2FunctionsIn the financial year 2011–2012 the House of Lords cost £108.8 million. This equates to approximately £3.61 per taxpayer.So, what do the Lords do to justify that money?There are three main functions of the House of Lords. If you can, jot them down from memory…
3Functions The functions of the House of Lords are: To make laws. To scrutinise the executive and hold it to account.To provide a source of specialist knowledge and expertise.
4Making lawsA bill may begin in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. If a bill originates in the Commons, once it has passed its third reading it is passed to the House of Lords where:It is discussed by the whole house.It is examined by a committee which writes a report suggesting amendments.Amendments are voted on by the whole house.The amended bill is discussed by the whole house (Third Reading).The amended bill is then sent back to the House of Commons, which discusses the amendments and decides whether to accept them.Example: The Lords made 374 amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill. These were all agreed by the Commons, and the bill received royal assent in 2012.
5Making laws What if the two houses disagree? If the Commons does not accept the amendments, or if it amends them further, the bill is sent back to the Lords. It may go back and forth between the houses until agreement is reached. This is called ‘parliamentary ping-pong’ – see here for an example, the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Bill.If the Lords refuses to agree with the Commons, the Commons can use the 1949 Parliament Act to force the bill through. This allows the Lords to delay a bill by 1year, but no longer. It is used rarely: a recent example was the Hunting Act (2004).The Lords cannot delay a money bill.
6Scrutinising the executive The House of Lords scrutinises the executive (government) in the following ways:Questions Peers put questions to a government spokesperson at the start of the day, in a 30-minute question-time session.Debates Peers debate specific issues and at the end of each debate a government minister responds to the matters raised.Example: In 2011 the Lords debated the Libya crisis.Select committees These are set up to consider areas of public policy. Some are fairly quick enquiries with a narrow focus, others are broader so take longer. A report of their findings is debated in the House of Lords and responded to by the government.
7Scrutinising the executive Select committee examples:In 2011 the Science and Technology Committee published a report onBehaviour change and ‘nudging’. This criticised the government’s strategy of ‘nudging’ people to change their behaviour, finding that ‘nudging’ alone was unlikely to be effective, and that some regulatory measures were required.In 2013 the Public Service and Demographic Change Committee published Ready for ageing? This report argues that Britain faces a demographic time bomb due to a rapidly ageing society, and that no government, including the current coalition, has adequately prepared for this.
8ExpertiseThe House of Lords Appointments Commission recommends people for non-political Crossbench peerages. Political parties recommend people for party-political peerages. As a result, there is a range of expertise in the House of Lords:Ex-politicians make up the largest group.There are large numbers of lawyers, business people, financiers, and academics.There are smaller numbers of architects, engineers, transport experts, teachers, scientists, and representatives of the leisure industry.Peers with a background in manual trades are rare.What are the benefits and limitations of this range of expertise?
9Benefits of peers’ expertise Specialist knowledge means that some Lords will be able to offer excellent insights in debate.Example: In the 2011 Lords debate on Libya, many of the speakers had extensive international experience, including three former defence chiefs and a former NATO secretary general.Lords’ committees have many members with relevant knowledge and expertise.Example 1: The committee which examined the Health and Social Care Bill included many current practising doctors, who used their working knowledge of the NHS to draft amendments.Example 2: many top scientists sit on the Science and Technology Committee, including Lord Winston, the fertility expert and television presenter.
10Benefits of peers’ expertise Lords can be appointed who have expertise in particular areas, or are a member of particular groups, which would otherwise be underrepresented in ParliamentExample 1: Tanni Grey-Thompson is a former Paralympian who uses a wheelchair and has spina bifida. As one of the few disabled parliamentarians, she has been heavily critical of the government’s disability benefit reforms. See article here.Example 2: Waheed Alli is a media entrepreneur and a Labour life peer. He is also one of the few Muslims in Parliament, and the first openly gay member of the House of Lords.The appointments system allows a House of Lords which is actually more diverse than the elected House of Commons.
11Limitations of peers’ expertise Some groups remain relatively underrepresented, e.g. science and engineering. However, this is a problem for Parliament in general, as the House of Commons has even fewer members with a background in science.Peers do not use their professional expertise all the time: often they will debate issues in which they have no specialist knowledge.Acquiring professional expertise takes time, so peers have a much higher average age than the general population.Having busy careers means that some peers do not have time to attend many sessions in the House of Lords.Regardless of their expertise, peers are unelected. Reform campaigners argue that this is undemocratic and means that the House of Lords is unaccountable to the electorate.
12Definitions checkIt’s important to be able to define key terms. You should be able to write approximately four sentences for each definition, including an example. You should also know about some of the most important legislation which has affected the Lords.See how well you do with the following examples, and then use the hyperlinks to help you with any problems.Hereditary peersSalisbury-Addison conventionLife peersThe House of Lords Act (1999)Lords SpiritualThe House of Lords Bill (2012)Crossbench peers
13Questions to consider‘The House of Lords is essential if British legislation is to be properly considered.’ Do you agree?Why do Lords Select Committees perform an important function? (Give as many reasons as you can.)Has the removal of hereditary peers improved the House of Lords? (Explain why)Should the Lords Spiritual be removed from the House of Lords?What limitations does the House of Lords face when carrying out its work?Does the House of Lords provide good value for money to the taxpayer?Is further reform of the House of Lords needed?
14Learn moreThe following websites provide additional information if you wish to study this topic in greater depth:gives an excellent explanation of how a bill is passed through Parliament.is a report into the work of the Lords in 2010–12, and is full of detailed examples.explains how peers are appointed.