Checking the work of government

Parliament examines and challenges the work of the government. Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords use similar methods of scrutiny, although the procedures vary. The principal methods are questioning government ministers, debating and the investigative work of committees. The government can publicly respond to explain and justify policies and decisions.

Questions

Questions to government ministers may be answered orally or in writing. Ministers from each government department attend the Commons on a rota basis to answer oral questions. The Prime Minister answers questions every Wednesday. In the Lords, the House questions government ministers at the start of each day's business, but there are no set days for government departments.

Debates

Debates in the Commons look at the creation and amendment of laws as well as national and international issues and can be on any subject. Votes are often taken to see whether a majority of Members either support or reject any discussed laws or proposals.

In the Lords, one day a week is set aside for general debates and short debates take place on most days (lasting one and a half hours). There are no votes on such debates. The House of Lords also check the work of government by scrutinising legislation.

Committees

Committees of smaller groups of MPs and/or Lords look at specific policy issues or legislation in detail. Different committees have different roles ranging from offering advice, to producing reports or altering legislation. Both Houses have permanent and temporary committees. MPs and Lords also work together in Joint Select Committees. The government issues responses to most committee reports.

Related information

Government policy: This is a plan of action that the government proposes to take, eg, to ban smoking in all public places.

House of Commons Chamber Film - Scrutinising Government


One of the important roles for MPs is to question and scrutinise the government, its policies and work