The Houses of Parliament

Showing that Houses of Lords and Commons plus the monarchy make up Houses of Parliament

The UK Parliament is based in Westminster, London. It has two functions: to pass new legislation and to scrutinise the work of government.

There are two parts to the Houses of Parliament – the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The House of Commons consists of 650 elected MPs. The House of Lords is made up of around 810 Lords, also known as peers. The majority of members of the House of Lords are life peers but there are also a number of hereditary peers and 26 bishops. No-one in the House of Lords is elected.

Members of Parliament (MPs)

How seats are won in the houses of common.

The UK is divided into 650 constituencies. Each constituency elects one MP and contains on average 80,000 voters. Constituencies vary in size both in terms of population and geographical area. Scotland, as part of the UK, returns 59 MPs.

The main role of MPs in the House of Commons is to represent their constituents by debating, discussing and voting on issues that are of concern to them and their constituents.

MPs are usually members of a political party. It is rare for independent candidates to be elected in the UK. Without the help of the party to support their campaign, a candidate often has little chance of being elected. This makes MPs loyal to their party. They are occasionally faced with difficult choices between supporting their party and representing the views of constituents.

Legislation is decided during debates in the Lords or Commons, where MPs can air their views on specific issues. They then have the opportunity to vote at the end of debates.

The House of Commons

Inside the House of Commons

To the Speaker's right, sit MPs who support the government or party or parties who run the country. To the Speaker's left, is any MP who opposes the government party or parties.

The government consists of around 100 MPs. The leader of the government is the Prime Minister (PM) who is assisted by a team of ministers and junior ministers, each of which is responsible for a different government department. Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the efficient running of their departments. They are regularly questioned by individual MPs. The PM and government ministers sit on what is known as the front benches. Behind the government sit their supporters who are known as 'backbenchers'.

On the opposite side of the House of Commons sit MPs from parties who do not support the government. They are known as the 'Opposition'. Directly facing the PM is the Leader of the opposition who will be supported by a team of shadow ministers who will each be assigned a government department to scrutinise.

The House of Commons meets for around 135 days a year. Most days are dominated by the government's legislative programme. However, time is given over to individual MPs to raise issues that are a concern to them and to the Opposition so that they too may discuss any matter which they feel is important.

The House of Lords

The House of Lords

People with experience or who have made a significant contribution to society may be invited to sit in the House of Lords. Most of the (around) 810 people who sit in the House of Lords are life peers, meaning their right to sit in the House of Lords ends when they die or if they resign.

Others include Bishops of the Church of England. There are still a number of hereditary peers who sit in the House of Lords as a consequence of their family title. However, the right to pass membership down through family was ended by the 1999 House of Lords Act.

The main role of the Lords is to act as a check on the House of Commons by further examining legislation and providing extended scrutiny of the government. For example, the House of Lords has voted against a number of Brexit proposals from the Government.