Whips are senior members of the party who organise backbench MPs. The job of the whips is to ensure that backbench MPs vote in support of the party policy set by the leader. Whips also act as a line of communication between the backbenchers and the cabinet. There are both government and opposition whips. The whip system is used to maintain party unity. MPs who fail to follow 'the whip' may well find they are challenged by senior members of their party.
However, there are times when MPs are allowed a 'free vote'. In the event of a free vote, MPs and peers are allowed to vote as they wish and are not controlled by the party whips. Examples of recent free votes include voting rights for prisoners and same sex marriage.
Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) is an opportunity for the opposition to question the leader of the government on policy or topical matters. Advance notice of the questions is given to the Prime Minister. However, a supplementary question, or a clever question from the leader of the opposition, may cause difficulties for the Prime Minister.
A large part of the work completed in parliament is within committees. Committees can be made up of Lords as well as MPs. These committees consider government policy, scrutinise the work and expenditure of the government, and examine proposals for legislation.
There are two forms of parliamentary committee – select committees and general committees. There is a Commons select committee for each government department, examining three aspects: spending, policies, and administration. These departmental committees have a minimum of eleven members. They decide upon the line of inquiry and then gather written and oral evidence. Findings are reported to the Commons, printed, and published on the Parliament website. The government then usually has 60 days to reply to the committee's recommendations.
General committees (also known as Public Bill Committees) look at parliamentary legislation and can suggest amendments to bills. These used to be called standing committees.