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2002 articles 1989 articles

Robert Harley's parliamentary apprenticeship: 1690-1695

Ted Rowlands


WILLIAM'S 1690 Parliament has a claim to a particular place in the development of parliamentary procedure and processes. From 1690 began the unbroken record of annual sessions. The House of Commons met from late October or early November through until March, six days of the week, breaking only briefly for Christmas. Facing an unprecedented burden of business arising from one of the most intense wars the nation had fought, members spent more time in session than their predecessors. The House began sitting at eight or nine a.m., followed by afternoons and evenings in the committee of the whole. A host of other committees were appointed, usually meeting in the Painted Chamber at four p.m. But two new major activities were added to the traditional functions of supply and legislation, the examination of the estimates and the scrutiny of the accounts. This increase in parliamentary scrutiny, with the regularity and intensity of the sessions, created a new parliamentary chemistry, encouraging a greater degree of organization and an ability to assess members' attitudes. Robert Harley, even during this his parliamentary apprenticeship, contributed substantially to the new pattern of parliamentary activity. His parliamentary papers, the correspondence to and from his family, his kinsmen, the Foleys, and new-found political allies. Sir Thomas Clarges and Sir Christopher Musgrave, provide a particular insight into the post-Revolution parliamentary system.

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