House of Lords facts for kids
|House of Lords of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland|
|56th UK Parliament|
|Type||Upper House of Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Lord Speaker||Norman, Lord Fowler,
since 1 September 2016
|Leader of the House||Natalie, Baroness Evans of Bowes Park,
since 14 July 2016
|Leader of the Opposition||Angela, Baroness Smith of Basildon,
since 27 May 2015
|Third Party Leader||Richard, Lord Newby,
since 13 September 2016
|Salary||No annual salary, but tax-free daily allowance and expenses paid.|
The House of Lords of the United Kingdom, referred to ceremonially as the House of Peers, is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster. Officially, the full name of the house is: The Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.
Unlike the elected House of Commons, all members of the House of Lords (excluding 90 hereditary peers elected among themselves and two peers who are ex officio members) are appointed. The membership of the House of Lords is drawn from the peerage and is made up of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal. The Lords Spiritual are 26 bishops in the established Church of England. Of the Lords Temporal, 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. However, they also include some hereditary peers including four dukes. Membership was once an entitlement of all hereditary peers, other than those in the peerage of Ireland, but under the House of Lords Act 1999, the right to membership was restricted to 92 hereditary peers. Very few of these are female since most hereditary peerages can only be inherited by men.
While the House of Commons has a defined 650-seat membership, the number of members in the House of Lords is not fixed. There are currently Expression error: Unrecognized punctuation character "[". sitting Lords. The House of Lords is the only upper house of any bicameral parliament to be larger than its respective lower house.
The House of Lords scrutinises bills that have been approved by the House of Commons. It regularly reviews and amends Bills from the Commons. While it is unable to prevent Bills passing into law, except in certain limited circumstances, it can delay Bills and force the Commons to reconsider their decisions. In this capacity, the House of Lords acts as a check on the House of Commons that is independent from the electoral process. Bills can be introduced into either the House of Lords or the House of Commons. 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.
The Queen's Speech is delivered in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. In addition to its role as the upper house, until the establishment of the Supreme Court in 2009, the House of Lords, through the Law Lords, acted as the final court of appeal in the British judicial system. The House also has a Church of England role, in that Church Measures must be tabled within the House by the Lords Spiritual.
- Current composition
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Today's Parliament of the United Kingdom largely descends, in practice, from the Parliament of England, though the Treaty of Union of 1706 and the Acts of Union that ratified the Treaty in 1707 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 of England and Wales (afterwards, representatives of the boroughs as well). The first English 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 of it.
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. 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 bishops and abbots and the peers). 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 great landowners and the 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, Scotland and Ireland.
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. A vital reform was effected by the House itself in 1868, when it changed its standing orders so as to prevent noble Lords from voting without taking the trouble to attend. Proxies were then abolished. Over the course of the century the power of the Upper House experienced further erosion,[how?] 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. Prime Minister H. H. Asquith then proposed that the powers of the House of Lords be severely curtailed. After a further general election in December 1910, and with an undertaking by King George V to create sufficient new Liberal peers to overcome Lords' opposition to the measure if necessary, 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 in 1980, abolition of the House of Lords became a part of the party's agenda; under his successor, 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 was 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 wrote 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.
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 showed 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, 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.
On 30 November 2009, a Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords was agreed by them; certain amendments were agreed by them on 30 March 2010 and on 12 June 2014. The scandal over expenses in the Commons was at its highest pitch only six months before, and the Labourite leadership under Janet Royall determined that something sympathetic should be done.
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, she argues, 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."
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 implies 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.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg introduced the House of Lords Reform Bill 2012 on 27 June 2012 which built on proposals published on 17 May 2011. However, this Bill was abandoned by the Government on 6 August 2012 following opposition from within the Conservative Party.
House of Lords Reform Act 2014
A private members bill to introduce some reforms was introduced by Dan Byles in 2013. The House of Lords Reform Act 2014 received the Royal Assent in 2014. Under the new law:
- All peers can retire or resign from the chamber (prior to this only hereditary peers could disclaim their peerages).
- Peers can be disqualified for non-attendance.
- Peers can be removed for receiving prison sentences of a year or more.
House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015
The House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015 authorised the House to expel or suspend members.
Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015
This act makes provision to preferentially admit bishops of the Church of England who are women to the Lords Spiritual in the 10 years following its commencement.
In 2015, Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester, became the first woman to sit as a Lord Spiritual in the House of Lords.
The size of the House of Lords has varied greatly throughout its history. From about 50 members in the early 1700s, it increased to a record size of 1,330 in October 1999, before Lords reform reduced it to 669 by March 2000.
In April 2011, a cross-party group of former leading politicians, including many senior members of the House of Lords, called on the Prime Minister David Cameron to stop creating new peers. He had created 117 new peers since becoming prime minister in May 2010, a faster rate of elevation than any PM in British history. The expansion occurred while his government had tried (in vain) to reduce the size of the House of Commons by 50 members, from 650 to 600.
In August 2014, despite there being a seating capacity of only around 230 to 400 on the benches in the Lords chamber, the House had 774 active members (plus 54 who were not entitled to attend or vote, having been suspended or granted leave of absence). This made the House of Lords the largest parliamentary chamber in any democracy. In August 2014, former Speaker of the House of Commons Baroness Boothroyd requested that “older peers should retire gracefully” to ease the overcrowding in the House of Lords. She also criticised successive prime ministers for filling the second chamber with “lobby fodder” in an attempt to help their policies become law. She made her remarks days before a new batch of peers were due to be appointed.
In August 2015, following the creation of a further 45 peers in the Dissolution Honours, the total number of eligible members of the Lords increased to 826. In a report entitled Does size matter? the BBC said: "Increasingly, yes. Critics argue the House of Lords is the second largest legislature after the Chinese National People's Congress and dwarfs Upper Houses in other bi-cameral democracies such as the United States (100 senators), France (348 senators), Australia (76 senators) and India (250 members). The Lords is also larger than the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea (687 members). [… ] Peers grumble that there is not enough room to accommodate all of their colleagues in the Chamber, where there are only about 400 seats, and say they are constantly jostling for space – particularly during high-profile sittings", but added, "On the other hand, defenders of the Lords say that it does a vital job scrutinising legislation, a lot of which has come its way from the Commons in recent years".
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), Lady Amos, who served as Secretary of State for International Development 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 remains 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 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 their 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 dramatisation 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.
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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, comprising the church's archbishops, (diocesan) bishops, abbots, and those priors who were entitled to wear a mitre. After the English Reformation's highpoint in 1539, only the archbishops and bishops continued to attend, as the Dissolution of the Monasteries had just disproved of and suppressed the positions of abbot and prior. In 1642 during the few Lords' gatherings convened during English Interregnum which saw periodic 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 (who sit by right regardless of seniority) 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). Following a change to the law in 2014 to allow women to be ordained bishops, the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015 was passed, which provides that whenever a vacancy arises among the Lords Spiritual during the ten years following the Act coming into force, the vacancy has to be filled by a woman, if one is eligible. This does not apply to the five bishops who sit by right.
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 finally excluded in 1689 (after a number of previous exclusions) when the Church of Scotland became permanently presbyterian. 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, but those already appointed remained.
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), as was his successor Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Baroness Neuberger is the Senior Rabbi to the West London Synagogue. 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 Cormac Murphy O'Connor were offered peerages, by James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair respectively, but declined. Hume later accepted 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 prohibited by Canon Law from holding major offices connected with any government other than the Holy See.
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 this is done on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day (except in the case of members of the Royal Family).
Holders of Scottish and Irish peerages were not always permitted to sit in the Lords. 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 when Ireland merged with Great Britain in 1801 to form the United Kingdom; 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.
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, as a measure intended to be temporary, that 92 people would continue to sit in the Lords by virtue of hereditary peerages, and this is still in effect.
Of the 92, 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 ninety peers sitting in the Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage, 15 are elected by the whole House and 75 are chosen by fellow hereditary peers in the House of Lords, grouped by party. (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.) The exclusion of other hereditary peers removed the Prince of Wales (who is also Earl of Chester) and all other Royal Peers, including the Duke of Edinburgh, Duke of York, Earl of Wessex, Duke of Gloucester and Duke of Kent.
The number of peers to be chosen by a political group reflects the proportion of hereditary peers that belonged to that group (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 had been elected by the whole House, then so is his or her replacement; a hereditary peer elected by a specific political group (including the non-aligned crossbenchers) is replaced by a vote of the hereditary peers already elected to the Lords belonging to that political group (whether elected by that group or by the whole house).
Until 2009, 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 of the day, 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 cases in the House of Lords.
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. By a convention of the House, Lords of Appeal in Ordinary did not take part in debates on new legislation, so as to maintain judicial independence. Lords of Appeal in Ordinary held their seats in the House of Lords for life, remaining as 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 only rarely exercised.
Under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary when the Act came into effect in 2009 became judges of the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and were then barred from sitting or voting in the House of Lords until they had retired 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 nominate 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 the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission.
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.
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 1958, passed 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 is one (Countess of Mar) among the 90 hereditary peers who continue to sit.
Cash for Peerages
The Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 made it illegal for a peerage, or other honour, to be bought or sold. Nonetheless, there have been repeated allegations that life peerages (and thus membership of the House of Lords) have been made available to major political donors in exchange for donations. The most prominent case, the 2006 Cash for Honours scandal, saw a police investigation, with no charges being brought. A 2015 study found that of 303 people nominated for peerages in the period 2005–14, a total of 211 were former senior figures within politics (including former MPs), or were non-political appointments. Of the remaining 92 political appointments from outside public life, 27 had made significant donations to political parties. The authors concluded firstly that nominees from outside public life were much more likely to have made large gifts than peers nominated after prior political or public service. They also found that significant donors to parties were far more likely to be nominated for peerages than other party members.
Removal from House membership
Traditionally there was no mechanism by which members could resign or be removed from the House of Lords (compare the situation as regards resignation from the House of Commons). The Peerage Act 1963 permitted a person to disclaim their newly inherited peerage (within certain time limits); this meant that such a person could effectively renounce their membership of the Lords. This might be done in order to remain or become qualified to sit in the House of Commons, as in the case of Tony Benn (formerly the second Viscount Stansgate), who had campaigned for such a change.
In 2014, the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 made provision for members' resignation from the House, removal for non-attendance, and automatic expulsion upon conviction for a serious criminal offence (if resulting in a jail sentence of at least one year). In June 2015, under the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015, the House's Standing Orders may provide for the expulsion or suspension of a member upon a resolution of the House.
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 until recently 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.
Recent changes have expanded the disciplinary powers of the House. Section 3 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 now provides that any member of the House of Lords convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment for more than one year loses their seat. The House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015 allows the House to set up procedures to suspend, and to expel, its members.
Regulation of behaviour in the chamber
There are two 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.
Members of the House of Lords can, since 2010, opt to receive a £300 per day attendance allowance, plus limited travel expenses. Peers can elect to receive a reduced attendance allowance of £150 per day instead. Prior to 2010 peers from outside London could claim an overnight allowance of £174.
There are currently Expression error: Unrecognized punctuation character "[". sitting members of the House of Lords. An additional 31 Lords are ineligible from participation, including eight peers who are constitutionally disqualified as members of the Judiciary.
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.
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.
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