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1. Making Laws                                                                                                            ...
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House of Lords Explained
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House of Lords Explained


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A handy leaflet explaining the role of the house of LORDS- A LITTLE OUT OF DATE.

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House of Lords Explained

  1. 1. Other titles in this series: Parliament Explained 6 1 Parliamentary Elections 2 House of Commons 3 Parliament & Government The House 4 Making a Law 5 Debates in Parliament of Lords The UK’s second chamber, complementing the work of the Commons. Parliamentary Copyright 2006 What is the House of Lords? 1 May be reproduced for purposes of private study, research or educational use without The State Opening of Parliament 1 permission. Reproduction for sale or other What does it do? 2 commercial purposes not permitted. How does the House organise itself? 7 Chris Weeds Education Officer Who does the work? 9 April 2006 Key dates in the history of the Lords 10No6 House of Lords.indd 1-2 24/04/2006 17:06:19
  2. 2. The House What does it do? of Lords 1. Makes Laws The House of Lords is a key contributor to the process of initiating, revising and amending legislation. It spends two-thirds of its time doing this. W hat is the House of Lords? The House of Lords is the second chamber, or upper house, of the UK’s bi-cameral 2. Scrutinises Government The House of Lords acts as a check on the activities (two chamber) parliament. Together with of the Government (Executive). the House of Commons and the Crown, the House of Lords forms our Parliament. It has evolved over hundreds of years and has played a central role in the UK’s 3. Provides independent expertise The House of Lords draws on the wide-ranging parliamentary system since its origins in the expertise of its members and, through its 14th century. Like the House of Commons committees, conducts internationally respected and other ancient institutions, it continues investigations into specialist subjects. to change and develop. 4. Carries out judicial work The State Opening The House of Lords is home to the highest Court of Appeal in the UK (except for criminal cases in of Parliament Scotland). Most people are familiar with the House of Lords from the television coverage of the State Opening of Parliament. This is a great parliamentary occasion which takes place at the What the House of Lords does and how it spends its time beginning of the new Parliamentary year, usually in October or November, or immediately after a general election as in May 1997, June 2001 and May 2005. The Queen comes to Westminster for the ceremonial opening of the new session of Parliament. From the throne in the House of Lords (see picture), Revising Legislation 60% the Queen reads the speech, prepared by the Cabinet, which sets Including: Bills 55% out her Government’s plans for the forthcoming year. The State Statutory Instruments 5% Opening is one of the few occasions when all three parts of Parliament meet together - the Crown, the Lords and the Commons. It is the main ceremonial event of the Parliamentary year. Scrutiny 40% Including: Debates 22% Questions 14% Statements 4% Information based on statistics compiled by the House of Lords Information Office between 1997 and 2005. Parliament Explained The House of Lords No6 House of Lords.indd 1-2 24/04/2006 17:06:22
  3. 3. 1. Making Laws 2. Scrutinising the Government The House of Lords is an integral part It is the duty of Parliament as a whole Starred Questions (Question time) of the law-making process. All laws must The Powers of the Lords to keep an eye on the work of the The House of Lords, like the House of Commons, makes Government ministers answer be agreed by both the House of Lords and Government by making Government These are limited by both law and convention: questions about their work. At the beginning of business from Monday to Thursday in the House of Commons, before receiving ministers answer for the work they do the Lords, a number of oral questions are asked. These are known as “Starred Questions” the Queen’s approval (Royal Assent). The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 Although rarely invoked, the Parliament and the decisions they make. The House because they have stars, or asterisks (*) next to them on the Order Paper. Question The House of Lords reviews bills Acts provide a framework and a means of Lords does this in several ways: These define the powers of the Lords time in the Lords takes about half an hour and includes opportunities for supplementary sponsored by Government which of resolving disagreement between the in relation to public bills. In general, questions. come from the Commons. A sizeable Commons and Lords. They have only been the Lords can hold up most bills they proportion of bills begin in the House used three times. disagree with for about a year but of Lords each year, sometimes because ultimately the elected House of Commons Commons Privilege the Bill is technical rather than political can reintroduce it in the following but also to spread The Commons have claimed a general session and pass it without the Lords the legislative workload more evenly privilege in relation to the raising and consent, except for: between the two Houses. spending of taxpayers’ money since • Bills prolonging the length of the 17th century. Bills to raise taxes The House of Lords can propose and a parliament beyond 5 years or authorise expenditure always start make changes known as amendments. in the Commons and cannot be amended But its powers are limited; if it doesn’t • Private Bills by the Lords. approve of a piece of legislation, it can only delay its passage into law for up • Bills sent up to the Lords less than General debates a month before the end of a session to a year. After that, there are rules to If a member believes strongly in a particular cause (e.g. the improvement of race ensure that the wishes of the House of • Bills which start in the Lords relations or the reduction of Third World debt) then a general debate can be a good way Commons and the Government of the of attracting attention to the issue. The general debate is a discussion, and there is day prevail. not usually a vote at the end. Debates will usually tackle some matter of public interest Public Bills or provide an opportunity for discussing a report which has just come out. The Lords Bills which affect us all are known as Public Bills. There are two types of public bill: provides a valuable opportunity to discuss important matters, drawing on its members’ Bills introduced by Government, and bills introduced by an individual member in wide range of expertise. One day a week is set aside either for one longer or two shorter either of the two Houses. The second type are known as private members’ bills. Often debates lasting a maximum of five hours. Such debates have tackled topics such as post- such Bills do not become law because of a shortage of parliamentary time, usually 16 educational arrangements. in the Commons, but nonetheless provide an opportunity to raise important national issues. One example of a successful private member’s bill is The Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 2000 (known as the puppy farming bill) which was introduced to secure tighter regulation of commercial dog-breeding. Liberal Democrat Baroness Williams Stages of Public Bills Private Bills speaking in a debate. These are called “private” (as opposed to “private members”) bills because the legislation Introduction and First Reading is specific to one area or group of people. Examples of recent private bills are the Kent Mini debates (Unstarred Questions) County Council Act 2001 and the City of Newcastle upon Tyne Act 2000. The exchanges on a Starred Question are usually brief. But an Unstarred Question leads Second Reading to a short debate. Like Adjournment debates in the Commons, they can be about almost Delegated legislation anything. The member who asks the Question makes a speech, then other members When Parliament makes a new law it often gives a Government minister the power to fill contribute and finally the minister explains the Government’s views on the subject. � � � � � in the details. This is because Parliament does not have time to oversee all the detailed Unstarred Questions are asked on most sitting days, usually in the dinner break or at Committee of Special � Grand Select Public Bill Committee the � Whole House Committee Public Bill Committee Committee legislative requirements of each Government department. This power is known as the end of the day’s business. delegated (or secondary) legislation, and is carried out through Statutory Instruments (SIs), Orders and Regulations. Procedures exist for examining these, but they come into play after the parent act or primary legislation has passed through Parliament. Report Through its Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the House of Lords plays The recent rise in Questions a crucial role in ensuring that a proper balance is struck. The committee’s chief concern for Written Answers Written questions Third Reading is with the extent of legislative powers proposed to be delegated by a bill to government Questions may also be put down for a written answer. Full replies are expected within ministers, and its function is to vet all proposed delegated powers before the Bill passes a fortnight and printed in the back of the Lords Hansard. The volume of these has House of Commons through the House of Lords. The Committee was set up in 1989 partly to increase control 6,000 increased significantly in recent years. of the Executive while at the same time saving parliamentary time. 5,000 Statements Consideration of� Commons Amendments Another committee (the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee) was set up in 4,000 December 2003 to identify important statutory instruments which merit further debate and 3,000 Royal Assent Government statements on important or urgent issues are made by the Minister consideration. In the Chamber, unpopular things could slip through the net if the House of 2,000 responsible for the subject in the House of Lords. Most statements are made in the Lords did not act as a watchdog by generally keeping an eye on and debating this type 1,000 Commons, and repeated in the Lords by a junior minister. This is followed by a limited of regulation. 0 time for immediate questioning. Subjects can range from the announcement of a White Paper to an emergency such as a major rail accident or an international crisis. 1992-93 1994-95 1996-97 1998-99 2000-01 2002-03 2004-05 Short session due to general election Parliament Explained The House of Lords No6 House of Lords.indd 3-4 24/04/2006 17:06:26
  4. 4. 3. Providing independent expertise 4. Carrying out judicial work The Lords also has a number of Unlike the Commons, Lords investigative The European Union Committee has The House of Lords is the highest The modern form of appeal to the If any British citizen disagrees with a Select Committees, like the House committees do not mirror the work of more than 70 members serving it and its court in the land - the supreme court House was established by the Appellate decision made by a lower court, he or she of Commons. Some of these deal particular government departments. seven sub-committees. Members have of appeal. It acts as the final court Jurisdiction Act 1876 when provision has a right to take action to overturn that with internal management and Instead, they deal with broader issues a wealth of professional experience in on points of law for the whole of the was made for the creation of Law Lords decision. This right is ancient but the administration but most carry out and draw on the wide-ranging experience the areas they scrutinise, they examine United Kingdom in civil cases and for (the first life peers). These peers, formally conditions under which an appeal can be important investigative work on of members. In this way, the House of draft European Union (EU) legislation England, Wales and Northern Ireland known as Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, made have become closely defined in statute matters of public interest. When an Lords system of committees complements and policy proposals on a wide range in criminal cases. Its decisions are also sit in the House like other members. over the last century. Permission to pursue investigative committee completes its the scrutiny of the executive carried out of topics. The committee has reported binding for all other UK courts. The Today there may be up to 12 Lords of a case at this level is known as “leave to work on a particular issue, a report by the Commons. on future EU spending plans, the vast majority of members have no Appeal in Ordinary and they are usually appeal” and there are a number of routes of its conclusions is issued for the constitutional treaty, Channel Tunnel rail part to play in the House’s judicial appointed from the Lords Justices of a case may take to get this far. There are four main areas of work - House to debate, and for the public freight, weapons of mass destruction and work, which is carried out only by Appeal, or less frequently, from judges Europe, Science, the Economy and the Once it is decided that a case should go to see what it had discovered. These life-long learning. highly qualified judges called Law of the High Court. In addition, former Constitution - but occasionally, for various before the Law Lords, Appeal proceedings reports are highly respected for their Lords. Only cases of public importance Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, former Lord reasons, a separate committee will be set The Science and Technology Committee take place. These are open to the public balance, independence and authority. where a significant a point of law is Chancellors and holders of other high up to deal with a particular issue. was set up in 1979 to consider science and held in committee rooms. Proceedings involved are heard by the Law Lords. judicial office are entitled to sit as Law and technology - a very wide brief. are not as formal as they are in the lower Lords under the Act but in practice do so Over 20 members are involved; including courts; the Law Lords wear ordinary suits A committee sitting Specialist Adviser1 Chairman2 Clerk3 NB The Constitutional Reform Act infrequently. eminent scientists with wide ranging - not robes or wigs. Once their conclusions 2005 provides for the separating of experience of science, industry, medicine are reached, the result (or judgment) is the judiciary (legal system) from and research as well as high-level policy- announced in the Lords chamber. As well the legislature (parliament) and the making. Recent reports have covered as the Law Lords who again, do not wear executive (government). a UK strategy for radioactive waste robes or wigs, any member of the House It: management, avian flu, stem cell research may attend. Judgments are available on • eforms the office of Lord r Official reporters4 and the dangers of deep vein thrombosis the internet. Chancellor who, as head of the in long-haul air travel. judiciary, appoints judges; the law lodds r The Economic Affairs Committee looks • ets up a separate, independent s at issues such as how globalisation should supreme court (from October have ma e e be defined, and whether this should be 2009); = Memebers different from an open and integrated • stablishes an independent e an admirablur world economy. Members include a former Judicial Appointments Chief Secretary to the Treasury, professors Commission. de f e n c e o f o of economics, former senior Treasury civil servants, a former newspaper economics freedoms Cris Witnesses editor as well as practising businessmen. is as Lords The Constitution Committee was set up in 2000 to keep under review the operation of the constitution. Since our constitution is uncodified and derived from interpretations say anti-terror Public seating of the statute books, this committee keeps a watchful eye on legislative changes that laws are illegal may affect the way it operates. Couple w designe rong to make Sometimes ad hoc investigative committees are set up to look at particular issues which r baby, L do not fit into the four main areas above. ords tol The BBC Charter Review Committee is d one example. This was set up to examine government proposals for the future of the BBC and how it will be funded. n 3 The law lords rdict o kes 1 2 Sometimes controversial bills are referred 4 ges’ ve provo to a select committee, e.g. the Assisted Sitting, left to right: Lord Nicholls of Jud r laws Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill. This Birkenhead, Lord Bingham of Cornhill and rro utional crisis committee heard evidence from around 140 Lord Steyn. expert witnesses and visited four countries with experience of practising euthanasia. Standing, left to right: Lord Walker of te tit cons Gestingthorpe, Lord Carswell, Baroness Hale of Richmond, Lord Brown of Eaton- under-Heywood, Lord Roger of Earlsferry, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Scott of Foscotte, Lord Saville of Newdigate and Lord Hoffmann. Parliament Explained The House of Lords No6 House of Lords.indd 5-6 24/04/2006 17:06:30
  5. 5. How does the House organise itself? Party Strengths Parties and other groups The crossbenchers have similar meetings. Not every department has a minister in Some key officers of the House of Lords Each week, a list of forthcoming business the Lords, and this is where the Whips As at 1 March 2006 The House of Lords is organised on a is circulated to members of the party step in. As well as their normal Whip’s 250 party basis in much the same way as the - underlined once, twice or three times, business, they are expected to help out at Government Administration 200 205 206 House of Commons, but with important with three lines indicating the most Question Time and in debates. Even with 190 differences. Members of the House of important business (a three line whip). seven Government Whips in the Lords 150 Lords are less rigidly partisan than in helping out in this way, there are still not Although party discipline has become 100 the Commons, whose elected members enough spokespeople to go round. Each stricter in recent years, Whips in the House 50 74 are more sensitive to political and spokesperson, therefore, even if holding a of Lords are not in such a strong position 26 constituency interests. Many members ministerial post, has to answer questions 0 12 as those in the Commons. Most MPs in the of the House are not members of any on a number of different subjects. As Conservative Labour Liberal Crossbench Democrats Bishops Other Commons rely on the sponsorship of their political party. Those who do not support all questions in the House of Lords are (Source: House of Lords Information Office, March 2006) party to keep their seats. one of the three main parties are known addressed to the Government, not just as Independents or Cross Benchers. The This is not the case in the Lords which is one government department, some Whips crossbench group is a distinctive feature not elected, so the Whips can only use act as spokesmen on several different of the House of Lords. persuasion, not threats. As a result, Whips subjects for several different departments. cannot predict how the Lords will vote. How business is decided The House of Lords’ contribution to the The working year parliamentary process is characterised All political parties in the House of more by its independence of thought and daily business Lords hold party meetings, as they do and its breadth of specialist expertise. In The House of Lords sits at 2.30pm in the Commons, to discuss forthcoming The Lord Chancellor is a member of The Clerk of the Parliaments’ role is The Weekly Whip this way it complements the work of the on Mondays and Tuesdays, 3pm on business. This process of organising the Cabinet and is Speaker of the House steeped in history but similar to that of Commons. Wednesdays and 11am on Thursdays. It business involves the ‘Whips’ (business ex officio. His role as Speaker is very a Chief Executive. As the House of Lords’ sometimes sits on a Friday, also at 11am. managers) and party leaders. They are different to that of the House of Commons most senior permanent official, he is often known as the ‘usual channels’. Ministers The House usually sits until about 10.00 Speaker. The Lord Chancellor sits on the responsible for the House’s management, - 11.00pm but has been known to sit all The Lord Chancellor* and the Leader of Woolsack but does not call upon members administration and finances. Essentially, night. On average nearly 400 peers attend the House are usually cabinet members, to speak and has no powers to call the the office’s function is to serve and daily. Like the Commons, the Lords have and they carry out Government duties House to order. The Constitutional Reform support the needs of the House. breaks at Christmas, Easter, late Spring in addition to their roles at the House Act 2005 makes changes to the office Bank Holiday and in the summer. They of Lords. Most heads of government of Lord Chancellor, including the role of usually sit on about 160 days a year. departments sit in the Commons, and Speaker. Members of the House will elect are therefore not permitted to answer Business in the chamber on a typical day a new Speaker in June 2006. questions or contribute to debates in is ordered as follows: the Lords. But as there is a need for • Prayers (before public business begins) spokespeople who can explain Government policy in the Lords, the Government of • question time (Starred Questions) the day will often draw some of its senior • legislation Cabinet members from the House of Lords. • debates (or motions - usually on Thursdays) * The Office of Lord Chancellor will change under the terms of the Constitutional • Unstarred Question (mini-debates) Reform Act 2005 (see page 6). Select committee work takes place outside the chamber in the mornings and the Minister at the despatch box afternoons when members may have to juggle their time between attending a committee and participating in business in the chamber. Black Rod’s post, like the Clerk of the The Leader of the House has a Parliaments’, has existed for as long as the responsibility to the House as a whole House itself. He is responsible for control as well as being leader of the party in of access to the House, maintaining Government. The Leader is also a member order within the precincts and domestic of the Cabinet. It is to The Leader, and arrangements within the House. He also not to the Lord Chancellor, that members has royal duties associated with the Order turn for advice and ‘leadership’ on points of the Garter and the State Opening of order and procedure. Lords business is of Parliament. The House of Commons expected to be conducted in an orderly equivalent is the Serjeant at Arms. and polite fashion without the need for an active Speaker. The House of Lords No6 House of Lords.indd 7-8 24/04/2006 17:06:36