Parliament is the lawmaking body of Britain. It also makes laws for the other countries that Britain once ruled, such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Parliament has power to endorse or remove the government. It can also vote to call for a general election. It also votes to provide the government with money, or “supply,” for its operations.
MPs are elected to represent the views of people who live in their constituencies. They spend most of their time on local casework, dealing with the individual concerns of those who have contacted them. This function has grown enormously in recent years.
They vote collectively to endorse or reject the government, whose existence depends on the confidence of the House of Commons. They also decide whether to grant the government “supply” – that is, money raised through taxes to enable it to operate. They can also call a general election before the five-year term is due to expire.
The House of Commons elects its presiding officer, known as the Speaker. The Speaker and the three Deputy Speakers are non-partisan and, by convention, do not participate in debates or votes but formally retain their party membership. They have the power to discipline Members of Parliament for breaching rules or acting improperly. They also chair select committees which investigate particular policy areas.
During elections to the House of Commons, voters mark a cross in one column for their first preference candidate and in another for their second preference. Candidates need to achieve a quota of first preferences in order to be elected, and surplus votes go to second preference candidates until the quota is reached.
Voting in deliberative assemblies is a key function of the democratic process, and MPs are generally required to vote on motions (formal proposals made by a member or members of a deliberative assembly). They also have a veto power over military interventions overseas, which they exercised dramatically in 2013 by blocking David Cameron’s proposed intervention in Syria.
The House of Commons
The House of Commons is the elected lower chamber of Parliament. It contains 338 members, called Members of Parliament (MPs), elected in single-member constituencies. The House is primarily a legislative body, passing bills and budgets to fund government departments and services.
MPs also play a number of other key functions. Each MP represents a constituent and takes their local concerns into consideration when debating issues in the House. They have a duty to prioritise any matters of local concern and raise them with the executive if necessary.
The House also has a power to impeach Ministers of the Crown. This power has largely been superseded by other means of putting pressure on the government, such as no confidence motions. Each parliamentary session begins with the State Opening of Parliament, which is an official ceremony in the Lords chamber attended by the Monarch and the Lords. It is traditionally opened by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, who summons the Lower House with a loud knock.
The House of Lords
The House of Lords plays an important role in the British Parliament by helping create legislation, providing parliamentary scrutiny, and providing ministers for the Government. Members of the House of Lords are known as peers and they come from many different backgrounds. They may have had successful careers in business, culture, science, sports, or academia.
Peers work on a wide range of public policy issues through parliamentary select committees, which are small groups of peers who investigate particular policy areas. These inquiries are often open to the public. Peers use their extensive knowledge and experience to shape government policy.
Before the 1999 reforms, hereditary peers made up almost all of the members of the House of Lords. After the reforms, hereditary peers make up only 92 of the members and life peers have a larger say in the chamber.