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British Parliament vs. United States Congress

A comparison and explanation of the structure of United States Congress and the British Parliament.


This article will take the reader on an exploration of the British Parliament and the United States Congress. From this paper the reader shall gather an understanding of both government bodies operates, furthermore be able to distinguish the similarities and differences. The essential question the paper will answer is “What are the similarities and differences between both forms of government?” This is very much appropriate, since it could be argued that the United States congress, along with other democracies with similar systems, is by products of the British Parliament. A number of online articles, research data, as well book references, were what I used to compose this paper.

British Parliament vs. United States Congress

There are many government systems the world over. Many different forms, many different philosophies, which is why a study of comparative governments is a must in the world we reside in. Not only to understand how other countries governments function, but to understand the minds of both the citizens and officials in charge. Through these studies, one may even find ways to apply what he or she has learn, to better his or her government. They may create ways to run a more efficient government, or may construct ideas, philosophies, or concepts that would aid in developing a nation’s infrastructure. Other times a comparison must be made to understand the similarities and differences of systems of government, such as a comparison of the United States Congress and the British Parliament.

Both the United Kingdom and the United States can be described as what is referred to as “bicameralism.” Where the national government will have two chambers and each chamber principle of representation will vary from the other. The United States has two chambers, House of Representatives, and the senate. While on the other hand the British parliament, two chamber system which consists of the house of the lords, and the House of Commons. The identity of both systems is so similar. The house of representatives resembles the house of the commons. Same could be said for the Senate and the House of the Lords. Similar work is being done by both, which consists of creating legislation, and from time to time criticizing the government.

The House of Commons is parallel to the House of Representatives, in that they are publicly elected officials who represent a certain jurisdiction of citizens. The House of Commons consist of around 650 voting members. These representatives are commonly referred to as MP’s or “Members of Parliament.” Members of the Parliament represent a district that may have a population averaging around 100,000 citizens. The House of Commons, has a speaker like the House of Representatives, that speaker usually some type of non-partisan presiding officer, elected by members of the party that is in power. The House of Commons is a thoroughfare for government ministers and chancellors. Adding to this the House of Commons has control over finance, meaning they and they alone are responsible for making decisions on financial bills. They can as well they can propose and amend bills and criticize the government.

The House of Representatives, has voting members that can referred to as “Representative” or “Congressmen” and in some situations “Congresswoman.” The House of Representatives contains 435 voting members. These Congressmen, represent districts whose population average around 650,000 or more. Like the Commons they may propose legislation and criticize the government. There is a speaker of the house, which was created from the Commons speaker. This presiding officer is elected by a simple majority vote, after candidates are nominated. The speaker directs the traffic of business concerning the house, and maintains order.

To qualify for either the House of Commons, or the House of Representatives, a candidate must have certain characteristics to qualify. It is here where both the House of Commons and the House of Representatives go off in different directions. To be a Member of the Parliament a potential candidate must be over the age of 21. This said potential candidate, then must be nominated by ten constituency members. Let’s not neglect to mention there is a £500 deposit that must be made to enter an election. That is equivalent to $640 American dollars. However, there a refund will be provided to the potential candidate, provided he or she has amassed over 5% of the votes. Should one succeed in attaining a seat, and becoming a Member of Parliament, they can look forward to a salary that averages around £65,000 or $105,000 U.S. dollars.

In the United States of America, to become a potential candidate you must be over the age of 25. One must have lived in the United States for at least seven years. A potential candidate must also reside in the state he or she wants to represent. Should be elected, representatives can make around $175,000.

The term for a congressmen, spans two years. A congressman’s job is renewable, provided he or she has been re-elected. Elections are held the first Tuesday of November.

For Members of Parliament they may serve a five year term, however it is not guaranteed that a parliament may finish out the full term. When general elections are held for Members of Parliament, the Prime Minister decides when the election should be held. The Prime Minister then makes a request to the Queen to dissolve Parliament. A request she bound by law to make. This is called “Royal Proclamation.” Taking a couple steps back, the major party or party in control of the Commons selects a Prime Minister; from there they can form the government. When a major party cannot obtain support on crucial and important political issues or is defeated on a confidence motion, the parliament will be dissolved and elections will be held to select a new one.

As seen in the previous paragraphs, the structure of both the House of Commons and the House of Representatives has a similar structure, and function, but proceed in a very different fashion. The same can be said for the House of Lords and the United States Senate.

The House of Lords is the second chamber in the United Kingdom government. Members are known as “peers.” There are different types of peers with five levels of ranking. The House of Lords consists of 724 members. They have the ability to create legislation, criticize and hold the government accountable, and investigate policy issues. This House can be described as the “lesser house.” For good reason, while they can make decisions, these must be fully ratified by the House of Commons, revenue bills cannot be generated by this chamber. The House of Lords may reject a bill, amendment, or any type of legislation for that matter from the Commons, but Parliament may act, and eventually allowing the House to force legislation through.

The United States Senate on the other hand is completely on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to issues such as this. The Senate acts a check and balance. This means if a bill were coming from the House of Representatives, the Senate could reject it causing gridlock. The Senate is a chamber of the United States that is composed of 100 members with two representatives from each state.

To become a Lord one must be over the age of 21, a citizen of the United Kingdom, and must be in good standing with authorities and with the community. A United States Senator however, must be at least 30 years of age, have residency for around nine years, and must reside in the state, which they wish to represent. Senators are voted into office by the citizens. A third of senators are up for election, the same time members of the House of Representatives are up for election. The remaining is usually elected during the presidential campaign. An example would be Senator Johnny Isakson who was recently re-elected for the 2010 midterm elections, while Saxby Chambliss was up for re-election during the 2008 presidential campaign.

From this research I have learned the origins of the two chambered house system used by both countries. It is easy to gather where and how the United States, developed its own system, by making modifications, to an older system. Diving deeper into the fray of comparing both systems one could also reveal flaws by both systems. This is why studies such as comparative government must be done, to learn the ins and outs of other types of governments, but also learn upsides and the down sides. It is from here that we can as citizens of this world, better understand each other, better our respective governments, and create unique and distinct national and international communities that any citizen from any nation would want to be a part of.

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Works Cited

Lewis A. Froman Jr., (1967). Congressional Process: Strategies, Rules, and Procedures. Retrieved from James Pendegrast Library

Mary L. McNeil, John L. Moore, Tom Arrandale, Sari Horwitz, Patricia Ann O’Connor, Georgianna Rathburn, Elizbeth H. Summers, Margaret C. Thompson, Micheal D. Wormser. (1983) How Congress Works. Retrieved from James Pendegrast Library

United Kingdom Parliament (2010 November) Parliament UK.

Retrieved from

K. R. Mackenzie, The English Parliament (1950, repr. 1963); A. F. Pollard, The Evolution of Parliament (2d ed. 1926, repr. 1964); G. D. Sayles, The King's Parliament of England (1974); D.C. Bank, How Things Get Done (1979); E. Cruikshanks, Parliamentary History (4 vol., 1985); M. S. Ryan, Parliamentary Procedure (1985); G. Jones, Parliamentary Procedure at a Glance (1989). Retrieved from


Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on December 25, 2019:

Hello, It's important to note: the 3 branches of the U.S. national government are equal, and the president does not have the power to dissolve Congress. Although the House of Represenatives is considered the lower house, as a check and balance on the Executive Branch, the Speaker of the House is in line to become president if something should happen to the president or Vice-president. Again, this is a check on the executive branch of the U.S. Likewise, all elected officials can be removed through impeachment, loosing an election, or a request for removal by the state they represent, known as a "recall." Finally, the third branch of the federal government decides whether a law is constitutional (judiciary branch). This is a check on Congressional power and executive power by the courts of the U.S. However, I truly liked your article, and many aspects of the similarities and differences of the U.S. democratic "republic" and the British democratic "monarchy" were explained. Thanks.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on June 21, 2017:

Members of Parliament aren't 'officials', they're elected representatives answerable to their local party constituents and voters. They're unlikely to face the sack unless they do something really stupid such as embezzlement of funds, or claiming false expenses. Some members hardly make any expenses claims, others claim even for Mars Bars for their kids (that's an exaggeration but you get the picture). Top of the list for 'de-selection' is bringing the party they represent into disrepute.

The 'officials' in the Palace of Westminster are the civil servants of all ranks, security officers and 'Black Rod' (go-between who escorts the Commons to the Lords at the State Opening).

The speaker - currently John Berckow - is elected by the party in government and opposition as the individual respected by both. The Father of the House - currently Dennis Skinner, once nicknamed 'the Beast of Bolsover' (pron. 'Bowser') for his aggressive manner - is the eldest serving member, whichever party he belongs to. Sessions in the Commons resemble break time in a public school common room (or Chimps' Tea Party at the zoo).

diya on June 16, 2013:

awesome page. very helpful.THANK YOU :)

Dantestheauthor (author) on May 15, 2013:

You are welcome.

Raj paul on May 15, 2013:

This so useful. From this I gained good knowledge. Thank you.

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