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Lecture 2 – House of Lords
1. The House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the
House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster.
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
The composition of the Lords prior to 1999 was as follows:
Lords Spiritual – 26 peers who sit in the Lords by virtue of their ecclesiastical role in
the established Church of England;
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.
Hereditary peers have long been permitted to disclaim their peerages so they may stand as
MPs, and this happened on several occasions in the second half of the twentieth century.
2. House of Lords Act 1999
This was debated in the Commons and passed by a majority of 340 to 132 in March 1999,
but experienced stronger opposition in the Lords.
Eventually, a compromise was reached - known as the ‘Weatherill amendment’ after the
former Commons Speaker, Lord Weatherill, who proposed it - whereby 92 hereditary Peers
were allowed to remain in the Lords on a temporary basis until ‘second stage’ proposals were
agreed. The House of Lords Act thus reduced membership of the Lords from 1,330 to 669
Members, the majority of whom were life Peers.
2.1.Elected or appointed?
In January 2000Lord Wakeham's Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of
Lords recommended a partially-elected House. The Government responded with a White
Paper containing various proposals involving an elected element, but both Houses of
Parliament failed to agree on a way forward when these were debated in February 2003.
Following the publication of another White Paper in February 2007, both Chambers
again debated a similar series of motions in March 2007. This time, the Commons backed an
all-elected Upper House, while the Lords voted for an all-appointed Chamber.
In July 2008, the White Paper ‘An Elected Second Chamber: Further reform of the House
of Lords’ was published.
2.2.Parliament Act in use
The Parliament Act, meanwhile, continued to be used by the Government. The
European Parliamentary Elections Act of 1999, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act
of 2000, and the Hunting Act of 2004 all required the Parliament Act (the 1911 and 1949
Acts constituted a single Act) to receive Royal Assent. Some constitutional lawyers, however,
questioned the validity of the Parliament Act 1949 as it had been passed without Lords
In 2005 members of the Countryside Alliance challenged the validity of the Hunting
Act on that basis, but in October 2005 a panel of nine Law Lords ruled that the Parliament
Act 1949 was valid. Meanwhile, despite discussion of plans to completely remove the Lords’
power to delay Government Bills, the legislative relationship between the two Chambers
The one significant further reform between 1999 and 2012 to affect the Lords has been
the creation in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 of a new US-style Supreme Court –
formerly known as the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. To reinforce the principle
of separation of powers in practice, then Lord Chancellor Mr Straw divested the house of
Lords of its judicial functions, transferred its status as highest court of justice and appeal in
the UK to the Supreme Court, and installed twelve of the ten twenty-seven Law Lords as
inaugural justices of the Supreme Court.
The Court began work on 1 October 2009.