UK Parliament, Explained
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
Everyone has a pretty good idea of what Parliament is, after all, we vote on who gets to be part of it.
But how exactly does it work and what exactly does it do?
Here’s a breakdown of the basics of the UK Parliament system to help clear things up.
Who and what is Parliament?
Parliament is the UK’s legislative body, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s where all our laws are made.
Like most modern democracies, the UK Parliament is bicameral which means there are two parts to the system: The House of Commons and the House of Lords. The point of having two Houses is to stop either House from abusing their power, as bills have to pass the both Houses to become laws.
The final part of Parliament is the Queen. While her role is largely ceremonial, her signature is still needed for a bill to become a law.
The House of Commons
The House of Commons is the primary chamber of the UK Parliament, and its 650 members are elected.
As the only elected part of Parliament, the House of Commons has the most power and is where drafts for laws normally start. They also scrutinise the work of the government and help keep them in check.
The House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper chamber of Parliament and there are currently around 800 members.
They review bills that have passed through Commons and suggests possible amendments. Generally, they cannot stop a bill becoming a law, only delay the process and encourage Commons to reconsider.
However, bills can still originate in the Lords, except for financial bills, which can only come from the Commons.
As the head of state, the Queen must give Royal Assent in order for a bill (which has passed through both Houses) to become a law.
This is largely ceremonial now, as her refusal to sign into law a bill which passed through the elected Commons would cause significant public outcry.
A Select Committee is a group of either MPs or members of the Lords. They are made to investigate specific issues or scrutinise a certain area of government work. They publish reports on their findings and recommend government action.
Both the Commons and the Lords has a Speaker, who is elected by the members of that House.
The Speakers are meant to be politically impartial, and so resign from their party once elected, although in the case of the Commons they still function as an MP.
They oversee parliamentary debates, deciding what is to be discussed and who can speak. They also maintain order and punish those who break the House rules of debate.
So, there you have the basics of the UK Parliament. Hopefully, this will help you understand exactly what is meant when people talk about Parliament and allow you to understand what’s really going on.
For more resources, check out the content on our UK Politics section.