First Parliament of Great Britain


First Parliament of Great Britain

Westminster, London The 23rd of October 1707 AD

The Acts of Union of 1706 and 1707 had in effect created the legal framework defining Great Britain as a state; yet they were the products of separate Parliaments in London and Edinburgh . Since James VI , King of Scotland, came to the English throne in 1603 the two countries had retained their own institutions. On October 23 1707 the two countries were united in parliamentary terms, as a single Parliament representing both ancient rivals sat for the first time.
MPs in this first Parliament of Great Britain were not elected specifically to it: on the English side MPs sitting in the existing English and Welsh Parliament transferred into the new body; on the Scots side 45 men were selected to represent their country. The disparity of power is obvious: there were 486 English, 27 Welsh, and 45 Scottish MPs in the new Westminster British House of Commons.
As there was no truly formalised party system in place at this time it can be argued that, in spite of its membership coming overwhelmingly from the privileged top levels of society, it managed to represent a broader range of opinions than our current system indeed there was a Whig-Tory coalition headed by Sidney Godolphin operating in England when the new body first sat, a coalition that continued in the Parliament of Great Britain. MPs were not paid, thus not career-slaves to party machines. And the groupings that existed were fluid, willing to change as circumstances dictated rather than swearing chalk is cheese if the whips say they must.

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