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Plan: 1. The composition 2. The Lord-Chancellor 3. The State Opening Parliament 4. Parliamentary Traditions
The Composition The House of Lords is the the upper House of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster.
Unlike the elected House of Commons, most members of the House of Lords are appointed. The membership of the House of Lords is made up of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal. The Lords Spiritual are 26 bishops in the established Church of England. Of the Lords Temporal, the majority are life peers who are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, or on the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. However, they also include some hereditary peers. Membership was once an entitlement of all hereditary peers, other than those in the peerage of Ireland, but under the House of Lords Act 1999, the right to membership was restricted to 92 hereditary peers. Very few of these are female since most hereditary peerages can only be inherited by men.
While the House of Commons has a defined 650-seat membership, the number of members in the House of Lords is not fixed. There are currently 821 sitting Lords. The House of Lords is the only upper house of any bicameral parliament to be larger than its respective lower house.
The House of Lords scrutinises bills that have been approved by the House of Commons. It regularly reviews and amends Bills from the Commons. While it is unable to prevent Bills passing into law, except in certain limited circumstances, it can delay Bills and force the Commons to reconsider their decisions. In this capacity, the House of Lords acts as a check on the House of Commons that is independent from the electoral process. Bills can be introduced into either the House of Lords or the House of Commons. Members of the Lords may also take on roles as government ministers. The House of Lords has its own support services, separate from the Commons, including the House of Lords Library.
House of Lords of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 56th UK Parliament Type Type Upper House of the Parliament of the United Kingdom Leadership Lord Speaker FrancesD'Souza, BaronessD'Souza, non-affiliated Since 1 September 2011 Leader TinaStowell, BaronessStowellof Beeston, Conservative Since 15 July 2014 Opposition Leader Angela Smith, Baroness Smith ofBasildon, Labour Since 27 May 2015 Lib. Dems Leader Jim Wallace, Baron Wallace ofTankerness, Liberal Democrat Since October 2013 Structure Seats 821 (excl. 41 peers on leave of absence or otherwise disqualified from sitting)
Structure Seats 821 (excl. 41 peers on leave of absence or otherwise disqualified from sitting) Political groups HM Government Conservative Party (250) HM Opposition LabourParty (212) Other Crossbenchers (180) Liberal Democrats (112) Democratic Unionist Party (4) UK Independence Party (3) PlaidCymru (2) Ulster Unionist Party (2) Green Party (1) Non-affiliated (30) Lords Spiritual (25) Salary No annual salary, but expenses paid.
Meeting place House of Lords Chamber Palace of Westminster Westminster London United Kingdom
The Lord Chancellor The Lord Chancellor, formally the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, is a senior and important functionary in the government of the United Kingdom. He is the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State, ranking after only the Lord High Steward. The Lord Chancellor is appointed by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister. Prior to the Union there were separate Lord Chancellors for England and Wales and for Scotland.
Lord Chancellor Arms of Her Majesty's Government Incumbent Michael Gove since 9th May 2015 Style The Right Honourable Appointer The Sovereign on advice of the Prime Minister Inaugural holder The Lord Cowper Formation May 1707 of Kingdom of Great Britain
The Lord Chancellor is a member of the Cabinet and, by law, is responsible for the efficient functioning and independence of the courts. Formerly he was also the presiding officer of the House of Lords, the head of the judiciary in England and Wales, and the presiding judge of the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice, but the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 transferred these roles to the Lord Speaker, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Chancellor of the High Court respectively. The current Lord Chancellor isMichael Gove, who is also Secretary of State for Justice.
One of the Lord Chancellor's responsibilities is to act as the custodian of the Great Seal of the Realm. A Lord Keeper of the Great Seal may be appointed instead of a Lord Chancellor. The two offices entail exactly the same duties; the only distinction is in the mode of appointment. Furthermore, the office of Lord Chancellor may be exercised by a committee of individuals known as Lords Commissioners of the Great Seal,[ usually when there is a delay between an outgoing Chancellor and his replacement. The seal is then said to be "in commission". Since the 19th century, however, only Lord Chancellors have been appointed, the other offices having fallen into disuse.
The State Opening of Parliment The State Opening of Parliament marks the formal start of the parliamentary year and the Queen's Speech sets out the government’s agenda for the coming session, outlining proposed policies and legislation. It is the only regular occasion when the three constituent parts of Parliament – the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons – meet.
History of State Opening Traditions surrounding State Opening and the delivery of a speech by the monarch can be traced back as far as the 16th century. The current ceremony dates from the opening of the rebuilt Palace of Westminster in 1852 after the fire of 1834.
When is the State Opening of Parliament? State Opening takes place on the first day of a new parliamentary session or shortly after a general election. State Opening last took place on 27 May 2015.
What happens during State Opening? State Opening is the main ceremonial event of the parliamentary calendar, attracting large crowds and a significant television and online audience. It begins with the Queen's procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, escorted by the Household Cavalry. The Queen arrives at Sovereign's Entrance and proceeds to the Robing Room. Wearing the Imperial State Crown and the Robe of State, she leads the Royal Procession through the Royal Gallery, packed with 600 guests, to the chamber of the House of Lords. The House of Lords official known as 'Black Rod' is sent to summon the Commons. The doors to the Commons chamber are shut in his face: a practice dating back to the Civil War, symbolising the Commons' independence from the monarchy. Black Rod strikes the door three times before it is opened. Members of the House of Commons then follow Black Rod and the Commons Speaker to the Lords chamber, standing at the opposite end to the Throne, known as the Bar of the House, to listen to the speech.
The Queen's Speech The Queen's Speech is delivered by the Queen from the Throne in the House of Lords. Although the Queen reads the Speech, it is written by the government. It contains an outline of its policies and proposed legislation for the new parliamentary session.
After the Queen's Speech When the Queen leaves, a new parliamentary session starts and Parliament gets back to work. Members of both Houses debate the content of the speech and agree an ‘Address in Reply to Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech’. Each House continues the debate over the planned legislative programme for several days, looking at different subject areas. The Queen's Speech is voted on by the Commons, but no vote is taken in the Lords.
Traditions of Parliament The origins of Parliament go back to the 13th century, so there are many rules, customs and traditions that help explain its workings.
The colours of the Houses of Parliament A tradition that stands out to most visitors to Parliament is the difference between the colours which are used in the Lords and Commons parts of the building. Green is the principal colour for furnishing and fabrics throughout the House of Commons, with the green benches of the Chamber perhaps the most recognisable of these. The first authoritative mention of the use of green in the Chamber occured in 1663. In the House of Lords, red is similarly employed in upholstery, hansard, notepaper etc. This colour most likely stems from the use by monarchs of red as a royal colour and its consequent employment in the room where the Monarch met their court and nobles.
Dragging the Speaker of the House of Commons When a new Speaker of the House of Commons is elected, the successful candidate is physically dragged to the Chair by other MPs. This tradition has its roots in the Speaker's function to communicate the Commons' opinions to the monarch. Historically, if the monarch didn't agree with the message being communicated then the early death of the Speaker could follow. Therefore, as you can imagine, previous Speakers required some gentle persuasion to accept the post.
Prayers Each sitting in both Houses begins with prayers that follow the Christian faith. In the Commons the Speaker's Chaplain usually reads the prayers. In the Lords a senior bishop (Lord Spiritual) who sits in the Lords usually reads the prayers. MPs can use prayers cards to reserve seats in the chamber for the remainder of that sitting day. These 'prayer cards' are dated and must be obtained personally by the Member who wishes to use them from an on duty attendant before the House meets.
Catching the Speaker's eye To participate in a debate in the House of Commons or at question time, MPs have to be called by the Speaker. MPs usually rise or half-rise from their seats in a bid to get the Speaker's attention - this is known as 'catching the Speaker's eye'.
Voting When MPs vote on debates or legislation it is called a division. When MPs vote they say 'aye' or 'no'. In the Lords, Members vote saying 'content' or 'not content'. For major votes the House divides into the voting lobbies, two corridors that run either side of the chamber, and members are counted as they enter into each.
Dress The dress of MPs has of course changed throughout history. The dress of Members these days is generally that which might ordinarily be worn for a fairly formal business transaction. The Speaker has, on a number of occasions, taken exception to informal clothing, including the non-wearing of jackets and ties by men.
The Lord Speaker on the Woolsack The Woolsack is the seat of the Lord Speaker in the House of Lords Chamber. The Woolsack is a large, wool-stuffed cushion or seat covered with red cloth. The Lord Speaker presides over business in the House of Lords, but does not control them like the Speaker in the Commons, as Members of the Lords regulate their own discussions. If a Deputy Speaker presides in the absence of the Lord Speaker, then that individual uses the Woolsack. When the House of Lords is sitting, the Mace is placed on the rear of the Woolsack, behind the Lord Speaker.
Judge's Woolsack In front of the Woolsack in the House of Lords Chamber is a larger cushion known as the Judges' Woolsack. During the State Opening of Parliament, the Judges' Woolsack is occupied by senior judges. This is a reminder of medieval Parliaments, when judges attended to offer legal advice. During normal sittings of the House, any Member of the Lords may sit on it.
General Public in the Houses of Parliament The general public is allowed into those parts of the House of Commons not exclusively for the use of Members. The Serjeant at Arms is able to take into custody non-Members who are in any part of the House or gallery reserved for Members, and members of the public who misconduct themselves or do not leave when asked to do so. The House of Lords is also open to the public and you can watch business in the chamber and select committees for free.
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