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Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, or the Official Opposition, in the United Kingdom is led by the Leader of the Opposition. This is usually the political party with the second-largest number of seats in the House of Commons, as the largest party will usually form Her Majesty's Government. Since May 1997, the Official Opposition has been the Conservative Party.

Contents

Origins

The phrase His Majesty's Opposition was coined in 1826, before the advent of the modern two party system, when Parliament consisted of interests, relationships and factions rather than coherent political parties. Attacking the Foreign Secretary, George Canning in the House of Commons, John Hobhouse said:

It is said to be hard on His Majesty's Ministers to raise objections of this character but it is more hard on His Majesty's Opposition to compel them to take this course.

The phrase was widely welcomed and has been in use ever since.

Opposition days

Whilst most days in the House of Commons are set aside for government business, twenty days in each session are set aside for opposition debates. Of these days, seventeen are at the disposal of the Leader of the Opposition and three can be used by the leader of the smaller, or Tertiary, opposition party (for most recent history this has been the Liberal Democrats).[1]

Although the Opposition has no more formal powers in setting the Parliamentary agenda, in reality they have a certain influence through a process known as the usual channels.[1]

Leader of the Opposition

The Leader of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition is often seen as the Prime Minister in waiting. Since 1915, the Leader of the Opposition has, like the Prime Minister, always been a member of the House of Commons. Before that a member of the House of Lords sometimes took on the role, although often there was no overall Leader of the Opposition.

Although there has not recently been a dispute as to who holds the position, under the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975, the Speaker’s decision on the identity of the Leader of the Opposition is final.[1]

Ministers' Questions

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Prime Minister's Questions

The most public parliamentary function of the Leader of the Opposition is Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs), currently a 30 minute session held on Wednesday afternoons when Parliament is sitting. The Leader of the Opposition has six questions, which he usually splits into two sets. Other backbench opposition MPs also have the right to question the Prime Minister; they are selected either through a ballot, or by "catching the Speaker's eye". By convention, other Shadow Cabinet members do not question the Prime Minister at PMQs, except when standing-in for the Leader.

Other Ministers' Questions

Every government department is subjected to questions in the House of Commons, and the House of Lords. As with PMQs, the official opposition spokesmen are allocated a number of questions, and in addition backbench MPs are free to ask questions. In the House of Lords, opposition spokesmen also question the government. This is one of the reasons why every government department (and opposition shadow department) has at least one member of parliament and one peer in it. The current opposition leader is David Cameron.

Seating

As is usual with Westminster style systems, and other statutory assemblies and councils in the UK, the government and its supporters sit to the right of the Speaker (from the speaker's perspective), whilst the Opposition parties sit to the left.[2] Currently, the Conservative Party occupies all the benches nearest to the speaker, including the frontbench directly opposite the usual seating places of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

The Liberal Democrats, Nationalist and Unionist parties, Respect, and IKHH all occupy the benches further from the Speaker, together with some of the Conservative MPs. Since 1997 the Liberal Democrats have occupied the front bench in these seats which had previously been occupied by the main opposition party.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c UK Parliament Standard Note:SN/PC/3910, 8th February 2006. Accessed 3rd June 2006.
  2. ^ BBC News Opposition Thursday, 19 January 2006, 16:26 GMT, accessed 3rd June 2006

Simple English

Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, or the Official Opposition in the United Kingdom is led by the The Leader of the Opposition. This is usually the political party with the second largest number of seats in the House of Commons, as the largest party will usually form the government. Since May, 1997, the Official Opposition has been the Conservative Party.


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