Lesson 2, Topic 4
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The House of Lords

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The Lords is the second chamber, or the second house, in the Houses of Parliament. There are 795 Lords, and three main three main types:

  1. Hereditary: Lords who have inherited the title
  2. Life peers: who are given the title by the government
  3. ‘Lords Spiritual Peers’: 26 Anglican Bishops and Archbishops who sit in the Lords for historical reasons

Click here For more information on the composition of the Lords.

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The Lords seeks to revise or amend legislation proposed by the government. The government does not have to accept the revisions proposed by the Lords, but the Lords can delay certain pieces of legislation if they are unsatisfied. Although they can only delay for up to a year, and they can only delay legislation that does not concern financial matters.

The only legal veto the Lords has is that it can force a general election if the sitting government attempts to stay in office beyond the legal maximum term of five years.

The House of Lords has progressively become less powerful given its inherently undemocratic nature. Key legal constraints were passed in the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949. The Parliament Act of 1911 prevented the Lords from delaying money bills (like the Chancellor’s budget and other bills relating to expenditure). The 1911 Act also prevented the Lords from delaying non-money bills for more than two years. The 1949 Parliament Act called the Salisbury Convention prevented the Lords from opposing a bill that came from the manifesto of the elected government.

Should the House of Lords be abolished?

This is a debate that has become increasingly pertinent as democratic expectations have risen. Some argue the Lords performs a legitimate and useful democratic function, others view it as a completely outdated and regressive institution. Most share elements of both of those views. In a democracy, it is generally useful for there to be a second chamber to revise and amend legislation proposed in the first chamber (The House of Commons in the UK), but this second chamber should resemble the population at large.

In 2017, over half the members of the House of Lords were over 70 years old with 20% over 80 years old, while only 4% were under 50. Three quarters of peers are male and only around 5% are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Do you think the Lords should be abolished, reformed, or stay as it is? If you think it should be reformed, what reforms would you like to see?