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Powers of House of Commons and the House of Lords
The House of Commons has, theoretically, a massive amount of formal
It has a sovereign legislature, and can make, amend or un-make any law it
wishes, and can be only delayed by the House of Lords. Can remove the
government of the day in a vote of confidence. E.g. 1979 vote of no confidence
in James Callaghan's Labour government.
However, in reality it has only a limited influence over legislation due to
executive domination of the House of Commons: the Westminster voting system
offers the government majority control over the Commons and the party
discipline system allows ministers to control backbenchers.
Formal mechanisms to ensure accountability like Question Time and select
committees are often relatively weak.
But, declining levels of party unity have led to more independent, educated and
assertive backbenchers, who are able to exert a greater influence. E.g.
Conservative backbench rebellion 2011 on having an EU membership referendum,
where a massive 81 conservative MPs voted for having it.
However, counterbalancing this is a growing trend for landslide majorites, which
allows governments to resist pressure from backbenchers and opposition.
The formal powers of the House of Lords are, in contrast, quite
Lords can only delay legislation from the Commons for a year maximum. Cannot
delay money-related bills.
Cannot remove the government of the day and can only veto a very limited range
of matters like the sacking of senior judges and delay of Westminster elections.
BUT, in practice, the House of Lords often has a greater influence over the
government than the Commons. E.g. Tony Blair's government was never
defeated in the Commons but had 353 defeats in the Lords.
Much weaker party system in the Lords than the Commons. Since peers aren't
elected, they cannot be made to 'toe the party line', or follow party discipline.
What's more, many peers are cross-benchers, who don't have any party ties at all.
There is no party majority in the Lords, so no party holds control over the house.
Since the removal of hereditary peers, the House of Lords has become more
assertive and keen to check the government of the day. Peers no longer feel that
the chamber is tainted by the predominance of the outdated and irrational
hereditary principle. Some peers feel it's their job to compensate for the
ineffectiveness of the House of Commons.
Although acts of parliament have made the Lords formally subordinate to the
Commons, governments are often keen to look for a compromise rather than
invoke the Lords and end up in long term 'parliamentary ping pong'.