Q& A and quiz

O Adamberry, by email

BBC History Magazine - - Contents - Eu­gene Byrne is an au­thor and jour­nal­ist

A First off, let’s just stick to the UK… A ‘par­lia­ment’ is the pe­riod be­tween one gen­eral elec­tion and the next. Each par­lia­ment is di­vided into ses­sions which in the past gen­er­ally started and ended in the au­tumn, and which be­gin with the state open­ing of par­lia­ment and the monarch’s speech. An ac­tual meet­ing in the House of Com­mons or Lords is called a ‘sit­ting’.

The long­est par­lia­ment in UK his­tory ran from 1935 to 1945 be­cause no gen­eral elec­tion was called un­til the last months of the Sec­ond World War, but dur­ing this time an­nual ses­sions ran as nor­mal. The long­est sit­ting on record ran for 41½ hours in 1881 and was for a de­bate on Ire­land.

Tech­ni­cally, the long­est ses­sion in Eng­land (as op­posed to the UK) was the ‘Long Par­lia­ment’, which ran from 1640 un­til 1653, but this is open to ar­gu­ment as it went through sep­a­rate phases and the monarch wasn’t in­volved after its start.

The work­load of the Lords and Com­mons in the later 17th and 18th cen­turies was not usu­ally oner­ous, but it has been get­ting heav­ier in the years since. The Com­mons sat for 226 days in 1893–94 (Ir­ish home rule was on the agenda), well ahead of the pre­vi­ous record-holder (1838, 176 sittings).

There were spillover ses­sions in the early 20th cen­tury with the death of Queen Vic­to­ria, the 1902 Ed­u­ca­tion Act and the ‘Peo­ple’s Bud­get’ cri­sis, and again in 1912–13, while the 1939 ses­sion sat for 200 days.

Post­war par­lia­ments have been busier, with new gov­ern­ments usu­ally want­ing to get con­tentious busi­ness out of the way early on. The 1945– 46 ses­sion of the Com­mons was 212 days; the 1966– 67 ses­sion ran for 246 days; and Mar­garet Thatcher’s first ses­sion as prime min­is­ter in 1979– 80 ran for 244 days.

The long­est ses­sion was very re­cently, when David Cameron’s coali­tion gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced fixed terms. The first ses­sion of his premier­ship sat on 295 days be­tween 2010 and 2012. The cur­rent one may be longer; fol­low­ing the 2017 gen­eral elec­tion it was an­nounced that the ses­sion would last through un­til 2019 be­cause of the work­load in­volved in leav­ing the Euro­pean Union.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GLEN MCBETH

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