What is a Government?
The government runs the country. It has responsibility for developing and implementing policy and for drafting laws. The political party that wins the most seats in a general election forms the new government, led by their party leader – who becomes Prime Minister. The Prime Minister appoints ministers, including the Cabinet, who work in government departments which run and develop public services and policies. Ministers come from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
There is a Leader of the Opposition in both Houses of Parliament. The leader of the largest opposition party holds this position. The Shadow Cabinet consists of MPs from the main opposition party in the House of Commons. Its role is to scrutinise the work of each government department.
What are Government Departments?
The main role of Government departments is to implement Government policy and to advise Ministers. They are staffed by politically impartial civil servants and generally receive their funding from money provided by Parliament. They often work alongside local authorities, non-departmental public bodies, and other Government-sponsored organisations.
Examples of Government departments are: Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and the Department of Health (DH).
What is the House of Commons?
The House of Commons is the name for our 650 elected Members of Parliament (MPs), and the name for the physical chamber in Parliament where they debate and scrutinise bills. At a general election we vote for our MPs in our local area (called a constituency) and whoever wins represents everyone in the area including those who voted for someone else. MPs are usually members of political parties, but can also stand independently. The respective leaders of the government and opposition parties sit opposite one another on the front benches. The seats behind them are the ‘backbenches’ – where an MP sits if he or she is not a government or shadow minister.
What is the House of Lords?
The House of Lords currently has 788 members, who are selected by the Prime Minister and appointed by the Queen. The majority (676) are life Peers. Others include 24 archbishops and bishops and 88 hereditary Peers. There is no upper limit on the total number of Members. The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament and complements the work of the House of Commons. It makes laws, holds government to account and investigates policy issues. Lords and Baronesses (known as Peers) are experts in many fields and bring this experience to their work. Until October 2009 the House of Lords was the UK’s highest court. A new United Kingdom Supreme Court now has this role, separating out the judicial (interpreting the law) and legislative (law-making) functions that Parliament previously held.
What do Select Committees do?
A large part of the work of the House of Commons and the House of Lords takes place in committees, made up of MPs or Peers. These committees consider policy issues, scrutinise the work and expenditure of the government, and examine proposals for primary and secondary legislation. Select committees in the House of Commons scrutinise the work of government departments, whilst committees in the House of Lords cover broad areas of policy such as economic affairs and the constitution. Their reports and recommendations can go on to inform future legislation.
What is Devolved Government?
Following referendums in Scotland and Wales in 1997, and in both parts of Ireland in 1998, the UK Parliament transferred a range of powers to national parliaments or assemblies. The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly were established, and took control in 1999. The arrangements are different in the three parts of the country, reflecting their history and administrative structures. The UK government remains responsible for national policy on all matters that have not been devolved, including foreign affairs, defense, social security, national economic management and trade. The UK Parliament is still able to pass legislation for any part of the UK, though in practice it only deals with devolved matters with the agreement of the devolved governments.
What do MPs do?
MPs split their time between working in Parliament and working in their constituency. When Parliament is sitting (in session) they usually spend Monday to Thursday working in London at the Houses of Parliament. They will attend debates in the Commons, raise issues affecting their constituents, and vote on new laws. Most MPs are also members of committees. Every Friday, MPs return to their constituency and hold ‘surgeries’ where local people can discuss matters that concern them. They also attend various functions, visit schools and businesses and try to meet as many people that they represent as possible.