In this e-learning module you will develop your knowledge and understanding of the work and role of the House of Commons.
This module is intended to be an introduction. You can further your learning using the teaching resources and additional reading links at the bottom of the page. To receive your Certificate of Participation please complete the short feedback survey at the end of the module.
What is the House of Commons?
The UK public elects 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) to represent their interests and concerns in the House of Commons.
The work of the House of Commons includes;
- making laws (legislation)
- checking the work of the government (scrutiny)
- debating current issues.
It is also responsible for granting money to the government through approving Bills (proposed laws) that raise taxes. Decisions made in the House of Commons have to be approved in the House of Lords.
However, the House of Commons alone is responsible for making decisions on financial Bills, such as proposed new taxes. The House of Lords can consider these Bills but cannot block or amend them.
Learn more about the current composition of the House of Commons including how many MPs are from each party.
What is an MP?
An MP or Member of Parliament is elected to the House of Commons during a general election to represent the interests and concerns of the people in their constituency. There are 650 MPs representing people across the UK.
MPs split their time between working in Parliament itself, working in the constituency that elected them and working for their political party. Nearly all MPs are members of a political party but there are some independent MPs.
When Parliament is sitting (meeting), MPs generally spend their time working in the House of Commons. This can include raising issues affecting their constituents, attending debates and voting on new laws.
What can your MP do for you?
MPs often hold ‘surgeries’ in their constituency. These enable local people to meet and discuss any matters that concern them.
MPs can also represent their constituents during debates and questions in the House of Commons. They may, for example, ask a question of a government minister on your behalf, or support and highlight a specific campaign which local people feel strongly about.
In their constituency, many MPs will also attend functions, visit schools and businesses, and generally try to meet as many people as possible. This gives them further insight and context into issues that they may discuss when they return to Westminster.
In this video you will explore the House of Commons with some of the people who work there.
- Introduced by Jacob Rees Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons, you will find out who’s who in the Chamber and how the public can watch proceedings.
- Valarie Vaz, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, explores the role of the Opposition and backbenchers.
- Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, reflects on how decisions made in the House of Commons can have an impact on everyone
- Ugbana Oyet, the Serjeant-at-Arms, considers the importance of scrutiny and holding the Government to account.
Key roles and responsibilities in the House of Commons Chamber
The Speaker is an MP who has been elected by other MPs to act as Chair during debates in the House of Commons. They are responsible for ensuring that the rules are observed and order is maintained in the Chamber. When a Speaker is elected they cease to be involved in party politics and become politically impartial.
Find out about the current Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
In the House of Commons there are three Deputy Speakers who are elected by MPs to assist the Speaker in chairing debates in the Chamber and to perform a range of other duties. Like the Speaker, they lose party affiliation on taking up the role and must be politically impartial.
The Chairman of Ways and Means
The Chairman of Ways and Means is the principal Deputy Speaker, and is elected from the opposite side of the House from which the Speaker was elected. They have various distinct roles from the Speaker and usually take the Chair during the Chancellor’s Budget statement.
Learn more about the role of the Deputy Speakers.
The Serjeant at Arms
The Serjeant at Arms is responsible for keeping order within the Commons part of the parliamentary estate. They also have ceremonial duties which involve carrying the House of Commons mace during the Speaker’s procession each sitting day. The mace in Parliament is the symbol of royal authority and without it the House of Commons cannot meet or pass laws.
The office of Serjeant at Arms dates back to 1415 and the reign of Henry V. Learn more about the role and its history.
Learn more about the House of Commons mace which dates from the reign of Charles II.
The Clerk of the House of Commons sits at the Table of the House. They are the principle constitutional advisor to the House and advise on procedure and business. The Clerks at the Table can be consulted by the Speaker, Ministers, Whips and MPs on any matter that may arise in the conduct of a sitting.
Whips are MPs appointed by each political party in UK Parliament to help organise their party’s contribution to parliamentary business. They act as tellers during votes and also have a pastoral role, providing support for members.
One of their responsibilities is making sure that party members vote the way their party wants for key decisions.
Every week, whips send out a document (called ‘The Whip’) to their MPs detailing upcoming business. Special attention is paid to divisions (where members vote on debates), which are ranked in order of importance by the number of times they are underlined. Important divisions are underlined three time hence the term a ‘three line whip’.
- Challenge students to research and create definitions for key parts of a typical day in the the House of Commons, for example statements, urgent questions, divisions and adjournment debates.
- The official report of all Parliamentary debates is called Hansard. It includes debates, divisions and contributions of MPs dating back over 200 years. Ask pupils to research an announcement, historic event or debate on a topic that is important to them using Hansard. Consider:
- What change did this bring about?
- What impact did it have?
- What were the arguments in favour?
- What were the arguments against?
- Hold a House of Commons style debate in your classroom.
Ask pupils to vote on a subject for the debate and allocate different roles including; the Speaker, the Prime Minister, a Government MP, an Opposition MP, backbench MPs from all parties.