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How does Parliament work?

To supplement notes for week 7 of News and Current Affairs

Alan Rolfe

on 6 November 2013

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Transcript of How does Parliament work?

How does Parliament work?
Parliament consists of two 'Houses' - the House of Commons and the House of Lords
The House of Commons has 650 members (MPs) elected by the general public at a General Election.
Each MP represents a constituency, which is a geographical area of the country.
Most MPs are also members of a political party.
At the moment we have:
305 Conservative MPs
255 Labour MPs
57 Liberal Democrat MPs
and 32 others
The House of Lords has 746 members:
714 life peers, appointed by this or a previous government
90 hereditary peers, who inherited their title from their parents
25 bishops and archbishops of the Church of England
The 'government' is made up of ministers, appointed by the majority party. At present we have a 'coalition' government, so not all ministers are from the same party.
The government draws up policy and legislation ('bills') and presents them to Parliament for approval.
In order to become law, these have to be approved by both houses (Commons and Lords), although there is provision for a bill to become law anyway if it is rejected twice by the Lords.
A Prime Minister can call a General Election at any time, and is compelled to do so if his government has been in office for 5 years.
When that happens, Parliament is dissolved and the election takes place 17 days later.
What happens when MPs vote on a bill?
An 'overall' majority is where one party has more seats than all the other parties put together. This party will then form a government, and should have no problems in passing all its legislation, providing that they do not have any rebels in the ranks.
A 'simple' majority is where one party has more votes than any other single party, but could be defeated in the House if all the others got together to vote against it. This is more difficult to manage.
The Whips
The main parties in Parliament have a number of people in both the Commons and the Lords who are known as the 'whips'. They have many roles, but the most prominent is to ensure that their party gets enough support in the House when there is to be an important vote. Each week the party whips send out a circular to all the party MPs detailing the business likely to be conducted that week. The importance of the bills to be discussed are indicated by underlining: once for not-very-important, twice for fairly-important and three times for very-important. A 'three-line-whip' refers to a debate which party members should attend at all costs, at least for the vote.
The Commons
The Lords
The Government
Patrick McLoughlin,Chief Whip (Conservative)
Most of the work of Parliament is not done in the main houses but in a large number of committees, which meet in smaller rooms thoughout the building. These consist of:
Select Committees
Joint Committees
General Committees
Grand Committees
See the Parliamentary web site for details
Useful web sites
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