British Studies Web Pages



A Parliamentary A to Z:
An Insider's Guide to Parliament!

A is for accountability. The parliamentary system contains various checks to ensure that governments do not abuse their powers and remain accountable to the electorate. Opposition members, as well as the Government’s own  backbenchers, are given a variety of opportunities to examine, debate and question government policies and decisions..

B is  for backbenchers who make up the majority of the House of Commons


C is for the Cabinet, the small elite core of Government.

D is for Downing Street, one of the most famous addresses in Britain and home to Prime Ministers since the days of Robert Walpole.

E is for “enforcer”, the name often given to a senior member of the Cabinet who has the job of keeping government MPs and ministers on track and following official policies. Hence the nickname "cabinet enforcer" coined by the press.

F is for Foreign Office, the UK’s public face to the rest of the world.

G is for Government Bills which pass through the Commons and the Lords for debate and may eventually become laws.

H is for hereditary peers, who are being drastically reduced in number as part of the government's constitutional reforms.

I is for Irish Assembly, which you can find out about from our links.

J is for judges who sit in the Lords too. Critics claim that this means the legal system cannot be truly independent. Will they too be abolished in the reforms?

K is for King - well actually Queen at the moment! The monarch, whether King or Queen,  is the nominal head of the Government .

L is for Lord Chancellor, leader of the House of Lords, occupier of the historic seat known as ‘the Woolsack’.

M is for MP, elected member of the House, maybe a Minister but more likely to be a backbencher.

N is for New Labour, the revamped Labour movement which swept to victory at the general election of 1997.

O is for ‘Order! Order!’ the familiar call of the Speaker as he/she keeps unruly MPs under control.

P is for the People. Without them Parliament wouldn’t exist.

Q is for Question Time, the weekly opportunity for MPs to address questions directly to the Prime Minister.

R is for reform. There has been a significant, if quiet, constitutional revolution in the early years of the Labour administration, including devolution and the use of referendums. Further details of these changes can be seen in our summary of the government's constitutional reforms.

S is for scandal! Well every Government has them and much of the Press regards it as their duty to find them!

T is for taxes, a headache for any government. Nobody wants them, but the country can’t function without them.

U is for the United Kingdom of Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales, still with a common parliament despite the recent devolutionary changes.

V is for votes and voters, the people who elect governments and oppositions.

W is for whips, key figures in party politics whose job is to keep MPs and peers informed of parliamentary business and to make sure enough representatives of their party turn up to support the party vote on  important issues. They also play a vital role in keeping party leaders informed of backbench opinion.

X is what you write on a ballot paper to indicate your choice of candidate.

Y is for yawn. Well some of those late night debates can be very tiring….


Z  is for zzzz! Very tiring indeed!!

Teachers' notes
  • Divide the alphabet up amongst the class, giving each group or pair several letters to work with,  and ask students to try to add one or two more items under each letter.

N.B. Students may need to be quite creative for some letters, e.g. Z so make sure that pairs or groups have some "easier" letters as well as the more difficult ones. Get students to send in their A to Z’s too!

Produced in Poland by British Council © 2003. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.