How MPs are elected
The United Kingdom is broken up into 650 defined regions in the UK each having their own MP. These are called constituencies. At a general election all of these constituencies become vacant and an election poll is used to elect a new member from a list of candidates standing for the election. Most candidates are from a political party however some choose to run as independents. These elections happen every five years using the First Past The Post voting system. For more information on elections please see the elections page.
To become an MP representing a main political party a candidate must be authorised to do so by the party’s nominating officer, and may require various levels of selection depending on the seat, and nature of the election.
MPs come from all areas of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) not just from England. In addition to the House of Commons, there is a Parliament in Scotland, a National Assembly in Wales and a National Assembly in Northern Ireland. Separate elections are held for these devolved political bodies (which have been granted powers on a regional level that the UK Parliament was formerly responsible for). Candidates who win seats in these elections do not become MPs in the UK Parliament. (More information on Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland coming soon!)
If an MP dies, or retires, a by-election is held in that constituency to find a new MP for that area. If an MP changes party between elections they are not required to hold a by-election however they often decide to.
Composition of MPs in the House of Commons
Almost all of the MPs in the Commons belong to a certain political party, which generally means that they will follow the party line on different issues and votes in the Commons. Some MPs do however, from time to time, vote against their own party’s wishes, for a number of reasons. Most commonly if the bill will affect members of their own constituency.
MPs from the same party tend to sit together in the House of Commons Chamber. The Chamber is a rectangular shape so the Government and the Opposition can face each other. The Government sits on the benches to the right of the Speaker. The official Opposition and MPs from other parties sit on the benches to the left of the Speaker.
Ministers of the government make up the government front benches, and the senior members of other parties, make up the opposition front bench. MPs who do not hold ministerial positions sit towards the back of the Chamber and are known as ‘backbenchers’.
To see a full list of all the MPs and find your constituency MP, follow the link.
What MPs do
The main job of every Member of Parliament is to represent the interests and concerns of all their constituents (not just those who voted for them) in the House of Commons.
When MPs are in their constituency they can hold open days where local people can come along to discuss matters of concern. They also try to visit many places and people in their constituency to gain further insight and opinions to issues facing people in their area. MPs can also help solve your issues by making it public in the House of Commons, or privately through talking to Government ministers and departments. MPs can provide lots of help on many different issues.
When Parliament is meeting MPs can propose and contribute to new laws, raise issues affecting their constituents, attend debates and crucially vote on bills to pass the House of Commons.
Some MPs from the party which is in Government also become Government Ministers (also known as the Cabinet Ministers) with specific responsibilities and interest in certain areas, e.g. Health minister. These are appointed by the current Prime Minister. Some MPs may also be appointed to certain committees to perform more in-depth scrutiny of legislation and government departments.
How Lords are chosen
Lords come under different types. Life Peers, bishops and elected hereditary Peers. Unlike MPs, the public do not elect the Lords. The majority are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister (whilst in office) or by the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
Life peers are appointed for their lifetime only, these Lords’ titles are not passed on to their children. The Queen formally appoints life Peers on the advice and recommendation of the Prime Minister on their life and achievements. They may also be given to some MP’s when they leave the House of Commons, and formally the speaker of the Commons is traditionally awarded a peerage at the request of the Commons. They are also awarded when a prime minister resigns; he or she may recommend ‘resignation honours’ for politicians, their political advisers and others who have supported them. Finally Members can be appointed, on a party basis on political lists to ‘top up’ numbers of each of the main party groups
Archbishops and bishops comprise of 26 of the Church of England’s most senior Bishops who sit in the House of Lords. These archbishops and bishops sit in the House, passing their membership on to the next most senior bishop when they retire. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York traditionally become life peers on retirement.
The rights of Hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords was ended in 1999 by the House of Lords Act 1999 however 92 Members were elected to remain.
The House of Lords Appointments Commission is an independent body established in 2000. The Appointments Commission recommends individuals for appointment as non-party-political life peers. It also vets nominations for life peers, including those nominated by the UK political parties, to ensure they conform to certain standards of behaviour and morals. Members can be nominated by the public and political parties. Appointments to the House of Lords, are now formalised by the head of state (Monarch).
Composition of the House of Lords
Although the House of Lords is unelected some Peers retain a party elegance. However this does not mean that they must always vote with their party’s wishes. Lords are considered more independent than MPs even when they are part of a political party. Outside of the main parties there are a small number of Members that are not affiliated with a main political party and those belonging to minority groups. These include …
- A limited number of Lords Spiritual, archbishops and bishops from the Church of England
- The Crossbench Peers group which is a large group of Lords and is formed by independent Members who don’t take a party whip – which means that they are not told how to vote by a political party.
- Some non-affiliated members who are not party of any group or institution.
As in the Commons, the Government and the Opposition face each other. The Government and the Bishops sit on the right of the Lord Speaker. The Opposition parties sit on the benches to the left of the Lord Speaker while the Crossbench Peers sit mostly on benches that cross the Chamber of the House of Lords behind the clerks’ table.
To see a full list of all the Lords, follow the link.
What Lords do
The work of the Lords is very similar to the work of MPs without the work in constituencies. The three main categories of their work are …
- Making laws
- In-depth consideration of public policy
- Holding government to account.
Please Note – For more information on the work of both MPs and Lords, see the section on the work of Parliament on this page.