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Wednesday, June 3, 1998 Published at 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK

UK Politics: Talking Politics

The 'Mother of Parliaments'

Click on the links in the text below for pages on that era of parliamentary history.

England was once described as the "Mother of Parliaments" by the nineteenth century radical John Bright but the phrase could equally apply to the Westminster Parliament, the engine room of British democracy.

It is one of the models of democratic government followed by many countries throughout the world and is the end product of over 800 years of evolution, carefully honoured tradition and last minute compromise.

The word Parliament comes from the French and means 'to discuss'. During its first 400 hundred years Parliament developed from being the royal debating chamber or, the King's Great Council, to becoming one of the nation's key political institutions.

Parliament's position at the heart of British government is the result of its success at absorbing the powers previously held by the Crown.

From the time of the civil war to the Glorious Revolution some of these powers were won at the point of the sword, others by consent and some by stealth.

Once Parliament achieved supremacy over the monarchy in the seventeenth century, the struggle for political power in Britain began to revolve around the control of Parliament itself.

This saw the development of political parties and prime ministers.

The next great parliamentary battle was fought between the people and Parliament itself over the right to vote.

The Great Reform Act of 1832 started the democratisation of British government - a process which some would argue is still ongoing.

During the last 100 years Parliament has extended the vote to women and drastically curbed the powers of the unelected House of Lords and passed some of its own sovereignty over to Europe.

But the process of Parliamentary change is still ongoing with devolution, the further reform of the House of Lords and perhaps reform of the electoral system itself all sure to make their presence felt in the years to come.

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