How British Parliament Actually Works
Primary functions of Parliament
Government is formed by the political party that received the majority of votes in the last General Election.
Parliament serves three major functions in government. It provides scrutiny and oversight of the government, examining and challenging the work of the government. It debates and passes legislation. Finally, parliament enables the government to raise or lower taxes.
Scrutiny of the Government
Scrutiny is investigation and challenging of the work of the government which Parliament does on behalf of the UK citizens. Both the House of Commons and House of Lords use similar methods of scrutiny. The most common methods are: questioning government ministers either orally or in writing, debate and investigation through committees. The government reserves the right to explain and defend decisions and policies made.
The Prime Minister answers questions every Wednesday. In the Lords, governments may be questioned by the House at the start of each business day. Government Departments do not have scheduled questioning days and are dealt with ad-hoc.
Debates in the Commons look at creation and amendments of laws, as well as any national or international issues. The Commons often vote to ascertain which laws and proposals have support.
In the Lords, one day per week is assigned for general debate. Short debates take place most days. The House of Lords do not vote on debate topics.
Committees are comprised of a small group of Members of Parliament (MPs) and Lords. These committees look at specific policies or legislation. Several committees may be created for each specific issues, appropriated with specific parts of an issue to investigate, make legislation changes, or advise.
Proposed legislation is called a Bill. Bills that are more political or controversial generally begin in the House of Commons.
New legislation can be introduced by an MP, Lord or member of a public or private group. All proposed new legislation must be debated and voted on by both Houses for a law to be passed.
When both Houses vote in favor of a bill, it becomes law as Royal Assent is automatically given.
If the House of Lords votes down a bill, the House of Commons can pass a bill in two successive years it becomes law without the House of Lords’ approval.
Bills regarding money, raising taxes or authorizing government expenditures, are not opposed in the House of Lords and may only be delayed for a month.
Voting in Parliament
MPs in the House of Commons says ‘aye’ for the affirmative and ‘no’ for the negative.
Lords in the House of Lords say ‘content’ for the affirmative and ‘not content’ for the negative.