took extensive stern measures against feared domestic unrest and progress toward reform was stalled.

Parliament of the United Kingdom

In 1801 the Parliament of the United Kingdom was created when the Kingdom of Great Britain was merged with the Kingdom of Ireland to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland under the Act of Union 1800.

ee also

*List of Parliaments of Great Britain
*List of Acts of Parliament of the United Kingdom Parliament, 1707-1799
*1st Parliament of Great Britain

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