In 1275 Edward I called a meeting of Parliament (parler was Norman French for talk). As well as his tenants-in-chief, Edward invited representatives from every shire and town in England. These men were elected as representatives by the people living in the locality. When the representatives arrived they met in five different groups: (1) the prelates (bishops and abbots); (2) the magnates (earls and barons); (3) the inferior clergy; (4) the knights from the shires; (5) the citizens from the towns.
At these meetings Edward explained about his need for money. Eventually the representatives agreed that people should pay the king a tax that amounted to a fifteenth of all their movable property. It was also agreed that a custom duty of 6s. 8d. should be paid on every sack of wool exported. As soon as agreement was reached about taxes, groups 3, 4 and 5 (the commons) were sent home. The representatives then had the job of persuading the people in their area to pay these taxes. The king then discussed issues such as new laws with his bishops, abbots, earls and barons (the lords).
After this date, whenever the king needed money, he called another Parliament. In 1430 an Act of Parliament divided constituencies (voting districts) into two groups: counties and boroughs. Only males who owned property worth 40 shillings were allowed to vote in county constituencies. You had to be fairly wealthy to be a MP. Not only were MPs not paid a wage, they also had to have an annual income of £600 (£300 for borough MPs).
Whereas Parliament stipulated who should vote in county constituencies, each town was allowed to decide for itself how its MPs should be selected. Voting qualifications varied enormously. In Preston every man over the age of 21 could vote. However, in most boroughs only a small number were allowed to take part in elections. In some constituencies, MPs were elected by less than ten people.
Henry VIII enhanced the importance of Parliament by his use of it during the English Reformation. In 1547 the king gave permission for members of the commons to meet at St. Stephen's Chapel, in the Palace of Westminster. In the 15th century the House of Lords was the Upper House and the House of Commons the Lower House. However, since that date, the balance of power has shifted in favour of the Commons.
After the Act of Union in 1800 the number of members in the House of Commons increased from 558 to 658. There were 465 MPs from England, 48 from Wales, 45 from Scotland and 100 from Ireland. This created problems of space as St. Stephen's Chapel only had 427 seats.
In 1834 the chapel and most of the Old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire. The new Palace of Westminster was designed by Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin. The seats to the right of the Speaker's Chair are traditionally used by the Government and its supporters, and those to the left are used by the opposition and other parties. Senior members of the Government and the Opposition sit on the front benchers. The gangway separating them is known as the Floor of the House, which was designed to be "two sword lengths apart". The House of Commons meet Monday to Thursday from 2.30 pm. to 10.30 pm. and on Fridays from 9.30 am to 3.00 pm. However, sometimes debates went on all night.