Telephone Number: 01977 722290/1
The main roles of Parliament are to examine and challenge the work of the government, to debate and pass laws and to allow the government to raise taxes.
The government decides how the country should be run. It puts forward proposals for new laws which can affect how money and power is distributed. The Queen reads these proposals out when she opens Parliament each year.
These proposals (known as legislation) are introduced as Bills. Parliament then scrutinises, debates, amends and votes on these Bills. As the government has a majority of MPs in the House of Commons, however, it makes it easier to get the Bills approved by Parliament.
The Prime Minister (chosen by the Queen, but almost always the leader of the majority political party) chooses MPs and Lords from his or her party to be government ministers. Most ministers run government departments (such as the Department of Health or the Home Office) with the help of civil servants. The most senior ministers form the Cabinet, a body which decides the government’s policy and tactical direction.
The Shadow Cabinet consists of Opposition MPs selected by their leader to examine the work and policies of each government department. The Shadow Cabinet also decides the tactical direction of the Opposition, and can influence where the Opposition stands on various issues.
Those MPs who are not ministers or shadow ministers are classed as ‘backbenchers’.
Public Bills can be introduced into either the House of Commons or the House of Lords. As a rule, government bills that are likely to be politically controversial start in the Commons, while those of a technical but less party-political nature often go to the Lords first. Bills with a mainly financial purpose are always introduced in the Commons. If the main object of a public bill is to create a public charge – involving new taxation or public spending – it must be introduced by a government minister in the Commons
The first reading of a public bill is a formality. Once formally presented, a bill is printed and proceeds to a second reading. Amendments can be made at the committee and subsequent stages.
The second reading of the Bill usually happens within a fortnight and is the first chance for the basic principles of the Bill to be debated. The Bill is normally proposed by a Government Minister who will outline all key ideas in the Bill. At this time the Opposition and Government Backbenchers have a chance to respond and ask questions.
If the House votes against the Bill at the second reading (if the Bill does not get a majority of the votes cast) then the bill can go no further.
If the Bill passes it moves to the committee stage.
In the Committee stage the Bill will be debated in great detail and looked at clause by clause. Ammendments may be added.
The Bill then moves to the Report Stage.
In the report stage the Bill is examined further, amendments can be added and changes made. This is a chance for those not on the committee responsible for the bill to make additions and contribute to the debate.
The third reading is the final reading. The Bill is debated and then voted on. If the Bill passes it moves to the House of Lords.
Depending on which House the Bill started in, each House now considers the others amendments. So if the Bill is initiated in the House of Commons it would be passed to the House of Lords, if the Lords made changes they would need to be considered again in the House of Commons.
If the changes are contentious and agreement can not be reached the bill ‘bounces’ back and forth between each House. if they Houses can not agree on the changes then the bill is lost.
If a Bill is passed it awaits Royal Assent.
The House of Lords will generally follow a similar procedure but on the second reading, if the bill was included in the Government Manifesto, it will by convention, pass unopposed. Another difference is in the Committee Stage, the committee here is generally a committee of the whole chamber where all ammendments can be considered and debated. Unlike in the Commons ammendments can also be added at the third reading, as long as the bill has not been voted on previously.