An introduction to Parliament (primary)
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An introduction to Parliament (primary)

November 13, 2019

Hospitals, schools, the environment… Lots of things that affect us all are discussed
and decided in Parliament. But what is Parliament and how did it all
begin? Parliament has been around for hundreds of
years and has changed many times… Way back in 1215, King John put his seal on
Magna Carta and agreed to a list of 63 rules set out by a group of barons – these were
important landowners who advised the king. This meant that for the first time no-one,
not even the King, could break the law of the land… Fifty years later, Simon de Montfort, for
the first time, invited representatives of the towns and shires to his 1265 parliament. From this point onwards the power to make
decisions for the nation passed, over time, from the king or queen to Parliament. You’ve probably heard of the Government? The
Government’s job is to run the country. Parliament’s job is to check and challenge what the Government
does. Let’s take a closer look at what happens in Parliament today… Parliament is made up of three parts – the
House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the king or queen – known as the monarch. The House of Commons chamber is where important
topics are debated, laws are discussed and where Members of Parliament, MPs, can keep
an eye on the work of the Government. There are 650 MPs, and each one represents
an area of the United Kingdom. These areas are called constituencies. Most MPs belong to a political party, which
is a group of people with similar views on how the country should be run… And some MPs are ‘independent’, which
means they aren’t part of any party. MPs are voted for by the people in their constituency
at general elections. The leader of the party that wins the election
becomes the Prime Minister. The Prime Minster and their party run the
country, and are called the Government. Parties not in power are known as the opposition
and they take a leading role in checking and challenging the ideas of Government through
debates in the chamber. At the head of the house sits the speaker.
It’s their job to make sure debates are kept in order – sometimes they can get very
lively! The second part of Parliament is The House
of Lords and it shares the job of making laws with the House of Commons. There are around 800 members and most are
‘life peers’. Life peers are chosen for their knowledge
and experience, so they can use their special skills to look carefully at new laws. Anyone (including you!) can nominate somebody
to be a life peer. Successful nominations are then recommended by the Prime Minister
and approved by the monarch. Once approved you become a Lord if you are
a man, or a Baroness if you are a woman and you are then a Member of the House of Lords,
a ‘peer’, for the rest of your life. In the House of Lords there is also a small
group of ‘hereditary peers’, who have had their position passed on to them by their
family, and some bishops. The third part of Parliament is the monarch. This role is mainly ceremonial these days.
They meet the Prime Minister once a week to hear what’s going on in Parliament, and
sign every new law. Both the House of Commons and the House of
Lords share the job of making laws. But where do laws come from in the first place? A law is a rule we’ve all agreed to live
by. Laws help everyone understand what we must and must not do. Ideas for new laws are called Bills. They
can be suggested by lots of different people, including political parties and campaign groups. A Bill can begin in the House of Commons or
the House of Lords. MPs and Lords always check Bills very carefully
because making and changing laws affects everyone in the country. They do this by holding debates in each House
where they can discuss what they agree and disagree with in the Bill and suggest changes. Sometimes a Bill can go backwards and forwards
between the two Houses lots of times – this is called Parliamentary Ping Pong! Once the two Houses agree, then it’s the
monarch’s turn! It’s their job to formally agree the Bill.
This makes it an Act of Parliament, and only then is it a ‘law’. In the UK, we live in what’s called a democracy.
This means we let as many people as possible have a say in how the country is run. We do
this through our right to vote in elections. For many years, lots of people in the UK fought
to get the rights to vote that we have today. And now every eligible person aged 18 and
over can vote. There are lots of different types of elections
to vote in: general, local, and European. Let’s take a closer look at how Members
of Parliament, MPs, are voted into the House of Commons in the general election. General elections take place in the UK usually
once every five years. Voting takes place on one day called ‘polling
day’. People go to ‘polling stations’ set up
across the country. They choose who they want to vote for from a list of candidates, by
putting a cross next to the name of the person they have chosen. The candidate with the most votes then becomes
the MP for that area, called a constituency. OK, but how would I know who to vote for? Before elections, candidates need to campaign
to try to get people to vote for them. Campaigning can involve handing out leaflets
to explain their ideas, speaking in public discussions, talking to people by visiting
houses door to door, and party political broadcasts on TV. Parties with candidates standing for election
also write a list of everything they want to do if they win – this is called a manifesto. Once they’ve won an election, an MP represents
all their constituents – including those who didn’t vote, or voted for someone else. The party with the most elected MPs forms
the Government and their leader becomes the Prime Minister. If no one party wins the election then this
is called a ‘hung Parliament’. If this happens, two or more parties might agree to
join together to form what is known as a ‘coalition government One way to have a say in how the country is
run, is to use your vote. You have to be 18 or over to vote in General
Elections, and you can register from the age of 16. But whatever your age there are loads of other
ways to get involved and have your voice heard, If there is something you feel strongly about
in your local area or even something that affects people across the UK – let Parliament
know! You can contact your local MP, or any Lord
by letter, phone or email to talk about something that’s important to you.
Sometimes there’s power in numbers. To have your say you could start a petition for a
cause that interests you and get other people signing up to agree. Or if you’re really passionate about something
you could join a campaign group. These groups use lots of different ways to
have their say, from lobbying MPs – which means asking Members of Parliament to support
their cause to holding peaceful protests, all to help bring about change. And don’t forget, you can get your voice
heard in school too – many schools have school councils to give students the chance to have
a say on how their school is run – a bit like a Parliament for school! So Parliament sits at the heart of UK democracy
– discussing the big topics of the day, making laws and keeping the Government in check. And for democracy to really work, we all have
to be involved. What will you do?

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