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Parliament and government

There is sometimes confusion over the difference between Parliament and government. Both have important powers, but each is responsible for different areas of our democracy.

Parliament and government

Government: running the country

The government is in charge of managing the country and deciding how our taxes are spent. Different government departments have responsibility for separate areas of business for example, the Department of Health or the Department of Transport.

Led by the Prime Minister, the UK government is formed by the political party (or coalition of parties) with the greatest representation in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister selects a team of MPs and members of the House of Lords to help run the country. All the other MPs and members of the House of Lords carry out the work of Parliament. 

Parliament: lawmaking ... and more

Parliament doesn't get into the business of running the country, but it is responsible for approving and changing the country's laws. Most new laws presented to Parliament are suggested by the government. To pass a new law both the House of Commons and the House of Lords must agree it is a good idea.
 
Members of Parliament are also responsible for keeping an eye on the work of the government, to make sure it's doing a good job. For example, members of both the Commons and the Lords will look at how the government is spending the money it receives from people's taxes.

Select committees

One way members of Parliament 'scrutinise' the government is by regularly meeting in small groups called select committees. These committees can make recommendations to the government on particular issues such as education, the environment and laws proposed by the European Union (EU).
 
For example, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords have committees set up to examine laws proposed by the EU. As a member of the EU, the UK agrees it should obey EU laws. Select committees in both Houses of Parliament play an important role in checking proposals for new EU laws to make sure the likely effects are considered before they are passed.
 
Select committee recommendations will be given to the head of the government department (called a minister) in charge of that particular issue.

Question time

You can see government ministers sitting next to the Prime Minister in the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s question time. This happens most Wednesdays, when Parliament is sitting, and is shown on the television and the web.
 
Every government minister has to hold a question and answer session in Parliament on a regular basis. This is usually once every month rather than every week like the Prime Minister.

Members of Parliament can use these question times to find out what the government is doing or suggest ways of doing things better.