Parliament and government

Parliament and government

People often confuse Parliament with government. They work closely together as both play a part in forming the laws of the United Kingdom but they are separate institutions, with separate functions.


The government runs the country. It has responsibility for developing and implementing policy and for drafting laws. It is also known as the 'Executive'.


Parliament is the highest legislative authority in the UK. It has responsibility for checking the work of government and examining, debating and approving new laws. It is also known as the 'Legislature'.

Forming a government

A political party that wins an overall majority in the House of Commons at a general election forms the new government and its leader becomes Prime Minister. 

If no party wins a majority of the seats then the largest party may form a minority government or there may be a coalition government of two or more parties.

The Prime Minister appoints ministers who work in the government departments, the most senior of these sit in Cabinet.

Ministers and MPs

Government ministers are chosen from MPs and Lords in Parliament. Your MP may be a member of the party forming the current Government, but it doesn't necessarily mean they are working 'in government'. Ministers must regularly respond to oral and written questions from MPs and Lords.

Scrutiny of the government

Parliament checks the work of the government on behalf of UK citizens through investigative select committees and by asking government ministers questions. The House of Commons also has to approve proposals for government taxes and spending.

Confidence motion

The government needs to retain the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons. If the House votes to indicate that it has no confidence in the government, either by defeating the government on a confidence motion or by defeating a policy that the government has indicated is a 'matter of confidence', then a General Election would be called if a confidence motion in the new government was not passed within 14 days of the original no confidence motion.

Government Bills

Each year the government informs Parliament of its plans for new legislation in the Queen's Speech. New legislation is usually introduced in the form of a Bill that must be debated and approved by Parliament before it can become an Act of Parliament - the government needs the support of the majority of the House of Commons to function.

Ministerial Code of Conduct

The rules concerning how Ministers should conduct their duties is contained in 'The Ministerial Code: A Code of Ethics and Procedural Guidance for Ministers' and is available on the GOV.UK website.

Government websites

GOV.UK is the website for the UK government. On the site you can find information and services for citizens and businesses, detailed guidance for professionals and information on government and policy.

10 Downing Street is the office of the British Prime Minister. The office helps the Prime Minister to establish and deliver the government's overall strategy and policy priorities, and to communicate the government's policies to Parliament, the public and international audiences.

Further information

The UK political system

The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy: government is voted into power by the people, to act in the interests of the people. Every adult has the right to vote - known as 'universal suffrage'.

Alongside this system, the UK is also a constitutional monarchy. This is a situation where there is an established monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II), who remains politically impartial and with limited powers.

House of Commons Chamber Film - Scrutinising Government

One of the important roles for MPs is to question and scrutinise the government, its policies and work

Commons Library briefing

The House of Commons Library produces briefing papers to inform MPs and their staff of key issues. The papers contain factual information and a range of opinions on each subject, and aim to be politically impartial.

For schools

The difference between Parliament and government explained