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

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