House of Lords: Peers

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  • Created on: 10-04-19 21:37

How powerful are peers?

The most significant power of peers is their ability to delay the passage of legislation by up to a year. 

While the Lords cannot delay money bills, they can frequently delay important government policy and legislation by defeating it, usually in a bid to force change. 

The Lords has proved itself to be a formidable opponent of hastily drawn-up government legislation. 

In the 2014/15 parliamentary session, the House of Lords defeated the government 11 times. 

October 2014: the Lords rejected the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill as it did not provide adequate protection for children under the age of 15. 

February 2015: the Lords insisted on a legislative amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill to give greater protection to overseas domestic workers. 

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What factors limit the power of peers?

1. The Parliament Act 1911 transformed the power of the Lords by replacing their legislative veto with a two-year delay and preventing them from debating and voting on money bills.

2. The Salisbury Convention 1945, ensured that the Lords would not vote against legislation contained in a government's manifesto. 

3. The Parliament Act of 1949 reduced the power of delay to one year. It has only been used on four occasions since. 

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The process of Lords reform

The House of Lords Act (1999):

An Act brought in by the Labour government saw the removal of all but 92 hereditary peers in a 'transitional house' - a key element of New Labour's constitutional reforms. 

Reform suspended (1999-2010):

Commissions and White Papers detailing various proportions of elected and appointed peers led to vague Labour manifesto commitments in 2001 and 2005, free votes in the Commons and the Lords, but no further progress in settling the size and nature of the second chamber was made.

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The process of Lords reform

Reform stalled (2010-present):

Parliamnetary reform featured high on the Liberal Democrat agenda, and Lords reform was a bargaining chip in the original coalition agreement in 2010.

Conservative support for a fully elected second chamber was not forthcoming and Nick Clegg's 2012 proposals were abandoned amidst claims that the Conservatives had 'broken the coalition contract' in not supporting it. 

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Parliament and the executive: an 'elective dictato

Executive is able to dominate parliament through:

  • A lack of separation of powers.
  • A majoritarian electoral system
  • An uncodified constitution where there is no clear understanding of the distribution of power. 

Patronage, party loyalty and career politicians enhance the power of the prime minister to distribute responsibilities, alongside a general acceptance that the winning of a general election gives the government a mandate to carry out its legislative programme. 

These factors are usually enough to ensure that resistance is limited. 

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Parliament and the executive: an 'elective dictato

The power and influence of the whips is significant, and can help where further persuasion is required.

There is an expectation that the party rank-and-file vote they way of their leaders and the 'carrot and stick' approach of the whips prevails. 

Government defeats are rare. 

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Parliamentary sovereignty or elective dictatorship

In theory, Parliament is supreme: it can make or abolish any law that is not bound by any other body, including previous parliaments. 

In practice, however, commentators maintain that while legislative sovereignty remain with Parliament, on a day-to-day basis, political sovereignty lies with the executive. 

The lack of separation of powers allows the executive to dominate Parliament and the prevalence of large electoral majorities has prompted some - most notably Lord Hailsham 1974 - to warn of 'elective dictatorship'.

The process of devolution of power to the regions, the surrendering of sovereignty the the European Union - for as long as the UK is a member, EU laws prevail where they conflict with UK laws - and the wider use of referendums have contributed to the erosion of parliamentary sovereignty. 

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