Parliament and the Government

Parliament and government

Parliament and the Government are different. They have different roles and do different things.

What is the Government?

The Government are the people we have elected to run the country. The political party that wins the most seats at a General Election takes charge of the Government for five years, until the next General Election.

The leader of the winning party is appointed as Prime Minister and chooses other party members to work in the Government with them - as Cabinet ministers and junior ministers.

What is Parliament?

Parliament is there to represent our interests and make sure they are taken into account by the Government. The Government cannot make new laws or raise new taxes without Parliament’s agreement.

Parliament is made up of people we have elected and people who have been appointed. They sit in two separate Houses:

  • The House of Commons, where all the people we have elected at the General Election work, as MPs, for the next five years. This includes people in other political parties, as well as those in the winning party who were not chosen to be ministers.
  • The House of Lords, whose members are mostly appointed for life rather than elected. They have often been chosen because of their achievements and experience. Many do not belong to a political party.

Government ministers also have seats in Parliament but most of their work is done in Government departments.

What does the Government do?

The Government is responsible for deciding how the country is run and for managing things, day to day. They set taxes, choose what to spend public money on and decide how best to deliver public services, such as:

  • the National Health Service
  • the police and armed forces
  • welfare benefits like the State Pension
  • the UK’s energy supply

While many government powers have been delegated to the devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, only the UK Government can speak on behalf of the UK and represent us abroad.

More about the day to day work of the Government can be found on the Government website [External site] 

What does Parliament do?

Parliament’s job is to look closely at the Government’s plans and to monitor the way they are running things.

Parliament works on our behalf to try to make sure that Government decisions are:

  • open and transparent – by questioning ministers and requesting information
  • workable and efficient – by examining new proposals closely and suggesting improvements, checking how public money is being spent and tracking how new laws are working out in practice
  • fair and non-discriminatory – by checking that they comply with equalities and human rights laws and by speaking up on behalf of affected individuals

Members of both Houses of Parliament can speak up for us if a government department or agency treats us unfairly.

Government ministers are required to come to Parliament regularly to answer questions, respond to issues raised in debates and keep both Houses informed of any important decisions they take. In this way, Parliament can hold the Government to account for its actions.

Find out more about how Parliament checks on the work of Government 

What is the Opposition?

The Opposition works in Parliament. After a General Election, the largest non-government party in the House of Commons becomes the Official Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition takes the lead role in questioning the Prime Minister when they come to Parliament.

The Leader of the Opposition chooses a team – known as the Shadow Cabinet – who take the lead in questioning other Government ministers when they come to Parliament.

Who should I contact – Parliament or the Government?

It may be neither of these in the first instance – to check other options first, see our page: Who should I contact with my issue?

You can contact a Government minister or office for information about:

  • why a law is going to change
  • when a law is due to change
  • how a particular law applies to you
  • a government-run service – e.g. health services, visas and immigration, state pension or tax credits/universal credit

Contact UK Government Departments and Agencies [External site] 

You can contact your MP or a member of the House of Lords when:

  • you want them to raise an issue in Parliament or press the Government for action
  • you want them to support or oppose a particular Government policy
  • you are not happy with the way your complaint has been handled by a government-run service or department

Contact your MP or a member of the House of Lords

 

Government websites

GOV.UK is the website for the UK government. On the site you can find information and services for citizens and businesses, detailed guidance for professionals and information on government and policy.

10 Downing Street is the office of the British Prime Minister. The office helps the Prime Minister to establish and deliver the government's overall strategy and policy priorities, and to communicate the government's policies to Parliament, the public and international audiences.

Jargon Buster

Cabinet:

The Cabinet is the team of 20 or so most senior ministers in the Government who are chosen by the Prime Minister to lead on specific policy areas and head up  Government Departments such as Health, Transport, or Defence.

Shadow Cabinet:

The Shadow Cabinet is the team of senior spokespeople chosen by the Leader of the Opposition to mirror the Cabinet in Government.

Each member of the shadow cabinet is appointed to lead on a specific policy area for their party and to question and challenge their counterpart in the Cabinet. In this way the Official Opposition in Parliament can present itself as an alternative government-in-waiting.

Related information

When there is no clear winner at a General Election, it is known as a 'hung Parliament'.

To be able to run the Government, a party needs to show that it has the ‘confidence’ of the House of Commons: that is, that more than half (a majority) of the MPs will support it in key votes, such as those on taxes and spending.

This majority can include support from other political parties, whether or not there is a formal coalition agreement.