Glossary of terms

This glossary provides definitions of the key terms used on this website and throughout the Indicators for Democratic Parliaments.

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Term Definition

A national body of elected (or sometimes appointed) representatives that makes laws, debates issues and holds the government to account.


See: Member of parliament (MP). Note: in the United States Congress, the term “parliamentarian” refers to the individual (and their respective office) who is responsible for maintaining precedent and compliance with the legislature’s rules of procedure. There is a separate “parliamentarian” for each chamber in Congress.

Parliamentary administration

A set of administrative services and administrative staff that serve a parliament. Offices and staff of the parliamentary administration are professional, neutral and impartial in their work and actions.

Parliamentary committee

A body comprised of MPs who are appointed, on either a temporary or a permanent basis, to debate or closely examine matters closely related to specific policies, issues or circumstances, in line with the committee’s scope of work. The theme, structure and nature of parliamentary committees are established by a chamber’s rules of procedure. Depending on the these rules, the composition of a committee may reflect that of the whole parliament or include diverse party representation. In some parliaments, the term “commission” is used instead of, or interchangeably with, “committee”.

Parliamentary control

See: Parliamentary oversight.

Parliamentary democracy

The system of government where the people elect representatives and the representative body chooses the executive to govern the State, with that executive held accountable by parliament (the elected body).

Parliamentary oversight

The close examination and investigation of government policies, actions and spending that is carried out by parliament to ensure they are reaching their intended beneficiaries appropriately, equitably and with integrity.

Parliamentary scrutiny

See: Parliamentary oversight.

Parliamentary secretariat

See: Parliamentary administration.

Parliamentary service

See: Parliamentary administration.

Parliamentary staff

Employees working for the parliamentary administration who provide professional and impartial support and services to enable MPs to fulfil their legislative responsibilities. In this publication, the term “parliamentary staff” does not include political staff who provide support to individual MPs or parliamentary (party) groups. It should be noted that parliamentary staff are categorized differently across the globe, and the term may refer to individuals who work under either partisan or non-partisan capacities in parliament. In this publication, the term refers to individuals who are non-partisan. Typically, parliamentary staff are separate and independent from the executive's civil service.


The process through which people, individually or in groups, get involved in an activity or decision.


A document presented to parliament by a person or group of people asking for action on a particular matter. The term “petition” can also cover any submission – proposal, criticism or complaint – made to parliament.

Presiding officer

See: Speaker.


The collective governing body of parliament. Its composition varies among countries. The presidium might consist of individuals such as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker(s), but could also include a board with political responsibilities that brings together leaders from the different parliamentary (party) groups. In bicameral systems, each chamber usually has its own governing bodies.

Proposal for a law

A proposal for a new law or changes to an existing law, tabled by MPs or the executive, to be considered by parliament.


All the members of a community in general, regardless of their citizenship status.

Public Accounts Committee (PAC)

A specialized parliamentary committee with responsibility for scrutinizing the budget and public expenditure. It is usually found in Westminster-type parliaments. In this publication, the term refers to all types of parliamentary committees that are responsible for oversight of government spending (such as committees on budget, finance, expenditure or similar).

Public engagement

The various methods and processes through which the community is involved in an activity, process or decision, including education, information, communication, consultation and participation.