The House of Lords
The House of Lords is one of two parts of UK parliament, referred to as the ‘Upper House’ or ‘Second Chamber’. Although it is independent of the House of Commons, it complements its work.
Who are the Members of the House of Lords?
Members of the House of Lords are not democratically elected. The House of Lords consists of:
- The Lords Spiritual: including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Durham, the Bishop of Winchester; and some of the other longest serving bishops of the Church of England.
- The Lords Temporal: these are hereditary or life peers, who may support a political party. There used to be a lot of hereditary peers, whereby the post was passed down from father to son; however, legislation has limited this in order to make the system fairer.
What is the role of the House of Lords?
The House of Lords works with the House of Commons and has three main functions:
- to make laws;
- to scrutinise the actions of Government and hold it to account; and
- to provide a forum of independent expertise.
The House of Lords was the UK’s highest court until 2009 when the Supreme Court of the UK took over in this regard.
The process of making laws is shared between the House of Commons and Lords, with draft legislation being considered by both houses. The House of Lords spends about 60% of its time on legislation. The Lords undertake detailed scrutiny of prospective legislation at three different stages, after it has already passed through the House of Commons. The Lords make amendments using the specialist expertise of its members and raise concerns about particular areas of bills that have been passed to them.
The House of Lords also has two committees set up to scrutinise and monitor the use of ‘delegated powers’ by Ministers. Delegated powers are given to Ministers under certain legislation, which allows them to make laws. Such powers are usually used to create secondary legislation in the form of statutory instruments. However, as delegated or secondary legislation is not subject to a high level of parliamentary control, it is important that the House of Lords maintains close scrutiny of it.
Holding the Government to account
The House of Lords spends the other 40% of their time scrutinising Government actions and debating policy and other issues. The Members of the Lords start each sitting day in the Chamber by questioning Government Ministers about their current, or proposed, actions on any subject. Members will then often debate important topics to highlight what the House thinks of an issue and provide authoratative contributions, thereby signalling their views to the country and the Government. A Minister will reply on behalf of the Government at the end of every debate.
Another function of Members of the House of Lords is to sit on select committees, which cover a wide range of subjects and functions. These committees will consider matters of public policy and usually produce a written report on the subject, with the input of Members with specialist expertise.
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