Clearly, in such a populated country such as Great Britain, a Second Chamber of Parliament also known as the House of Lords is necessary. Although the House of Lords cannot execute much power, compared to the House of Commons, it is a vital part of British Government. The House of Lords plays an important part in revising, potentially delaying legislation and as well as keeping a check on Government by scrutinising its activities. It complements the work of the Commons, whose members are elected to represent their constituents. Members of the Lords are not elected and are unpaid. Most peers have a wide range of experience as most have retired from a political career.
For example, there have been 158 members of the House of Lords that were once MPs, (the breakdown is as follows; Conservatives 77, Labour 55, Liberal Democrats 14, Crossbenchers 9, other 3). Peers also provide a source of independent expertise as the House has among its members a number of University Chancellors, professors, and writers. The House also has a judicial role as the final Court of Appeal. Although the House of Lords perform many functions to help Government flow smoothly, it has many flaws including being undemocratic as members are appointed, not voted in by the people (as mentioned before).
In this essay, there will be arguments both for and against the Second Chamber being part of British Government. Also, it will be discussed how the role of the Second Chamber has changed throughout history. To understand the functions of the House of Lords, one has to first look at how it has evolved throughout history. The House of Lords has slowly lost its power throughout time. During the 1800's, the two houses of Parliament remained nearly equal in power. Although the Commons had control over money bills, the Lords had the power to veto legislation.
Soon, in 1909, a dispute broke out between the House of Commons and the Hous of Lords over a budget that was rejected by the Lords. Two years later, the Parliamentary Act of 1911 came into effect and the House of Lords lost its vetoing power. Under this new act, the Lords were permitted to delay money bills for only one month and non-money bills for a minimum of two years. Soon, the Parliamentary Act of 1949 reduced to one year the length of time that the Lords could postpone non-money bills. Under Tony Blair's Labour Government, the number of peers in the House of Lords has dropped. The Labour Government was unhappy with that fact that only about 20% of all peers ever bothered to attend regularly.
Also, Labour was dissatisfied that most members of the House were there because they had a hereditary title. In December 1999, the number of peers in the House of Lords dropped from 1296 (759 being hereditary peers) to 666 members (92 being hereditary peers). There was also the introduction of 33 new life peers. The reduction in hereditary peers means that for the first time the majority of peers are affiliated with the Labour Party instead of the Conservatives.
The House of Lords plays an important part in revising legislation (58% of the time in session is spend revising legislation) and keeping a check on Government by scrutinising its activities (38% of the time in session is spent doing that). Unlike the House of Commons, the House of Lords does not have a certain timetable (known as a guillotine) so peers can discuss important issues in more detail than in the House of Commons, although peers normally try to keep to a fifteen-minute time limit for their speeches. There have also been many instances of late-night fixtures, last one being in October 3 rd, 2000. With scrutinising bills in mind, peers have distinguished themselves in many fields of study including the sciences, law, education, industry, industrial relations and many others. They can look at relevant legislation from the perspective of practitioners in the field rather than from the perspective of elected party politicians. The House also serves as an important revising chamber as peers try to ensure that the bill represents its idea clearly, for example, so judges will understand them clearly.
In order to improve a bill, the House suggests amendments, the final decision though comes from the House of Commons whom most of the time accepts changes. In this aspect, the House is very important as it complements the work done in the House of Commons. The House of Lords is a very important as a revising chamber. For example, the House of Lords have made more amendments to legislation than the House of Commons. In the 1995-96 session, for example, 422 amendments to Government Bills were made in the House of Commons compared to 1, 133 amendments made in the House of Lords. The House also has many committees including the European Union Committee, which undertakes scrutiny of draft European legislation.
All these points clearly show that the Second Chamber has much power to influence Government The House of Lords is the highest court of appeal within the United Kingdom. Arguably, its most powerful part is its ability to delay legislation for a maximum of one year. First, a bill has to go through a process of three hearings (same as the House of Commons). First reading is known as a formal reading as the bill is not discussed only introduced. Second readings, constitute debates although voting is rare at this stage. Third hearing constitutes more debates and at the end, voting takes place.
The less crowded timetable of the House allows such a procedure to have all the time it needs, as well as emphases on ensuring that the bill is well drafted and coherent. The voting system is simple majority and if the majority (50% +1) vote yes for the vote, the bill is passed, if the majority vote no for the bill, the bill is defeated. After it is defeated, the House of Commons may choose to introduce it again but without having the approval of the House of Lords (after one year). In this aspect, the House of Lords works also as a strategic House in many aspects. For example, a party may try to pass a controversial bill and be rejected by the Lords in order to give the public enough time to understand the specific issue. Since most people in the Lords favour Labour, (as most hereditary peers that were Conservative have left) peers may favour rejecting more conservative bills and having an easier time passing more bills proposed by the Labour Party.
This can prove to be very strategic in the future. For example, if the Conservative Party happens to win a general election in the near future, they will have a very hard time passing bills because of the Lords affiliation with Labour. Although, the House of Lords hold many positive aspects, it has aspects that need to be changed. For example, peers are appointed, not elected. Also, their representation does not mimic society.
For example, the average age of all members is 67 years, there are only 111 women compared to 565 men, there are very few ethnic minorities and the 21 seats entitled for the Church of England should be entitled to represent other religions. The House also does not represent the political affiliation of the people. The Wareham Report specifies many proposals for the new House of Lords of the future including changes to the above. Also, the report calls for elected regional members so it can, Give a voice in Parliament for all parts of British society... All in all, the House of Lords works very well and it would not make sense to remove its presence from Government. The House of Lords works to revise legislation ensuring it is coherent.
It also works by keeping a check on Government by scrutinising its activities. Many people do not realise that the House of Lords is influential in Government. For example, it can delay legislation for a maximum of one year. It is also made up of many committees that make sure that Government is working efficiently. Although there are some problems with the House of Lords including being undemocratic, overall it works very well.