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UK Parliament

How UK Parliament
works

Introduction

Engaging with the UK Parliament can mean getting involved directly in the political process which could lead to policy impact at the highest level.   Whether you engage with an MP, submit evidence to a Select Committee or suggest a topic for future consideration to an All-Party Parliamentary Group – these are all different ways that you can engage and inform the current political debate.  Some routes in to Parliament are formal, for example, giving evidence to a Select Committee but others are more ad hoc such as influencing the work of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).  Seeking to engage with Parliament therefore requires an understanding of what Parliament is and the different ways different parts use and gather knowledge and scientific research expertise.  Like the UK government, Parliament does not use evidence in a uniform way.  Understanding these differences will help you be more effective in your engagement.

One of the first steps in having an influence on policy is having an understanding of the policymaking context and who is involved in the policy process and why.  This can be challenging given the policy process can involve multiple actors but ask yourself who might be interested in or benefit from hearing about my research and why might my research be of interest to a particular person?  This will help you decide who best to target and why.   Here we set out a number of ways you can practically engage with the UK Parliament first by explaining how Parliament actually works. 

How does the UK Parliament work?

House of Commons from Wikipedia

Image: House of Commons from Wikipedia

Parliament is separate from the Government – it’s made up of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Monarch.  Legislation must be passed through both Houses to pass into Law.  Parliament’s role is to: scrunitise the UK Government; make new laws and change existing ones; raise and debate key issues and; check and improve Government spending.  Parliament is there to represent people’s interests and make sure they are taken into account by the Government. The Government therefore cannot make new laws or raise new taxes without Parliament’s agreement.  Parliament is made up of people who have been elected and people who have been appointed who sit in two separate Houses – both Houses must agree on a Bill before it can become Law.

The House of Commons is where people who have been elected at a General Election work, as MPs, usually for the next five years. Everyone in the UK is represented by an elected Member of Parliament (MP) who splits their time between working in the House of Commons, working in their constituency and working for their political party.  The House of Lords members, (Peers), are mostly appointed for life rather than elected. They are often chosen because of their achievements and experience and many do not belong to a political party.  The Lords shares the task of making and shaping laws and challenging the work of the Government.   

How does a policy become a law?

Policy making is complex and often arises out of a mixture of departmental advice to Ministers, political advice from Ministers special advisors, top-down direction from Cabinet, academic evidence, pressure from lobbyists and occasionally in response to direct public pressure.  When a Government Department is considering a new policy it will often release a consultation document called a ‘Green Paper’, published on their website, and aimed at encouraging debate.  A Green Paper is often the first step towards introducing a Bill into Parliament.  Following publication, discussion and feedback on the Green Paper, the relevant Government Department may then release a White Paper which is more detailed and will often form the basis for a Bill to be introduced into Parliament.  Bills can be introduced in either House and will go through set stages in each.  A Bill has to be approved by both Houses before it receives Royal Assent and then becomes an Act of Parliament.

Scientific and engineering expertise in Parliament

Academic evidence is used in the UK Parliament in a variety of ways from informing policy making to scrutinising legislation, laws and procedures. Or research evidence can be used to provide valuable background knowledge – a vital part of being able to scrutinise policy and inform it.  In short research evidence can be used to hold Parliament to account.  In addition parliamentarians and parliamentary staff are generally likely to be interested in scientific and engineering expertise and research if it is relevant to a current issue on the parliamentary agenda.  MPs may be interested in your research if it relates to an issue that affects or impacts on their constituents.  But don’t just assume that parliamentarians and parliamentary staff will be interested in what you have to say because you think you are the ‘expert’ – you still need to make sure that what you say or provide is timely, policy relevant and accessible.  And adopting a respectful, helpful and humble demeanour [1] can help build trust and develop good relationships with the policy actors you are engaging with.

Find out more about how Parliament works

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Reference

[1] Cairney P, Oliver K (2019) The dos and don’ts of influencing policy: a systematic review of advice to academics. Palgrave Communications.  https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-019-0232-y


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