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Often political coverage in the news and newspapers can seem a little dry and technical. There is plenty of jargon that makes the people’s business hard to understand. Below is a list of political terms that may help you understand some of the terms and phrases used in Parliament.
A change added to a Bill.
Another Place/Other House
Members of each House do not refer to the other House by name. For example, when speaking about the House of Lords, an MP in the House of Commons may refer to it as the ‘Other Place’
An MP or Peer who holds no official position in Government or senior position in the Opposition. These MPs sit on the back benches at either side of the chamber.
This is an election held to fill a seat that has become vacant through such instances as death of an MP, resignation or elevation to the peerage.
Made up of about 20 senior Ministers who are appointed by the Prime Minister to handle particular matters of State. An example if the Secetary of State for Health. The Cabinet meets weekly with the Prime Minister.
There is a despatch box on each side of the table that separates the Government from the Opposition. This is where Ministers and Shadow Ministers stand to address the House.
This is basically a type of vote. When debate on an issue is completed the Speaker will ask a question, about the issue, on which Members can vote ‘Aye’ or ‘Nay’. The Members shout out ‘Aye’ or ‘Nay’, if the Speaker cannot tell which side has the majority he/she will call a Division. When this happens the lobbies are cleared and bells ring throughout the building to let MP’s know that a vote is taking place. Each Member who is present to vote enters either the ‘Aye’ or ‘Nay’ lobby and is counted. From the moment the ‘division bells’ ring, an MP has 8 minutes to make it to vote.The side with the most votes win.
These are the benches on either side of the table where Ministers and the Leadersip sit. You will often see the Leader of the Government debate with the Leader of the Opposition – this is done from the front bench.
This is a consultation document. It requires no action but puts forward issues and ideas that can be seen by Members and the public, who can then offer feedback.
The name of the written reports about the happenings in Parliament. It is named after the first man who kept these records, Thomas Curson Hansard.
When an MP is speaking in the House of Commons they are not permitted to call another MP by their name. They must address the MP as ‘My Honourable Friend, the Member from [Constituency]‘ (in the House of Lords this would be Honourale Lady/Gentleman)
I Spy Strangers
Anyone who is not an MP is known as a ‘stranger’ to the House. If an MP wishes the House to meet in private he may say ‘I Spy Strangers’, this will be put to the House. If the motion passes the galleries (press and public) are cleared and business continues in private.
Leader of the House of Commons
This is a member of the Cabinet who organises Government business. He/She works closely with the Chief Whip and sets out timetables for business in the House of Commons.
An MP’s first speech in the House of Commons,
This means having the most. To have a majority of votes in election means to have more than the opposition, this may only be by one vote. To have a majority in a Division means to have more than 50% of the votes.
Naming of Member
If an MP does not follow the rules of the House he/she may be ‘named’ by the Speaker. The speaker may say ‘I name the Honourable Member for [Constituency, Mr/Mrs Name], for disregarding the Chair’. The Member can then be suspended.
Oath of Allegiance
This is the swearing in of a Member that takes place after an election. This is also called Affirmation.
These are days when the Opposition may decide the order of business and what is discussed. There are generally around 20 Opposition Days per session.
This is shouted by the Speaker to gain control during a debate.
A written order of business for the House of Commons/House of Lords, that is published daily. Written questions that were tabled the day before are included on the back.
An informal arrangement where an MP ‘pairs up with’ an MP in the opposition. The MPs then agree not to vote in certain divisions allowing the MPs to miss that division. This generally only happens when it is not a Three Line Whip (see Three Line Whip)
Point of Order
If an MP believes there has been a breach of procedure or any technical fault he/she may stand and say ‘Point of Order Mr/Madam Speaker’ and the Speaker will address the issue.
The is the emblem of the House of Commons, it derives form the time that Henry VII and Henry VIII used it as a badge.
Prime Minister’s Questions (or PMQ’s)
This is a period on a Wednesday at 12pm where the Prime Minister answers questions from MPs in the House of Commons.
This is the end of the Parliamentary year.
This is the main business of the House of Commons that follows questions, urgent questions and statements.
This is a period of one hour, Monday – Thursday when MPs and members of the House of Lords can ask questions of Ministers.
This is a period when Parliament does not sit.
Serjeant at Arms
The Serjeant at Arms dates back to 1415 and Henry V. He/She is responsible for keeping order in the House of Commons as well as security. The Serjeant at Arms may also have other duties such as booking accomodation for MPs and stationary, as well as ceremonial duties.
A term used to describe the Parliamentary year.
The name given to senior members of the Opposition who would be Cabinet Ministers if their party was in Government.
Speaker of the House
This is an MP who is elected to be the Chairman of the House and ensures that procedures are followed and that order is maintained. He/She remains an MP and still deals with constituency matters but is impartial in the House.
The term “to table” refers to when MPs or Peers hand in questions, amendments to bills or notices of motions or when a document is formally placed before either House.
Urgent Debate (also known as Emergency Debate)
This is when a matter is ‘a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration’. Debate is usually granted in about 24 hours of being requested, only one or two are granted per year and are generally reserved for issues of national importance.
This is an important question that has been submitted to the Speaker. If the question is approved it should be asked at the end of Question Time.
This term is used to refer to the relationship between the whips of each party, there must be a degree of cooperation in order for the House to run smoothly.
Each political party in Parliament appoints a groups of MPs/Peers to act as whips. Whips try to get MPs/Peers to vote the way their party would like, they maintain party discipline. They also ensure the smooth running of Parliament (see Usual Channels). The Chief Whip is a Cabinet Member and generally lives at Number 12 Downing Street.
This document sets out a Government’s plans/intentions on an issue. Unlike a Green Paper is shows clear intention to act on an issue.
This is the road that runs throught the heart of Westminster. It is generally used to refer to the mass of Central Government departments, although none of them actually have buildings on Whitehall.
Click here for an even more detailed Glossary of Political Terms.