On this page you can find out about the UK Parliament, including:
- What does it do?
- How and when is it elected?
- How is it made up?
What does the UK Parliament do?
The UK Parliament represents the people of the United Kingdom. It makes decisions and passes laws on a wide range of issues that affect you.
How is it made up?
The UK Parliament is made up of two 'Houses' – the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
House of Commons
The House of Commons has 650 Members of Parliament (MPs). Each MP represents a part of the UK called a 'constituency' or 'seat'. MPs debate the big political issues of the day and proposals for new laws.
House of Lords
The House of Lords has over 700 unelected members who scrutinise the work of the House of Commons.
Before 1999, the House of Lords was mostly made up of hereditary peers who inherited their title through their family. After 1999, the majority of Lords are now 'life peers'. This means they are appointed for their knowledge or experience in a particular field but do not pass on their title.
How is it elected?
The UK Parliament is elected at the UK general election.
At a general election you have one vote to choose a candidate to represent your constituency in the House of Commons.
Most candidates are from a political party but there can also be independent candidates.
After a general election, the leader of the party with the most MPs is asked by the Queen to become Prime Minister and to form a government that will run the country. The leader of the party with the second highest number of MPs becomes the Leader of the Opposition.
When is it elected?
A general election must take place once every five years on the first Thursday in May. The next UK general election will be in 2020.
If you want to find out more about the timing of UK general elections, you can read about the Fixed Term Parliaments Act which is the law that means general elections take place once every five years.
Who is eligible to vote?
To vote in a UK Parliament election a person must be registered to vote and also be one of the following:
- 18 years of age or over on polling day
- a British citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland
- not be subject to any legal incapacity to vote
The following cannot vote in a UK Parliament election:
- members of the House of Lords
EU citizens (other than UK, Republic of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta) resident in the UK
- anyone other than British, Irish and qualifying Commonwealth citizens
- convicted persons detained in pursuance of their sentences, excluding contempt of court (though remand prisoners, unconvicted prisoners and civil prisoners can vote if they are on the electoral register)
- anyone found guilty within the previous five years of corrupt or illegal practices in connection with an election