The structure and organisation of Parliament Common bys and Lords.

At the December 2019 General Election the House of Commons comprised of 650 MPs. Each MP represents a constituency. The number of MPs in the House of Commons does change, depending on the different boundaries. The number of MPs in the House of Commons is determined by the Boundary Commission, on the request of Parliament. 

Members of the House of Commons

The composition of the House of Commons is as follows: 

Constituencies are of roughly equal size, normally containing between 60,000 and 80,000 voters. Most constituencies are in England (533). There are 59 constituencies in Scotland, 40 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland. There was a

proposal to reduce this number to 600 by 2020 but this was postponed.

All MPs in the UK represent a political party. Occasionally, independent (non-party) MPs have been elected, but this is rare.

 Frontbench MPs :are in the governing party, they are ministers and party officials appointed by the prime minister. Normally there are about 90 frontbench MPs on the governing side. The leading members (spokespersons and shadow ministers) of the main opposition party are also described as frontbench MPs. There would normally be about 50 of these. The total number of frontbench MPs is therefore 140–50. 

The fact that Government Ministers also sit in the Commons and can vote in divisions leads to what is known as the Payroll Vote. As a result of the convention of collective responsibility, Ministers are expected to vote with the Government. This means there are a number of votes that the Government can almost always rely on in any division. 

Back Bench MPs are the majority of MPs — roughly three-quarters of the total membership of the Commons — The rest are the frontbenchers, who are sub-divided into members of the government, and 'shadow' ministers, who are members of the opposition, occupying the front bench that faces the government. The Shadow Cabinet is headed by the leader of the opposition. Since September 2015 this has been Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party.

What is the role of MPs? MPs have no set job description. The job is what they choose to make of it. However, there are four key roles that you may expect an MP to fulfil: 

▪ Representing their constituents 

▪ Supporting their party

 ▪ Scrutinising or playing a role in government

 ▪ Creating and debating laws 

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – The Opposition is made up of the Shadow Cabinet of the party that won the 2 nd most seats in the General Election. Currently Keir Starmer has 32 individuals in his Shadow Cabinet. 

The Speaker of the House of Commons is the presiding officer of the House of Commons. They decide who speaks in debates and are in charge of maintaining order in the House of Commons. The Speaker is also responsible of the administration of the House of Commons. For example, the Speaker can recall the House of Commons during a national emergency. This last happened in August 2021 to discuss situation in Afghanistan. The Speaker also continues to sit as an MP and continues to represent his own constituents. However, they give up their party status when they are chosen to be the Speaker. The Speaker is chosen by their fellow MPs. When the Speaker is chosen, they are ceremoniously dragged to the Speaker’s chair by other MP – symbolic of the fact that they did not want the role but were willing to serve the House. The current Speaker of the House of Commons is Lindsay Hoyle. He took over from John Bercow in 2019. Bercow was a controversial Speaker, particularly over the issue of Brexit. 

The Denison Rule One of the potential jobs of the Speaker is to settle a tied vote in the House of Commons. As a result of his stance of impartiality within the House, if a vote is ever tied in the House of Commons the Speaker will always vote, as far as possible, in line with the status quo. For instance, the Speaker, in a tie, would vote against a vote of no confidence in the Government. The last time that the Speaker voted in a division was in April 2019 when an vote on Brexit timetabling motion was tied by 310 to 310. 

Party Discipline

MPs almost always rely heavily on their political party to get elected to Parliament. MPs are thus largely beholden to their party for their position. In return for their help in getting elected, political parties expect loyalty in return. MPs are expected to ‘toe the party line’ and vote in the way that the Party Leader and his whips insist. If MPs do not do this they may have the ‘party whip withdrawn’ these means that they no longer sit as MPs for their political party. In addition, they may be deselected, meaning they cannot represent that party at the next General Election. 

The is a very powerful whipping system in the House of Commons. The parties have a series of MPs known as the whips who are responsible for ensuring party discipline. Traditionally, they do this by underlining the Order Paper a number of times depending on how important it is that one of their MPs votes: One Line - MPs don't have to attend or vote but if they do should vote in line with the party. Two Line - MPs must attend unless they are otherwise engaged. Three Line Whip - MPs must attend the vote and must vote the way the whips wish or risk punishment. 

Examples of MPs who have had the whip withdrawn

 2022: Anne Morris - In January 2022 Anne Marie Morris had the whip withdrawn after being the only Conservative to vote for a Labour motion to cut VAT on energy bills. 

2019: Mass Conservative Removal - In 2019 Boris Johnson removed the Whip from 21 of his MPs after they voted with the Labour Party to take control of the Parliamentary Agenda over Brexit. Those removed included former Chancellor Philip Hammond, Party Grandee Ken Clarke and the grandson of Winston Churchill, Nicholas Soames. 2020: Jeremy Corbyn - 

In October 2020 former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn had the whip withdrawn by Keir Starmer after he said that Antisemitism in the Labour Party was not as bad as it had been portrayed and that its portrayal was part of a political attack. 

2003: George Galloway - In 2003 George Galloway had the Labour Whip withdrawn after encouraging British troops to defy orders during the Iraq War - which Galloway vehemently opposed. In 2005 he formed a new party, Respect, and was re-elected as an MP. 

Examples of MPs who have been deselected 

Bob Wareing (Labour) – Bob Wareing was a Labour MP from 1983 until 2010. However, in 2007 he was deselected after breaking the rules on lobbying. He did not run in the 2010 General Election. 

Anne Mackintosh (Conservative) – In January 2014 McIntosh lost a vote of no confidence in her local Conservative Party and was deselected as its candidate in the 2015 General Election. 

Tim Yeo (Conservative) – In 2014 Tim Yeo was deselected by his local Conservative Party after it had been argued that he did not spend enough time focusing on constituency issues. 

Not all votes are whipped votes. 

Occasionally votes will be Free Votes. These are votes on which the whips agree not to tell their MPs how to vote. These votes are rare and are usually on issues that might be considered to be moral rather than political judgements. 

2015 – Assisted Dying Bill to legalise euthanasia in the UK under certain circumstances: Defeated by 330-118 

2013 – Same-Sex Marriage Bill: Passed by 400-175. 

2011 – Voting by Prisoners to continue denying their right to vote: Passed by 234-22 

Members of the House of Lords

The House of Lords does not have an upper limit on the size of its membership. Parliament website (­and-offices/lords/composition-of-the-lords/) is regularly updated with details of membership. There are three main categories of peer: hereditary peers, life peers and 26 'Lords Spiritual' (Anglican archbishops and bishops) who sit in the Lords for historic reasons, as the Church of England is the official church of the British state.

Ninety-two members are hereditary peers, people (nearly all men) who have inherited a title which entitles them to sit in the Lords. The number was determined in the House of Lords Act 1999. When a hereditary peer dies, his or her successor must be elected by all the remaining hereditary peers. Although they are not professional politicians, hereditary peers in the Lords are expected to take their position seriously, attend and vote regularly, and take part in committee work.

 Twenty-six members are archbishops and bishops of the Church of England. This reflects the fact that Anglican Christianity is the established religion of the UK. Recently, however, leaders of other religions which flourish in the UK have also been appointed. Church of England Bishops do not all receive a House of Lords seat, as there are only 26 seats available. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York are guaranteed seats, while the remaining 24 diocesan bishops earn their seats based on their tenure. When a seat becomes available due to death or mandatory retirement at age 70, the next eligible bishop takes their place in the Lords.

The other members of the Lords, commonly known as life peers, are appointed. Technically, life peers are appointed by the reigning monarch, but this power was given up many years ago. Unlike hereditary peers, they cannot pass their title on to their children; it dies with them. Most life peers are nominated by the prime minister and the leaders of the other main parties. This means they are political appointments and this means that they are expected to follow their party’s line on most issues. There are also non-political peers appointed on the recommendation of non-government organisations and even by members of the public. These are called cross bench peers There is a House of Lords Appointments Commission, which decides which people shall be appointed and which can also veto unsuitable nominees nominated by party leaders.

Crossbencher Examples

 Lord Lisvane (Robert Rogers) is a Crossbench Peer. Before entering the House of Lords he was Chief Clerk of the House of Commons. He has one of the country’s foremost experts in constitutional affairs and parliamentary procedure and contributes enormously to the work of the House of Lords on this issue. 

Baroness Boothroyd is a Crossbench Peer. Before entering the House of Lords she was a Member of the House of Commons. Between 1992 and 2000 she was the Speaker of the House of Commons. She was the first female speaker in History. As a Member of the House of Lords she has been a prominent contributor to debates on parliamentary reform and has enormous experience with which to inform these debates. 

There is a convention that parties are able to make nominations roughly in proportion to their strength in the House of Commons. Thus, since 2020, the Conservative Party has made more nominations than other parties. But, as life peers are appointed for life, it can take many years to change the balance of party strengths in the House of Lords

How are Lords Appointed? People appointed to sit in the House of Lords are done so through the Life Peerages Act (1958). Officially, the monarch makes appointments to the House of Lords. However, in 2000 the House of Lords Appointments Commission was established. The Appointments Commission recommends individuals for the appointment as non-party-political life peers. It also vets the nominations of political parties, to ensure the suitability of members. There are a number of mechanisms through which members of the House of Lords can be appointed: Life Peerages are given to some MPs when they leave the House of Commons at the end of a Parliament. This is informally known as being ‘elevated to the Lords’. 

When a Prime Minister resigns they name a resignation honours list. This is to reward those who have supported them. 

After his 2016 resignation. David Cameron controversially recommended that the following be given peerages in his resignation honours list: 

Lizz Sugg – A long term special advisor to David Cameron. 

Olivia Bloomfield – The Conservative Party’s Chief Fundraiser. 

After her 2019 resignation, Theresa May recommended peerages for:

 Gavin Barwell – Her Chief of Staff and an ex-MP Elizabeth Sanderson – Former Special Advisor to Theresa May 

After the 2015 General Election David Cameron gave peerages to a number of MPs who had left. These included: 

Andrew Lansley – Former Leader of the House of Commons William Hague – Former Foreign Secretary 

After the 2019 General Election Boris Johnson gave peerages for the following MPs who had left the House of Commons: 

Philip Hammond – Former Chancellor of the Exchequer

 Jo Johnson – Former Minister for Universities (and Boris Johnson’s brother) Jo Johnson served as a Junior Minister in various departments. However, it is undeniable that his appointment to the House of Lords was influenced by his brother, who held the position of Prime Minister.

Charlotte Owen became a member of the House of Lords in July 2023 through Boris Johnson's resignation honours list. Her appointment sparked controversy as many questioned the basis for her elevation to the House of Lords, considering her brief role as a Special Advisor to Conservative Ministers. She was the youngest member of the House at the time of her appointment.

Members are appointed to ‘top up’ the strengths of the political parties in the House of Lords. These should by convention be similar to that in the House of Commons

 Former Speakers of the House of Commons have traditionally been given a Life Peerage. Ex-Speakers of the House of Commons currently in the House of Lords are: The Baroness Boothroyd (Betty Boothroyd) – Speaker from 1992-2000 

When he stood down as Speaker of the House of Commons in 2019, it was widely expected that Jon Bercow would be appointed to the House of Lords. However, as of December 2020, this has still not happened. It is widely known that Boris Johnson was frustrated at what he saw has Bercow’s obstruction of his agenda over Brexit and his attitude to the prorogation crisis. It is clear that the failure to award Bercow his customary peerage is down to political reasons. 

Why might Peers be appointed? 

As a means to bring people from outside Parliament into the Government 

In 2005 Andrew Adonis was made a Labour Lord by Tony Blair. He immediately took a place in the government as a Minister of State for Education. 

In 2007 Digby Jones was made a Lord by Gordon Brown. He was immediately made a Minister for Trade and Investment as part of Gordon Brown’s ‘government of all the talents’. He had a wide-ranging business background and had extensive experience in international trade. 

Lord Frost was a Senior Diplomat and Special Advisor to Boris Johnson when he was Foreign Secretary. Boris Johnson wanted him to become a Member of the Government and so appointed him to the House of Lords in September 2020. 

Getting rid of potential troublesome backbenchers

John Major took over as leader of the Conservative Party from Margaret Thatcher in 1990. Margaret Thatcher remained in the House of Commons and was still widely respected and revered by the Conservative Party, many of whom were still loyal to her. In 1992 she was offered a place in the House of Lords and she stepped down from Parliament. This enabled John Major to place more distance between himself and Thatcher, who still held so much authority in the party.

 ▪ As a reward for political service

 John Prescott was Labour’s Deputy Prime Minister between 1997 and 2007. He stepped down from this role when Tony Blair resigned as Prime Minister. In 2010 he was awarded a Life Peerage, sitting as a Labour Lord. This was due to his long service with the party. He was heavily criticised for accepting this. John Prescott had always been a strong advocate for the working class and had said that the House of Lords should be abolished.

Between 2011 and 2014 Robert Rogers was the Clerk of the House of Commons. As such, he was the senior constitutional expert in the UK. As such, upon his retirement in 2014 he was appointed to the House of Lords, becoming Lord Lisvane. 

 ▪ To bring particular expertise into the House of Lords

These peers are often crossbenchers. In 2005 Andrew Adonis was made a Labour Lord by Tony Blair. He immediately took a place in the government as a Minister of State for Education. In 2007 Digby Jones was made a Lord by Gordon Brown. He was immediately made a Minister for Trade and Investment as part of Gordon Brown’s ‘government of all the talents’. He had a wide-ranging business background and had extensive experience in international trade. Lord Frost was a Senior Diplomat and Special Advisor to Boris Johnson when he was Foreign Secretary. Boris Johnson wanted him to become a Member of the Government and so appointed him to the House of Lords in September 2020. 


·   The Lord Speaker Carries out similar functions to the speaker of the Commons. The Lords has the following main structure:

·   Frontbench peers These are the equivalent of the frontbench MPs in the Commons but there are considerably fewer of them (about 20 government frontbenchers and less for the other parties).

·   Backbench peers All peers who are not on the front benches.

·   Public bill committees Composed of between 12 and 16 members for each piece of proposed legislation, these committees examine legislation and propose amendments to improve the legislation. Any amendments must be approved by the House of Commons.

·   Whips offices Whips in the House of Lords have a similar role to those in the Commons, though they have considerably less influence and fewer means to discipline peers who defy their party line. Neutral, crossbench peers are not subject to whips.

Forming a government

What is required for a majority in Parliament?

 Sinn Fein are an abstentionist party. This means they do not take their seats in the House of Commons. This, and the position of Speaker and Deputy Speakers who do not vote in divisions, mean that there is difference between a simple majority and a working majority. As there are 650 seats in Parliament a party needs to win 326 seats for a simple majority. However, as the speakers and three deputies do not vote alongside Sinn Fein, this impacts the majority needed to win a division. This means that in the 2019 election, and likely in the next election, the government needs only 320 MPs for a working majority. 

The size of the majority won during a General Election are not guaranteed throughout a parliament. The resignation, death or removal of an MP through the Recall of MPs Act or through the withdrawal of the whip can significantly reduce a majority. For example, since the 2019 General Election the Conservative Majority of 80 has been reduced because: ▪ They lost the seat of North Shropshire to the Lib Dems in a by-election ▪ Christian Wakeford crossed the floor to join Labour ▪ Rob Roberts had the whip withdrawn due to misconduct When becoming Prime Minister in 1976 Callaghan had a small majority but a number of byelection defeats and defections saw this reduced. In 1979 he lost a motion of no confidence by 311-310, something that would likely not have happened if he had his original majority.