House of Lords
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|The House of Lords of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland|
|Type||Upper House of the Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Lord Speaker|| Baroness D'Souza, Crossbencher
Since 1 September 2011
|Leader|| Lord Hill of Oareford, Conservative
Since 7 January 2013
|Opposition Leader|| Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, Labour
Since 11 May 2010
(+52 peers on leave of absence or otherwise disqualified from sitting)
|Salary||No annual salary, but expenses paid.|
|House of Lords Chamber
Palace of Westminster
The House of Lords is independent from, and complements the work of, the House of Commons; the Lords share responsibility for making laws and checking government action. Bills can be introduced into either the House of Lords or the House of Commons and members of the Lords may also take on roles as Government Ministers. The House of Lords has its own support services, separate from the Commons, including the House of Lords Library.
Unlike the elected House of Commons, most new members of the House of Lords are appointed. Membership of the House of Lords is made up of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal. There are currently 26 Lords Spiritual who sit in the Lords by virtue of their ecclesiastical role in the established Church of England. The Lords Temporal make up the rest of the membership; of these, the majority are life peers who are appointed by the Monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, or on the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
Membership was once a right of birth to hereditary peers but, following a series of reforms, only 92 members (as of 1 July 2011) sitting by virtue of a hereditary peerage remain. The number of members is not fixed; as of 11 June 2012 the House of Lords has 775 members (not including 28 who are on leave of absence or are otherwise disqualified from sitting), unlike the House of Commons, which has a 650-seat fixed membership.
The House of Lords provides expertise and scrutinises bills that have been approved by the House of Commons. It regularly reviews and amends bills from the Commons. While the House of Lords is unable unilaterally to prevent bills passing into law (except in certain limited circumstances), its members can severely delay bills that they believe to be misguided and thereby force the government, the Commons, and the general public to reconsider their decisions. In this capacity, the Lords acts as constitutional safeguard that is independent from the electoral process and that can challenge the will of the people when the majority’s desires threaten key constitutional principles, human rights or rules of law. In other countries this role would often be performed by a Constitutional or Supreme Court, but the UK system's emphasis on parliamentary sovereignty—rather than judicial review—means that this function cannot be properly accomplished by the British court system as all judicial rulings can be overruled by parliament.
The Speech from the throne, often known as the Queen's Speech, is delivered from the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. The House also has a minor Church of England role in that through the Lords Spiritual Church Measures must be tabled within the House.
Today's Parliament of the United Kingdom largely descends, in practice, from the Parliament of England, though the 1706 Treaty of Union and the Acts of Union that ratified the Treaty created a new Parliament of Great Britain to replace the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland. This new parliament was, in effect, the continuation of the Parliament of England with the addition of 45 MPs and 16 Peers to represent Scotland.
The Parliament of England developed from the Magnum Concilium, the "Great Council" that advised the King during medieval times. This royal council came to be composed of ecclesiastics, noblemen, and representatives of the counties (afterwards, representatives of the boroughs as well). The first Parliament is often considered to be the " Model Parliament" (held in 1295), which included archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, and representatives of the shires and boroughs.
The power of Parliament grew slowly, fluctuating as the strength of the monarchy grew or declined. For example, during much of the reign of Edward II (1307–1327), the nobility was supreme, the Crown weak, and the shire and borough representatives entirely powerless. In 1569, the authority of Parliament was for the first time recognised not simply by custom or royal charter, but by an authoritative statute, passed by Parliament itself.
Further developments occurred during the reign of Edward II's successor, Edward III. Most importantly, it was during this King's reign that Parliament clearly separated into two distinct chambers: the House of Commons (consisting of the shire and borough representatives) and the House of Lords (consisting of the senior clergy and the nobility). The authority of Parliament continued to grow, and, during the early fifteenth century, both Houses exercised powers to an extent not seen before. The Lords were far more powerful than the Commons because of the great influence of the aristocrats and prelates of the realm.
The power of the nobility suffered a decline during the civil wars of the late fifteenth century, known as the Wars of the Roses. Much of the nobility was killed on the battlefield or executed for participation in the war, and many aristocratic estates were lost to the Crown. Moreover, feudalism was dying, and the feudal armies controlled by the barons became obsolete. Henry VII (1485–1509) clearly established the supremacy of the monarch, symbolised by the "Crown Imperial". The domination of the Sovereign continued to grow during the reigns of the Tudor monarchs in the 16th century. The Crown was at the height of its power during the reign of Henry VIII (1509–1547).
The House of Lords remained more powerful than the House of Commons, but the Lower House continued to grow in influence, reaching a zenith in relation to the House of Lords during the middle 17th century. Conflicts between the King and the Parliament (for the most part, the House of Commons) ultimately led to the English Civil War during the 1640s. In 1649, after the defeat and execution of King Charles I, the Commonwealth of England was declared, but the nation was effectively under the overall control of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England.
The House of Lords was reduced to a largely powerless body, with Cromwell and his supporters in the Commons dominating the Government. On 19 March 1649, the House of Lords was abolished by an Act of Parliament, which declared that "The Commons of England [find] by too long experience that the House of Lords is useless and dangerous to the people of England." The House of Lords did not assemble again until the Convention Parliament met in 1660 and the monarchy was restored. It returned to its former position as the more powerful chamber of Parliament—a position it would occupy until the 19th century.
The 19th century was marked by several changes to the House of Lords. The House, once a body of only about 50 members, had been greatly enlarged by the liberality of George III and his successors in creating peerages. The individual influence of a Lord of Parliament was thus diminished.
Moreover, the power of the House as a whole experienced a decrease, whilst that of the House of Commons grew. Particularly notable in the development of the Lower House's superiority was the Reform Bill of 1832. The electoral system of the House of Commons was not, at the time, democratic: property qualifications greatly restricted the size of the electorate, and the boundaries of many constituencies had not been changed for centuries.
Entire cities such as Manchester were not represented by a single individual in the House of Commons, but the 11 voters of Old Sarum retained their ancient right to elect two Members of Parliament. A small borough was susceptible to bribery, and was often under the control of a patron, whose nominee was guaranteed to win an election. Some aristocrats were patrons of numerous " pocket boroughs", and therefore controlled a considerable part of the membership of the House of Commons.
When the House of Commons passed a Reform Bill to correct some of these anomalies in 1831, the House of Lords rejected the proposal. The popular cause of reform, however, was not abandoned by the ministry, despite a second rejection of the bill in 1832. Prime Minister Earl Grey advised the King to overwhelm opposition to the bill in the House of Lords by creating about 80 new pro-Reform peers. William IV originally balked at the proposal, which effectively threatened the opposition of the House of Lords, but at length relented.
Before the new peers were created, however, the Lords who opposed the bill admitted defeat, and abstained from the vote, allowing the passage of the bill. The crisis damaged the political influence of the House of Lords, but did not altogether end it. Over the course of the century, however, the power of the Upper House experienced further erosion, and the Commons gradually became the stronger House of Parliament.
The status of the House of Lords returned to the forefront of debate after the election of a Liberal Government in 1906. In 1909, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, introduced into the House of Commons the " People's Budget", which proposed a land tax targeting wealthy landowners. The popular measure, however, was defeated in the heavily Conservative House of Lords.
Having made the powers of the House of Lords a primary campaign issue, the Liberals were narrowly re-elected in January 1910. Asquith then proposed that the powers of the House of Lords be severely curtailed. After a general election in December 1910, the Asquith Government secured the passage of a bill to curtail the powers of the House of Lords.
The Parliament Act 1911 effectively abolished the power of the House of Lords to reject legislation, or to amend in a way unacceptable to the House of Commons: most bills could be delayed for no more than three parliamentary sessions or two calendar years. It was not meant to be a permanent solution; more comprehensive reforms were planned. Neither party, however, pursued the matter with much enthusiasm, and the House of Lords remained primarily hereditary. In 1949, the Parliament Act reduced the delaying power of the House of Lords further to two sessions or one year.
In 1958, the predominantly hereditary nature of the House of Lords was changed by the Life Peerages Act 1958, which authorised the creation of life baronies, with no numerical limits. The number of Life Peers then gradually increased, though not at a constant rate.
The Labour Party had for most of the twentieth century a commitment, based on the party's historic opposition to class privilege, to abolish the House of Lords, or at least expel the hereditary element. In 1968, the Labour Government of Harold Wilson attempted to reform the House of Lords by introducing a system under which hereditary peers would be allowed to remain in the House and take part in debate, but would be unable to vote. This plan, however, was defeated in the House of Commons by a coalition of traditionalist Conservatives (such as Enoch Powell), and Labour members who continued to advocate the outright abolition of the Upper House (such as Michael Foot).
When Michael Foot attained the leadership of the Labour Party, abolition of the House of Lords became a part of the party's agenda; under Neil Kinnock, however, a reformed Upper House was proposed instead. In the meantime, the creation of hereditary peerages (except for members of the Royal Family) has been arrested, with the exception of three creations during the administration of the Conservative Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
Whilst some hereditary peers were at best apathetic the Labour Party's clear commitments were not lost on Baron Sudeley who for decades had been considered an expert on the House of Lords. In December 1979 the Conservative Monday Club published his extensive paper entitled Lords Reform – Why tamper with the House of Lords? and in July 1980 The Monarchist carried another article by Lord Sudeley entitled Why Reform or Abolish the House of Lords?. In 1990 he authored a further booklet for The Monday Club entitled The Preservation of the House of Lords.
The Labour Party included in its 1997 general election Manifesto a commitment to remove the hereditary peerage from the House of Lords. Their subsequent election victory in 1997 under Tony Blair finally heralded the demise of the traditional House of Lords. The Labour Government introduced legislation to expel all hereditary peers from the Upper House as a first step in Lords reform. As a part of a compromise, however, it agreed to permit 92 hereditary peers to remain until the reforms were complete. Thus all but 92 hereditary peers were expelled under the House of Lords Act 1999 (see below for its provisions), making the House of Lords predominantly an appointed house.
Since 1999 however, no further reform has taken place. The Wakeham Commission proposed introducing a 20% elected element to the Lords, but this plan was widely criticised. A Joint Committee was established in 2001 to resolve the issue, but it reached no conclusion and instead gave Parliament seven options to choose from (fully appointed, 20% elected, 40% elected, 50% elected, 60% elected, 80%, and fully elected). In a confusing series of votes in February 2003, all of these options were defeated although the 80% elected option fell by just three votes in the Commons. Socialist MPs favouring outright abolition voted against all the options.
In 2005 a cross-party group of senior MPs ( Kenneth Clarke, Paul Tyler, Tony Wright, Sir George Young and Robin Cook) published a report proposing that 70% of members of the House of Lords should be elected – each member for a single long term – by the single transferable vote system. Most of the remainder were to be appointed by a Commission to ensure a mix of "skills, knowledge and experience". This proposal was also not implemented. A cross-party campaign initiative called " Elect the Lords" was set up to make the case for a predominantly elected Second Chamber in the run up to the 2005 general election.
At the 2005 election, the Labour Party proposed further reform of the Lords, but without specific details. The Conservative Party, which had, prior to 1997, opposed any tampering with the House of Lords, favoured an 80% elected Second Chamber, while the Liberal Democrats called for a fully elected Senate. During 2006, a cross-party committee discussed Lords reform, with the aim of reaching a consensus: its findings were published in early 2007.
On 7 March 2007, members of the House of Commons voted ten times on a variety of alternative compositions for the upper chamber. Outright abolition, a wholly appointed house, a 20% elected house, a 40% elected house, a 50% elected house and a 60% elected house were all defeated in turn. Finally the vote for an 80% elected chamber was won by 305 votes to 267, and the vote for a wholly elected chamber was won by an even greater margin: 337 to 224. Significantly this last vote represented an overall majority of MPs, giving it political authority.
Furthermore, examination of the names of MPs voting at each division shows that, of the 305 who voted for the 80% elected option, 211 went on to vote for the 100% elected option. Given that this vote took place after the vote on 80% – whose result was already known when the vote on 100% took place – this shows a clear preference for a fully elected upper house among those who voted for the only other option that passed. But this was nevertheless only an indicative vote and many political and legislative hurdles remained to be overcome for supporters of an elected second chamber. The House of Lords, soon after, rejected this proposal and voted for an entirely appointed House of Lords.
In July 2008 Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, introduced a white paper to the House of Commons proposing to replace the House of Lords with an 80–100% elected chamber, with one third being elected at each general election, for a term of approximately 12–15 years. The white paper states that as the peerage would be totally separated from membership of the upper house, the name "House of Lords" would no longer be appropriate: It goes on to explain that there is cross-party consensus for the new chamber to be titled the "Senate of the United Kingdom", however in order to ensure the debate remains on the role of the upper house rather than its title, the white paper is neutral on the title of the new house.
In Meg Russell’s article; "Is the House of Lords already reformed?" she states three essential features of a legitimate House of Lords. The first is that it must have adequate powers over legislation to make the government think twice before making a decision. The House of Lords currently has enough power to make it relevant. During Tony Blair’s first year he was defeated thirty-eight times in the Lords. Secondly, as to the composition of the Lords, Meg Russell suggests that the composition must be distinct from the Commons otherwise it would render the Lords useless. The third feature is the perceived legitimacy of the Lords. She writes; "In general legitimacy comes with election."
What will concern ministers in the coalition government is how these features are interlinked. If the Lords have a distinct and elected composition, this would probably come about through fixed term proportional representation. If this happens then the perceived legitimacy of the Lords could arguably outweigh the legitimacy of the commons. This would especially be the case if the House of Lords had been elected more recently than the House of Commons as it could be said to reflect the will of the people better than the Commons.
In this scenario there may well come a time when the Lords twice reject a Bill from the Commons and it is forced through. This would in turn trigger questions about the amount of power the Lords should have and there would be pressure for it to increase. This hypothetical process is known as the "circumnavigation of power theory". It infers that it would never be in any government’s interest to legitimise the Lords as they would be forfeiting their own power.
The Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition agreed, following the 2010 general election, to clearly outline a provision for a wholly or mainly elected second chamber, elected by a proportional representation system. These proposals sparked a debate on 29 June 2010. As an interim measure, appointment of new peers will reflect shares of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.
Detailed proposals for Lords reform including a draft House of Lords Reform Bill were published on 17 May 2011. These include a 300-member hybrid house, of which 80% are elected. A further 20% would be appointed, and reserve space would be included for some Church of England bishops. Under the proposals, members would also serve single non-renewable terms of 15 years. Former MPs would be allowed to stand for election to the Upper House, but members of the Upper House would not be immediately allowed to become MPs.
The details of the proposal were:
- The upper chamber shall continue to be known as the House of Lords for legislative purposes.
- The reformed House of Lords should have 300 members of which 240 are "Elected Members" and 60 appointed "Independent Members". Up to 12 Church of England bishops may sit in the house as ex-officio "Lords Spiritual".
- Elected Members will serve a single, non renewable term of 15 years.
- Elections to the reformed Lords should take place at the same time as elections to the House of Commons.
- Elected Members should be elected using the Single Transferable Vote system of proportional representation.
- Twenty Independent Members (a third) shall take their seats within the reformed house at the same time as elected members do so and for the same 15-year term.
- Independent Members will be appointed by the Queen after being suggested by the Prime Minister acting on advice of an Appointments Commission.
- There will no longer be a link between the peerage system and membership of the upper house.
- The current powers of the House of Lords would not change and the House of Commons shall retain its status as the primary House of Parliament.
The proposals were considered by a Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform made up of both MPs and Peers, which issued its final report on 23 April 2012, making the following suggestions:
- The reformed House of Lords should have 450 members.
- Party groupings, including the Crossbenchers, should choose which of their members are retained in the transition period, with the percentage of members allotted to each group based on their share of the peers with high attendance during a given period.
- Up to 12 Lords Spiritual should be retained in a reformed House of Lords.
The role of the House of Lords includes questioning Government ministers, improving legislation and debating topics of national significance.
Relationship with the Government
The House of Lords does not control the term of the Prime Minister or of the Government. Only the Lower House may force the Prime Minister to resign or call elections by passing a motion of no-confidence or by withdrawing supply. Thus, the House of Lords' oversight of the government is limited.
Most Cabinet ministers are from the House of Commons, rather than the House of Lords. In particular, all Prime Ministers since 1902 have been members of the Lower House. ( Alec Douglas-Home, who became Prime Minister in 1963 whilst still an Earl, disclaimed his peerage and was elected to the Commons soon after his term began.) In recent history, it has been very rare for major cabinet positions (except Lord Chancellor and Leader of the House of Lords) to have been filled by peers.
Exceptions include Lord Carrington, who was the Foreign Secretary between 1979 and 1982, Lord Young of Graffham ( Minister without Portfolio, then Secretary of State for Employment and then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry from 1984 to 1989), and Lord Mandelson, who served as First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade. George Robertson was briefly a peer whilst serving as Secretary of State for Defence before resigning to take up the post of Secretary General of NATO. From 1999 to 2010 the Attorney General for England and Wales was a Member of the House of Lords; the most recent was Baroness Scotland of Asthal.
The House of Lords does remain a source for junior ministers and members of government. Like the House of Commons, the Lords also has a Government Chief Whip as well as several Junior Whips. Where a government department is not represented by a minister in the Lords or one is not available, government whips will act as spokesmen for them.
Legislation, with the exception of money bills, may be introduced in either House.
The House of Lords debates legislation, and has power to amend or reject bills. However, the power of the Lords to reject a bill passed by the House of Commons is severely restricted by the Parliament Acts. Under those Acts, certain types of bills may be presented for the Royal Assent without the consent of the House of Lords (i.e. the Commons can override the Lords' veto). The House of Lords cannot delay a money bill (a bill that, in the view of the Speaker of the House of Commons, solely concerns national taxation or public funds) for more than one month.
Other public bills cannot be delayed by the House of Lords for more than two parliamentary sessions, or one calendar year. These provisions, however, only apply to public bills that originate in the House of Commons, and cannot have the effect of extending a parliamentary term beyond five years. A further restriction is a constitutional convention known as the Salisbury Convention, which means that the House of Lords does not oppose legislation promised in the Government's election manifesto.
By a custom that prevailed even before the Parliament Acts, the House of Lords is further restrained insofar as financial bills are concerned. The House of Lords may neither originate a bill concerning taxation or Supply (supply of treasury or exchequer funds), nor amend a bill so as to insert a taxation or Supply-related provision. (The House of Commons, however, often waives its privileges and allows the Upper House to make amendments with financial implications.) Moreover, the Upper House may not amend any Supply Bill. The House of Lords formerly maintained the absolute power to reject a bill relating to revenue or Supply, but this power was curtailed by the Parliament Acts, as aforementioned.
Former judicial role
Historically, the House of Lords held several judicial functions. Most notably, until 2009 the House of Lords served as the court of last resort for most instances of UK law. Since 1 October 2009 this role is now held by the newly created Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
The Lords' judicial functions originated from the ancient role of the Curia Regis as a body that addressed the petitions of the King's subjects. The functions were exercised not by the whole House, but by a committee of "Law Lords". The bulk of the House's judicial business was conducted by the twelve Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, who were specifically appointed for this purpose under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876.
The judicial functions could also be exercised by Lords of Appeal (other members of the House who happened to have held high judicial office). No Lord of Appeal in Ordinary or Lord of Appeal could sit judicially beyond the age of seventy-five. The judicial business of the Lords was supervised by the Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and his or her deputy, the Second Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary.
The jurisdiction of the House of Lords extended, in civil and in criminal cases, to appeals from the courts of England and Wales, and of Northern Ireland. From Scotland, appeals were possible only in civil cases; Scotland's High Court of Justiciary is the highest court in criminal matters. The House of Lords was not the United Kingdom's only court of last resort; in some cases, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council performs such a function. The jurisdiction of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom, however, is relatively restricted; it encompasses appeals from ecclesiastical courts, disputes under the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, and a few other minor matters. Issues related to devolution were transferred from the Privy Council to the Supreme Court in 2009.
The twelve Law Lords did not all hear every case; rather, after World War II cases were heard by panels known as Appellate Committees, each of which normally consisted of five members (selected by the Senior Lord). An Appellate Committee hearing an important case could consist of more than five members. Though Appellate Committees met in separate committee rooms, judgement was given in the Lords Chamber itself. No further appeal lay from the House of Lords, although the House of Lords could refer a "preliminary question" to the European Court of Justice in cases involving an element of European Union law, and a case could be brought at the European Court of Human Rights if the House of Lords did not provide a satisfactory remedy in cases where the European Convention on Human Rights was relevant.
A distinct judicial function—one in which the whole House used to participate—is that of trying impeachments. Impeachments were brought by the House of Commons, and tried in the House of Lords; a conviction required only a majority of the Lords voting. Impeachments, however, are to all intents and purposes obsolete; the last impeachment was that of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville in 1806.
Similarly, the House of Lords was once the court that tried peers charged with high treason or felony. The House would be presided over not by the Lord Chancellor, but by the Lord High Steward, an official especially appointed for the occasion of the trial. If Parliament was not in session, then peers could be tried in a separate court, known as the Lord High Steward's Court. Only peers, their wives, and their widows (unless remarried) were entitled to trials in the House of Lords or the Lord High Steward's Court; the Lords Spiritual were tried in Ecclesiastical Courts. In 1948, the right of peers to be tried in such special courts was abolished; now, they are tried in the regular courts. The last such trial in the House was of Edward Southwell Russell, 26th Baron de Clifford in 1935. An illustrative dramatization circa 1928 of a trial of a peer (the fictional Duke of Denver) on a charge of murder (a felony) is portrayed in the 1972 BBC Television adaption of Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mystery Clouds of Witness.
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 resulted in the creation of a separate Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, to which the judicial function of the House of Lords, and some of the judicial functions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, were transferred. In addition, the office of Lord Chancellor was reformed by the act, removing his ability to act as both a government minister and a judge. This was motivated in part by concerns about the historical admixture of legislative, judicial, and executive power. The new Supreme Court is located at Middlesex Guildhall.
Members of the House of Lords who sit by virtue of their ecclesiastical offices are known as Lords Spiritual. Formerly, the Lords Spiritual were the majority in the English House of Lords, including the Church of England's archbishops, diocesan bishops, abbots, and those priors who were entitled to wear a mitre. After 1539, however, only the archbishops and bishops continued to attend, for the Dissolution of the Monasteries suppressed the positions of abbot and prior. In 1642, during the English Civil War, the Lords Spiritual were excluded altogether, but they returned under the Clergy Act 1661.
The number of Lords Spiritual was further restricted by the Bishopric of Manchester Act 1847, and by later acts. The Lords Spiritual can now number no more than 26; these are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Durham, the Bishop of Winchester and the 21 longest-serving bishops from other dioceses in the Church of England (excluding the dioceses of Sodor and Man and Gibraltar in Europe, as these lie entirely outside the United Kingdom).
The current Lords Spiritual represent only the Church of England. Bishops of the Church of Scotland traditionally sat in the Parliament of Scotland but were excluded in 1638 following the Scottish Reformation. There are no longer bishops in the Church of Scotland in the traditional sense of the word, and that Church has never sent members to sit in the Westminster House of Lords. The Church of Ireland did obtain representation in the House of Lords after the union of Ireland and Great Britain in 1801.
Of the Church of Ireland's ecclesiastics, four (one archbishop and three bishops) were to sit at any one time, with the members rotating at the end of every parliamentary session (which normally lasted approximately one year). The Church of Ireland, however, was disestablished in 1871, and thereafter ceased to be represented by Lords Spiritual. Bishops of Welsh sees in the Church of England originally sat in the House of Lords (after 1847, only if their seniority within the Church entitled them to), but the Church in Wales ceased to be a part of the Church of England in 1920 and was simultaneously disestablished in Wales. Accordingly, bishops of the Church in Wales were no longer eligible to be appointed to the House as bishops of the Church of England.
Other ecclesiastics have sat in the House of Lords as Lords Temporal in recent times: Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits was appointed to the House of Lords (with the consent of the Queen, who acted on the advice of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher), and his successor Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks does as well. In recognition of his work at reconciliation and in the peace process in Northern Ireland, the Archbishop of Armagh (the senior Anglican bishop in Northern Ireland), Lord Eames was appointed to the Lords by John Major. Other clergymen appointed include the Reverend Donald Soper, the Reverend Timothy Beaumont, and some Scottish clerics.
There have been no Roman Catholic clergymen appointed, though it was rumoured that Cardinal Basil Hume and his successor Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor were offered peerages, by Callaghan, Thatcher and Blair respectively, but refused, and Hume accepted instead the Order of Merit, a personal appointment of the Queen, shortly before his death. O'Connor said he had his maiden speech ready, but Roman Catholics who have received Holy Orders are forbidden by Canon Law from holding offices connected with the government of any state other than the Holy See, so it is unlikely that any Catholic cleric will ever sit in the House of Lords. Former Archbishops of Canterbury, having reverted to the status of bishop but who are no longer diocesans, are invariably given life peerages and sit as Lords Temporal.
By custom at least one of the Bishops reads prayers in each legislative day (a role taken by the chaplain in the Commons). They often speak in debates; in 2004 Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, opened a debate into sentencing legislation. Measures ( proposed laws of the Church of England) must be put before the Lords, and the Lords Spiritual have a role in ensuring that this takes place.
Since the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Lords Temporal have been the most numerous group in the House of Lords. Unlike the Lords Spiritual, they may be publicly partisan, aligning themselves with one or another of the political parties that dominate the House of Commons. Publicly non-partisan Lords are called crossbenchers. Originally, the Lords Temporal included several hundred hereditary peers (that is, those whose peerages may be inherited), who ranked variously as dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons (as well as Scottish Lords of Parliament). Such hereditary dignities can be created by the Crown, in modern times on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day.
In 1999, the Labour government brought forward the House of Lords Act removing the right of several hundred hereditary peers to sit in the House. The Act provided a temporary measure that only 92 individuals may continue to sit in the Upper House by virtue of hereditary peerages.
Of these, two remain in the House of Lords because they hold royal offices connected with Parliament: the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain. Of the remaining 90 members of the House of Lords sitting by virtue of a hereditary peerage in the House of Lords, 14 are elected by the whole House and 74 are chosen by fellow hereditary peers in the House of Lords, grouped by party. This Act, included the Principality of Wales and the Earldom of Chester and removed all Royal Peers including the Duke of Edinburgh, Duke of York, Earl of Wessex, Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent.
The number of peers to be chosen by a party reflects the proportion of hereditary peers that belonged to that party (see current composition below) in 1999. When an elected hereditary peer dies, a by-election is held, with a variant of the Alternative Vote system being used. If the recently deceased hereditary peer was elected by the whole House, then so is his or her replacement; a hereditary peer elected by a specific party is replaced by a vote of elected hereditary peers belonging to that party (whether elected as part of that party group or by the whole house).
The Lords Temporal also included the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, a group of individuals appointed to the House of Lords so that they could exercise its judicial functions. Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, more commonly known as Law Lords, were first appointed under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876. They were selected by the Prime Minister, but were formally appointed by the Sovereign. A Lord of Appeal in Ordinary had to retire at the age of 70, or, if his or her term was extended by the government, at the age of 75; after reaching such an age, the Law Lord could not hear any further legal cases.
The number of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (excluding those who were no longer able to hear cases because of age restrictions) was limited to twelve, but could be changed by statutory instrument. Lords of Appeal in Ordinary traditionally did not participate in political debates, so as to maintain judicial independence. Lords of Appeal in Ordinary held seats in the House of Lords for life, remaining members even after reaching the judicial retirement age of 70 or 75. Former Lord Chancellors and holders of other high judicial office could also sit as Law Lords under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, although in practice this right was infrequently exercised.
Under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the existing Lords of Appeal in Ordinary became judges of the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in 2009 and are barred from sitting or voting in the House of Lords until they retire as judges. One of the main justifications for the new Supreme Court was to establish a separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature. It is therefore unlikely that future appointees to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will be made Lords of Appeal in Ordinary.
The largest group of Lords Temporal, and indeed of the whole House, are life peers. Life peerages rank only as barons or baronesses, and are created under the Life Peerages Act 1958. Like all other peers, life peers are created by the Sovereign, who acts on the advice of the Prime Minister or the House of Lords Appointments Commission. By convention, however, the Prime Minister allows leaders of other parties to select some life peers so as to maintain a political balance in the House of Lords. Moreover, some non-party life peers (the number being determined by the Prime Minister) are nominated by an independent House of Lords Appointments Commission.
If a hereditary peerage holder is given a life peerage, he or she becomes a member of the House of Lords without a need for a by-election. In 2000, the government announced it would set up an Independent Appointments Commission, under Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, to select fifteen so-called "People's Peers" for life peerages. However, when the choices were announced in April 2001, from a list of 3,000 applicants, the choices were treated with criticism in the media, as all were distinguished in their field, and none were "ordinary people" as some had originally hoped.
In many historical instances, some peers were not permitted to sit in the Upper House. When Scotland united with England to form Great Britain in 1707, it was provided that the Scottish hereditary peers would only be able to elect 16 representative peers to sit in the House of Lords; the term of a representative was to extend until the next general election. A similar provision was enacted in respect of Ireland when that kingdom merged with Great Britain in 1801; the Irish peers were allowed to elect 28 representatives, who were to retain office for life. Elections for Irish representatives ended in 1922, when most of Ireland became an independent state; elections for Scottish representatives ended with the passage of the Peerage Act 1963, under which all Scottish peers obtained seats in the Upper House.
Several different qualifications apply for membership of the House of Lords. No person may sit in the House of Lords if under the age of 21. Furthermore, only citizens of the United Kingdom, Commonwealth citizens, and citizens of Ireland may sit in the House of Lords. The nationality restrictions were previously more stringent: under the Act of Settlement 1701, and prior to the British Nationality Act 1948, only natural-born subjects were qualified.
Additionally, some bankruptcy-related restrictions apply to members of the Upper House. A person may not sit in the House of Lords if he or she is the subject of a Bankruptcy Restrictions Order (applicable in England and Wales only), or if he or she is adjudged bankrupt (in Northern Ireland), or if his or her estate is sequestered (in Scotland). A final restriction bars an individual convicted of high treason from sitting in the House of Lords until completing his or her full term of imprisonment. An exception applies, however, if the individual convicted of high treason receives a full pardon. Note that an individual serving a prison sentence for an offence other than high treason is not automatically disqualified.
Women were excluded from the House of Lords until the Life Peerages Act, passed in 1958 to address the declining number of active members, made possible the creation of peerages for life. Women were immediately eligible and four were among the first life peers appointed. However, hereditary peeresses continued to be excluded until the passage of the Peerage Act 1963. Since the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999, hereditary peeresses remain eligible for election to the Upper House; there are two among the 90 hereditary peers who continue to sit.
Traditionally the House of Lords did not elect its own speaker, unlike the House of Commons; rather, the ex officio presiding officer was the Lord Chancellor. With the passage of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the post of Lord Speaker was created, a position to which a peer is elected by the House and subsequently appointed by the Crown. The first Lord Speaker, elected on 4 May 2006, was Baroness Hayman, a former Labour peer. As the Speaker is expected to be an impartial presiding officer, Baroness Hayman resigned from the Labour Party. In 2011, Baroness D'Souza was elected as the second Lord Speaker, replacing Baroness Hayman in September 2011.
This reform of the post of Lord Chancellor was made due to the perceived constitutional anomalies inherent in the role. The Lord Chancellor was not only the Speaker of the House of Lords, but also a member of the Cabinet; his or her department, formerly the Lord Chancellor's Department, is now called the Ministry of Justice. The Lord Chancellor is no longer the head of the judiciary of England and Wales. Hitherto, the Lord Chancellor was part of all three branches of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial.
The overlap of the legislative and executive roles is a characteristic of the Westminster system, as the entire cabinet consists of members of the House of Commons or the House of Lords; however, in June 2003, the Blair Government announced its intention to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor because of the office's mixed executive and judicial responsibilities. The abolition of the office was rejected by the House of Lords, and the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 was thus amended to preserve the office of Lord Chancellor. The Act no longer guarantees that the office holder of Lord Chancellor is the presiding officer of the House of Lords, and therefore allows the House of Lords to elect a speaker of their own.
The Lord Speaker may be replaced as presiding officer by one of his or her deputies. The Chairman of Committees, the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, and several Chairmen are all deputies to the Lord Speaker, and are all appointed by the House of Lords itself at the beginning of each session. By custom, the Crown appoints each Chairman, Principal Deputy Chairman and Deputy Chairman to the additional office of Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords. There was previously no legal requirement that the Lord Chancellor or a Deputy Speaker be a member of the House of Lords (though the same has long been customary).
Whilst presiding over the House of Lords, the Lord Chancellor traditionally wore ceremonial black and gold robes. Robes of black and gold are now worn by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in the House of Commons, on ceremonial occasions. This is no longer a requirement for the Lord Speaker except for State occasions outside of the chamber. The Speaker or Deputy Speaker sits on the Woolsack, a large red seat stuffed with wool, at the front of the Lords Chamber.
When the House of Lords resolves itself into committee (see below), the Chairman of Committees or a Deputy Chairman of Committees presides, not from the Woolsack, but from a chair at the Table of the House. The presiding officer has little power compared to the Speaker of the House of Commons. He or she only acts as the mouthpiece of the House, performing duties such as announcing the results of votes. This is because, unlike in the House of Commons where all statements are directed to "Mr/Madam Speaker", in the House of Lords they are directed to "My Lords", i.e. the entire body of the House.
The Lord Speaker or Deputy Speaker cannot determine which members may speak, or discipline members for violating the rules of the House; these measures may be taken only by the House itself. Unlike the politically neutral Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chancellor and Deputy Speakers originally remained members of their respective parties, and were permitted to participate in debate; however, this is no longer true of the new role of Lord Speaker.
Another officer of the body is the Leader of the House of Lords, a peer selected by the Prime Minister. The Leader of the House is responsible for steering Government bills through the House of Lords, and is a member of the Cabinet. The Leader also advises the House on proper procedure when necessary, but such advice is merely informal, rather than official and binding. A Deputy Leader is also appointed by the Prime Minister, and takes the place of an absent or unavailable Leader.
The Clerk of the Parliaments is the chief clerk and officer of the House of Lords (but is not a member of the House itself). The Clerk, who is appointed by the Crown, advises the presiding officer on the rules of the House, signs orders and official communications, endorses bills, and is the keeper of the official records of both Houses of Parliament. Moreover, the Clerk of the Parliaments is responsible for arranging by-elections of hereditary peers when necessary. The deputies of the Clerk of the Parliaments (the Clerk Assistant and the Reading Clerk) are appointed by the Lord Speaker, subject to the House's approval.
The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod is also an officer of the House; he takes his title from the symbol of his office, a black rod. Black Rod (as the Gentleman Usher is normally known) is responsible for ceremonial arrangements, is in charge of the House's doorkeepers, and may (upon the order of the House) take action to end disorder or disturbance in the Chamber. Black Rod also holds the office of Serjeant-at-Arms of the House of Lords, and in this capacity attends upon the Lord Speaker. The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod's duties may be delegated to the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod or to the Assistant Serjeant-at-Arms.
The House of Lords and the House of Commons assemble in the Palace of Westminster. The Lords Chamber is lavishly decorated, in contrast with the more modestly furnished Commons Chamber. Benches in the Lords Chamber are coloured red. The Woolsack is at the front of the Chamber; the Government sit on benches on the right of the Woolsack, while members of the Opposition sit on the left. Crossbenchers, sit on the benches immediately opposite the Woolsack.
The Lords Chamber is the site of many formal ceremonies, the most famous of which is the State Opening of Parliament, held at the beginning of each new parliamentary session. During the State Opening, the Sovereign, seated on the Throne in the Lords Chamber and in the presence of both Houses of Parliament, delivers a speech outlining the Government's agenda for the upcoming parliamentary session.
In the House of Lords, members need not seek the recognition of the presiding officer before speaking, as is done in the House of Commons. If two or more Lords simultaneously rise to speak, the House decides which one is to be heard by acclamation, or, if necessary, by voting on a motion. Often, however, the Leader of the House will suggest an order, which is thereafter generally followed. Speeches in the House of Lords are addressed to the House as a whole ("My Lords") rather than to the presiding officer alone (as is the custom in the Lower House). Members may not refer to each other in the second person (as "you"), but rather use third person forms such as "the noble Duke", "the noble Earl", "the noble Lord", "my noble friend", "The most Reverend Primate" etc.
Each member may make no more than one speech on a motion, except that the mover of the motion may make one speech at the beginning of the debate and another at the end. Speeches are not subject to any time limits in the House; however, the House may put an end to a speech by approving a motion "that the noble Lord be no longer heard". It is also possible for the House to end the debate entirely, by approving a motion "that the Question be now put". This procedure is known as Closure, and is extremely rare.
Once all speeches on a motion have concluded, or Closure invoked, the motion may be put to a vote. The House first votes by voice vote; the Lord Speaker or Deputy Speaker puts the question, and the Lords respond either "Content" (in favour of the motion) or "Not Content" (against the motion). The presiding officer then announces the result of the voice vote, but if his assessment is challenged by any Lord, a recorded vote known as a division follows.
Members of the House enter one of two lobbies (the "Content" lobby or the "Not-Content" lobby) on either side of the Chamber, where their names are recorded by clerks. At each lobby are two Tellers (themselves members of the House) who count the votes of the Lords. The Lord Speaker may not take part in the vote. Once the division concludes, the Tellers provide the results thereof to the presiding officer, who then announces them to the House.
If there is an equality of votes, the motion is decided according to the following principles: legislation may proceed in its present form, unless there is a majority in favour of amending or rejecting it; any other motions are rejected, unless there is a majority in favour of approving it. The quorum of the House of Lords is just three members for a general or procedural vote, and 30 members for a vote on legislation. If fewer than three or 30 members (as appropriate) are present, the division is invalid.
By contrast with the House of Commons, the House of Lords has not had an established procedure for putting sanctions on its members. When a cash for influence scandal was referred to the Committee of Privileges in January 2009, the Leader of the House of Lords also asked the Privileges Committee to report on what sanctions the House had against its members. After seeking advice from the Attorney General for England and Wales and the former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the committee decided that the House "possessed an inherent power" to suspend errant members, although not to withhold a Writ of summons nor to expel a member permanently. When the House subsequently suspended Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor of Blackburn for their role in the scandal, they were the first to meet this fate since 1642.
There are two other motions which have grown up through custom and practice and which govern questionable conduct within the House. They are brought into play by a member standing up, possibly intervening on another member, and moving the motion without notice. When the debate is getting excessively heated, it is open to a member to move "that the Standing Order on Asperity of Speech be read by the Clerk". The motion can be debated, but if agreed by the House, the Clerk of the Parliaments will read out Standing Order 33 which provides "That all personal, sharp, or taxing speeches be forborn". The Journals of the House of Lords record only four instances on which the House has ordered the Standing Order to be read since the procedure was invented in 1871.
For more serious problems with an individual Lord, the option is available to move "That the noble Lord be no longer heard". This motion also is debatable, and the debate which ensues has sometimes offered a chance for the member whose conduct has brought it about to come to order so that the motion can be withdrawn. If the motion is passed, its effect is to prevent the member from continuing their speech on the motion then under debate. The Journals identify eleven occasions on which this motion has been moved since 1884; four were eventually withdrawn, one was voted down, and six were passed.
Leave of absence
In 1958, to counter criticism that some peers only appeared at major decisions in the House and thereby particular votes were swayed, the Standing Orders of the House of Lords were enhanced. Peers who did not wish to attend meetings regularly or were prevented by ill health, age or further reasons, were now able to request Leave of Absence. During the granted time a peer is expected not to visit the House's meetings until either its expiration or termination, announced at least a month prior to their return.
Unlike in the House of Commons, when the term committee is used to describe a stage of a bill, this committee does not take the form of a public bill committee, but what is described as Committee of the Whole House. It is made up of all Members of the House of Lords allowing any Member to contribute to debates if he or she chooses to do so and allows for more flexible rules of procedure. It is presided over by the Chairman of Committees.
The term committee is also used to describe Grand Committee, where the same rules of procedure apply as in the main chamber, except that no divisions may take place. For this reason, business that is discussed in Grand Committee is usually uncontroversial and likely to be agreed unanimously.
Public bills may also be committed to pre-legislative committees. A pre-legislative Committee is specifically constituted for a particular bill. These committees are established in advance of the bill be laid before either the House of Lords or the House of Commons and can take evidence from the public. Such committees are rare and do not replace any of the usual stages of a bill, including committee stage.
The House of Lords also has 15 Select Committees. Typically, these are 'sessional committees', meaning that their members are appointed by the House at the beginning of each session, and continue to serve until the next parliamentary session begins. In practice, these are often permanent committees, which are re-established during every session. These committees are typically empowered to make reports to the House 'from time to time', that is whenever they wish. Other committees are 'ad-hoc' committees, which are set up to investigate a specific issue. When they are set up by a motion in the House, the motion will set a deadline by which the Committee must report. After this date, the Committee will cease to exist unless it is granted an extension. An example of this in the current parliamentary session is the Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change. The House of Lords may appoint a chairman for a committee; if it does not do so, the Chairman of Committees or a Deputy Chairman of Committees may preside instead. Most of the Select Committees are also granted the power to co-opt members, such as the European Union Committee. The primary function of Select Committees is to scrutinise and investigate Government activities; to fulfil these aims, they are permitted to hold hearings and collect evidence. Bills may be referred to Select Committees, but are more often sent to the Committee of the Whole House and Grand Committees.
The committee system of the House of Lords also includes several Domestic Committees, which supervise or consider the House's procedures and administration. One of the Domestic Committees is the Committee of Selection, which is responsible for assigning members to many of the House's other committees.
As of 8 October 2012, the composition of the House of Lords is:
|Affiliation||Life peers||Hereditary peers||Lords spiritual||Total|
Note: These figures exclude 39 Members who are on leave of absence, 13 who are disqualified as senior members of the judiciary and one who is disqualified as an MEP.
The House of Lords Act 1999 allocated 75 of the 92 hereditary peers to the parties based on the proportion of hereditary peers that belonged to that party in 1999:
- Conservative Party: 42 peers
- Labour Party: 2 peers
- Liberal Democrats: 3 peers
- Crossbenchers: 28 peers
Of the initial 42 hereditary peers elected as Conservatives, one ( Lord Willoughby de Broke) now sits as UKIP.
15 hereditary peers are elected by the whole House, and the remaining hereditary peers are the two royal office-holders, the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain, both being currently on leave of absence.
One peer elected by the Crossbenchers is also currently on leave of absence.
A report in 2007 stated that many members of the Lords (particularly the life peers) do not attend regularly; the average daily attendance was around 408.
While the number of hereditary peers is limited to 92, and that of Lords spiritual to 26, there is no maximum limit to the number of life peers who may be members of the House of Lords at any time.
Leaders and Ministers
Leaders in the Lords
- The Lord Hill of Oareford – Leader of the House of Lords (Conservative), Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in Cabinet
- Lord McNally – Minister of State for Justice and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (Liberal Democrats)
- Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities in the Department for Communities and Local Government attends Cabinet.
- Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, Minister of State for Trade and Investment in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
- Lord Wallace of Tankerness, Advocate General for Scotland
- Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms & Chief Government Whip
- Lord Newby, Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard & Deputy Chief Whip
- Lord Deighton, Commercial Secretary to the Treasury
- Lord Astor of Hever, Under-Secretary of State for Defence
- Earl Howe, Under-Secretary of State for Quality in the Department of Health
- Lord Freud, Under-Secretary of State for Welfare Reform in the Department for Work and Pensions
- Baroness Verma, Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and Government Whip
- Lord De Mauley Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- The Viscount Leckie Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Intellectual property
- Lord Taylor of Holbeach Minister of State in the Home Office