Political Glossary

Nov 14, 2009




There follows a number of terms that may clarify your questions:


An MP or Peer who holds no official position in the Government or senior position in an opposition party. The Backbenchers sit on the back benches on either side of the Chamber.


Made up of about twenty (and no more than 22) senior Ministers chosen by the Prime Minister to run the departments of state and decide Government policy. The Cabinet is chaired by the Prime Minister, and meets once a week in the cabinet room at Downing Street. The PM will reorganise the cabinet every so often to bring in new members, or to move existing members to different posts. This is known as a Cabinet re-shuffle.

Chief Whip

This role is responsible for maintaining party discipline and making sure that members vote in line with their party in important debates.


Britain is divided into areas called constituencies, each one with an MP in the House of Commons to represent them. There are currently 646 Constituencies � the size and number of these are reviewed at intervals of between 8 and 12 years by the Boundary Commissioners and changes are agreed by Parliament.

A citizen of a Constituency is known as a Constituent.

General Election

The process whereby the whole House of Commons stands for election at the same time. Each of the 646 constituencies in the UK chooses an MP to represent it, and the party who wins the most constituencies (seats) becomes Government. The leader of that party becomes Prime Minister and its ministers make up the new Cabinet.

General elections are held at least every five years; the exact timing is decided by the Prime Minister and there is often an election before the full five years has elapsed.


The institution that runs the country; responsible for formulating policy and introducing legislation in Parliament. The Government is made up of the different Departments run by Ministers and is headed by the Prime Minister. It is formed by the party that gains the most seats in the House of Commons at a General Election. The leader of that party becomes Prime Minister, and the PM selects the members of the Government from MPs and Peers.

The Government can propose new laws in the form of Bills, which it presents to Parliament for consideration.

Also known as the Executive, as it is responsible for executing the laws of the country.


The name of the written reports of the House of Commons, first produced by Thomas Curson Hansard.

House of Commons

The lower chamber of the Houses of Parliament. Gaining its name from the French word ‘communes’ (meaning localities), the House of Commons’ full and official title is “The Honourable The Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament Assembled”.

This is where all elected MPs take their seats to debate, legislate and scrutinise the Government.

House of Lords

The upper chamber of the Houses of Parliament. Members of the House of Lords (known as ‘peers’) consist of Lords Spiritual (senior bishops) and Lords Temporal (lay peers). Law Lords (senior judges) also sit as Lords Temporal. There are currently about 700 members of the House of Lords, including 26 Archbishops and Bishops and 92 hereditary peers.

The House spends the majority of its time (about 60%) on legislation. The Lords consider proposals from the EU or from the Commons. They can then reject a bill, accept it, or make amendments. If a bill is amended or rejected, the Lords can send it back to the Commons for re-discussion. If a bill is accepted, it is forwarded to the Queen, who will then sign it and make it law.

The House also has an important judicial role. It acts as the Supreme Court of Appeal for the UK in both criminal and civil cases (except Scottish criminal cases).

Houses of Parliament

The Palace which houses the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The present building mainly dates from the 1800s, where it replaced an earlier building which caught fire. St. Stephens Chapel is an original building dating back to medieval times.

Lord Chancellor

The Member of Cabinet that presides over the House of Lords, seated on the Woolsack. He acts as the Speaker of the House, although is not responsible for maintaining order during debates, as this is the responsibility of the Lords as a whole. He speaks during debates for the Government and is entitled to vote like any other Lord – but does not hold a casting vote.

He heads a department that deals with the administration of the courts, and is responsible for appointing judges. The Lord Chancellor presides over the House of Lords in its capacity as a court and is entitled to sit on appellate committees.

Leader of the House of Commons

Also known by the official title ‘President of the Privy Council’. A member of the Government who is responsible for organising Government business in the Commons, in particular the progress of the Government’s legislative programme. The Leader of the House is a member of the Cabinet and works closely with the Chief Whip. Every Thursday, the Leader informs the House about its business for the following week or two.

Lord Chief Justice

The name given to the judge who presides over the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court. The Lord Chief Justice is usually made a Peer when he is appointed and therefore is entitled to a seat in the House of Lords.

MP- Member of Parliament

A Member of Parliament (MP) is elected by a particular constituency in the UK to represent them in the House of Commons. An MP will represent all the people in their constituency and can ask Government Ministers questions, speak about issues in the House of Commons and consider and propose new laws.


Public declaration of principles and intentions, often political in nature.

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