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The House of Commons. The House of Commons is a representative assembly elected by universal adult suffrage, and consists of men and women (Members of Parliament
The House of Commons is a representative assembly elected by universal adult suffrage, and consists of men and women (Members of Parliament, MPs) from all sections of the community, regardless of income or occupation. There are 650 seats in the House of Commons: 523 for England, 38 for Wales, 72 for Scotland and I7 for Northern Ireland. Cf the 650 MPs, 23 are women.
Members of the House of Commons hold their seats during the life of a Parliament. They are elected either at a general election, which takes place after a Parliament has been dissolved and a new one summoned by the Sovereign, or at a by-election, which is held when a vacancy occurs in the House as a result of the death or resignation of a MP or as a result of elevation of a member to the House of Lords. The House of Commons meets in Westminster from Mondays to Fridays throughout the year, except when parliament is in recess. The hours of sitting for normal business are: Mondays to Thursdays from 14.30 to 22.30, and Fridays 09.30 to 15.00. Certain business is exempt from normal closing time and other business may be exempted if the House chooses, so that the Commons very often sits later than 22.30 hours on the first four days of the week, and all night sittings are not uncommon.
On ordinary occasions MPs, who also have much committee, party and constituency business to attend to, are not expected to be in constant attendance in the debating chamber. When any special business is about to be taken - for instance, a vote on some legislative or other matter - steps are taken to secure their presence. A maximum of 95 people holding ministerial office are entitled to sit and vote in the House of Commons at any other time.
The chief officer of the House of Commons is the Speaker. The Speaker has two main functions: first, he is the representative of the House in its relations with the Crown, the House of Lords and other authorities, and, second, he presides over the House and enforces the observance of all rules which govern its conduct.
The quality most essential to a Speaker is strict impartiality and one of his most important duties is to protect the rights of minorities and to ensure that their voices are heard. All members look to him for guidance in matters of procedure, and he decides points of order and gives rulings when required. The Speaker must be above party political controversy and must be seen completely impartial in all matters. Even after a Speaker has retired he will take no part in political issues.
The Commons elect its own Speaker - the usual practice being for the Government, after consultation with the opposition, to put forward the name of an MP acceptable to all sections of the House, who is then proposed and seconded by members of the back benches.
Other parliamentary officers of the House are the Chairman of Ways and Means and two deputy chairmen, all of whom may act as deputy Speaker; these officers are elected by the House on the nominations of the Goverment and, like the Speaker, they neither speak nor vote in the House other than in their official capacity.
Of the permanent officers of the House, who are not MPs, the most important is the Clerk of the House of Commons, appointed by the Crown. The Clerk conducts the business of the House in the official departments under his control, he is the chief advisor of the Speaker and MPs on the law, practice and procedure of Parliament, is Accounting Officer for the House of Commons vote and Head of the Clerk’s Department.
The Serjeant at Arms, who is appointed by the Sovereign, waits upon the Speaker with the Mace (the symbol of the royal authority delegated to the House), and carries out the orders of the House, he is the official housekeeper of the Commons part of the building and is generally responsible for its security.