Page last updated at 13:56 GMT, Friday, 26 March 2010

What is parliament and how does it work?

Once elected, MPs will spend much of their time in Westminster, where parliament is based. MPs will take their seats in the House of Commons where they will meet to debate new laws and make decisions about how the UK is run.

One of an MP's most important roles is to help make and change the laws governing the UK. Both houses of parliament generally have to agree on a new law - after a process which can take months, or even years. Click through the slideshow to find out about the key stages in the passage of a bill.

How new laws are made

Queen's speech
After a new government is elected, the Queen makes a speech to Parliament which includes a list of bills or proposals for new laws. Some of these bills may have already been through one or two kinds of consultation: green papers contain ideas for bills, white papers include more definite proposals.
First and second reading
Most bills start in the Commons. The first reading is a formality. At the second reading MPs debate the main principles. In 2005 Labour had plans to extend maternity leave. The Work and Families bill had broad support at second reading so the bill moved to committee stage without the need for a vote.
Private members' bills
MPs can introduce their own legislation in the form of a private members' bill. In 2009 Labour MP Julie Morgan wanted a ban on under-18s from using sunbeds. She won government backing and her bill moved to the committee stage - without government support a bill is not likely to progress any further.
Committee stage
All the bills that pass the second reading are considered by a public bill committee of at least 16 MPs. They consider a bill line by line and may introduce amendments. They can call experts to give evidence and they may meet several times before returning the bill to the Commons.
Report stage and third reading
At the report stage further changes can be made. At this point there could be a rebellion and parts of the bill might be defeated in a vote when MPs divide into two areas known as the Aye and No lobbies. The bill then moves to a third reading when there is often a brief debate before it goes to the Lords.
House of Lords
A bill goes through the same process in the Lords. This time, all members can take part at committee stage. Most bills need the Lords' approval but occasionally the Commons will use the Parliament Act to pass a bill into law. This happened in 2004 when the act was used to force through a hunting ban.
Return to the Commons
Any Lords' amendments are returned to the Commons for consideration. A bill can go backwards and forwards several times before both houses agree on a final version and it gets the royal assent. Labour's bill on maternity leave was unopposed so it became an act that came into force in April 2007.
BACK {current} of {total} NEXT

Plans of the House of Commons and House of Lords based on information from www.parliament.uk

Take a tour of Westminster

Advertisement

The parliamentary official known as 'Black Rod' - Sir Freddie Viggers - gives the BBC an exclusive look behind the scenes.



Print Sponsor


Graphic showing 2010 election result: Con 306 seats (36.1% vote share); Liberal Democrats 57 (23%); Labour 258 (29.0%); 28 (11.9%)
MAKING IT CLEAR
David and Samantha Cameron with children The David Cameron story
The life and times of the UK's new prime minister
Ballot paper Q&A: Voting reforms
Proposed changes to the UK's election system explained

LATEST NEWS

ANALYSIS
David Cameron and Nick Clegg The Dave and Nick Show
Election clashes? Apparently that is all behind them...
Gordon and Sarah Brown entering Downing Street in June 2007 Rise and fall
Long-serving chancellor. Short-lived prime minister
VIDEO
Nick Clegg, deputy Prime Minister and David Cameron, Prime Minister Cameron: 'New direction for UK'

Nick Clegg Clegg: Coalition 'will work'

Nick Clegg and David Cameron at the press conference Cameron and Clegg: PMQs and new relationship

Tourist at Westminster Tourists baffled by Westminster saga

David Cameron Cameron admits calling Clegg a 'joke'

JOIN IN
THE PARTIES
DAYS AT-A-GLANCE
 

MOST POPULAR ELECTION STORIES NOW
ELECTION FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
But now comes the difficult part - making it work
Why has Eton College produced 18 British PMs?
Frantic talks on who will form the next government

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2016 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific