- There are 650 Members of Parliament in the Commons and around 800 Members of Parliament in the House of Lords.
- Of these 650 seats in the House of Commons, these are currently held by 318 Conservatives, 261 Labour, 35 Scottish National, 12 Liberal Democrats, 10 Democratic Unionists, 4 Plaid Cymru, 1 Green, 1 Independent, and 7 Sinn Fein (although the latter do not take up their seats in the House of Commons). To see the distribution of seats, please click here.
- One of the Members is elected by the others to be the Speaker for the House. This position has been filled since 2009 by the Rt Hon. John Bercow, MP for Buckinghamshire.
- The Prime Minister's Cabinet is the collective decision-making body of Her Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom. It is made up of the Prime Minister and 21 cabinet ministers, the most senior of the government ministers.
A very brief history of Parliament
The Parliament of the past was very different to the one that we see today. It began as a talking shop for the king and rich and noble men, and while Parliament was often asked by the king for advice, he very rarely listened.
Thanks to the new laws of 1215 introduced by the Magna Carta, the king was now obliged to ask before taking anybody's money, and so the purpose of Parliament changed, with it's main justification now to raise money to fight wars. Understandably, this created a number of rows, particularly with barons who got fed up with Henry III and his expensive battles in Wales. So, Simon de Montford decided to make himself ruler instead. Sadly, he was killed by Prince Edward in 1265, but earlier that year he held a parliament that was not just for the super-rich, and held the first elections - increasing the similarity to the House of Commons that we know today.
In 1430 it was decided that you could only vote if you owned property worth 40 shillings or more - which is approximately £1,248.81 today, and in 1430 could probably buy you 2 horses or 5 cows, and be worth 66 days wages. It was a rule that stayed in place for another 400 years.
But the Parliament we see today began in 1542, when Wales was thrust under the wing of King Henry VIII, in an attempt to prevent the Welsh coming under the influence of the Catholics. By this point Parliament was now well and truly underway, and Wales was allowed to send representatives to it.
However, in the 1620s things went a bit wrong, and after a number of turbulent years, including the king trying to arrest MPs, Charles I dissolved Parliament for 11 years, but brought it back because he was short of money for a war. Then, a number or longstanding rows got worse, leading to a war between Parliament and the king - who was then put on trial and executed for treason.
A couple of hundred years after Wales joined Parliament, Scotland became a paid-up member in 1707 under the 1707 Act of the Union and there was no more Scottish Parliament and only one king. 200 years later, and Tony Blair, the former Labour Prime Minister, decided to install a Parliament for Scotland in the hope that it would kill off Scottish nationalism for good.
What is Parliament?
The Parliament of Great Britain comprises of two Houses; the House of Commons, and the House of Lords, and the Monarchy. It has four main functions:
- Check and challenge the work of the Government (scrutiny)
- Make and change laws (legislation)
- Debate the important issues of the day (debating)
- Check and approve Government spending (budget/taxes)
The 9-step plan to getting a law through Parliament
1. An issue or problem emerges on the government's agenda
2. Ideas for addressing an issue are considered
3. Interested people and groups are consulted
4. Cabinet ministers must agree which proposals to take forward
5. Proposals are made into 'bills'
6. Parliament considers and scrutinises bills
7. Parliamentary stages
- First Reading
- Second Reading
- Committee Stage
- Report Stage
- Third Stage
8. The Bill approved by one chamber is considered by the other
9. The Monarch's 'assent' turns a bill into an Act
How does voting work?
When a vote is held the Speaker in the Commons - or Lord Speaker in the Lords - asks Members to call out whether they agree or not. The Speaker will then judge whether there is a clear result. If this cannot be determined, the Speaker or Lord Speaker calls a division by announcing 'clear the lobbies' (in the Commons) or 'clear the bar' (in the Lords). Members then have seven minutes to go and declare their vote before the doors are locked. 'Tellers' report back and let the Speaker know how many people voted one way or another and declares the result.
Are there any rules and traditions of Parliament?
Much of parliamentary procedure has developed through continued use over the centuries and is not written in the Standing Orders. This is sometimes known as 'custom and practice.'
The practice of bills being 'read' three times in both Houses is not in the Standing Orders for example. Other procedures have developed through precedents such as rulings made by the Speaker and resolutions of the House.
The style of debate in the House has traditionally been one of cut-and-thrust; listening to other Members' speeches and intervening in them in spontaneous reaction to opponents' views.
This style of debate can make the Commons Chamber a rather noisy place with robustly expressed opinion, many interventions, expressions of approval or disapproval and, sometimes, of repartee and banter.
Ultimately it is the Chair, The Speaker of the House of Commons, who controls the House and who speaks and when. Members have the right, when speaking, to be heard without unendurable background noise (deliberate or accidental) and the Chair will call for order if it appears there is an attempt to drown out a Member or when a number of Members are leaving the Chamber, or conversing loudly.