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House of Lords

In British politics, the House of Lords is the unelected upper house of the United Kingdom Parliament. The House of Lords is unique in combining both legislative and judicial functions in the one body: it is both the upper house of Parliament and the highest court of appeal for England (though it is only ad-hoc).

The members of the House of Lords are:

  • 26 bishops of the Church of England, namely the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, and twenty-four most senior of the remaining bishops.
  • the Lords of Appeal-in-Ordinary, who hear legal cases and together act as England's highest court the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords. They are appointed for a term of years; at the end of which they no longer hear legal cases but remain members of the House of Lords for the rest of their lives. They are generally referred to as the Law Lords and during their time as judges traditionally refrain from political debate.
  • Life Peers, appointed members for life by the Queen (in practice this means the Prime Minister).
  • Hereditary Peers, who inherit their seats. Originally several hundred were eligible to sit; recent reforms mean that only 92 may, and the British government plans to eventually remove them all

The House of Lords is presided over by the Lord Chancellor, the Government minister in charge of the Lord Chancellor's department which includes partial responsibilty for the administration of the British judicial system.

In June 2003 the UK Government announced its intention to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor; the new speaker of the House of Lords will not be a minister. In addition, it plans to create a new supreme court that will take over the judicial functions of the Lords.

Table of contents

History The two distinct houses of parliament emerged in the 14th century. One was composed of shire and borough representatives, this became became known as the Commons. The other was composed of religious leaders (Lords Spiritual) and magnates (Lords Temporal), this became known as the Upper House.

The Acts of Union (1707 with Scotland and 1800 with Ireland) entitled Scottish and Irish peers to elect representatives from among themselves to sit in the House of Lords. Elections for Irish representative peers ceased in 1922. From 1963 all Scottish peers had the right to sit in the House of Lords.

The Parliament Act 1911

In 1906 the Liberal party won a a great victory in the House of Commons. Due to the naval race with Germany, and new social programs the Liberals proposed a "Super-Tax" meant to "soak the rich" with an estate tax. Such a measure was obviously not very popular in the then equal House of Lords, so they blocked its passage. The Liberals complained about this to the King Edward VII who said he would do something if they proved to have a mandate. The House of Commons called an election in 1910 and the Liberals were successfully reelected, though not by as large a margin as the previous election. The Liberals proposed to the King to put Liberals in the House of Lords. The King threatened to do this, so the House of Lords passed the "Super-Tax." The Reform Act of 1911 was passed using the same tactics. In it, the House of Lords could only reject a proposal for one year, and they would have no say if it passed the House of Commons the next. This removed the equal status of the House of Lords.

The Parliament Act 1949

The act reduced the delaying power of the 1911 Act in respect of Public Bills other than Money Bills to two sessions and one year respectively.

The Life Peerages Act 1958

The act permitted the creation of peerages for life, with no limit on numbers, to persons of either sex.

The Peerage Act 1963

The act allowed hereditary peeresses to be members of the House, hereditary peerages to be disclaimed for life and for all Scottish peers to sit. The politician best known for disclaiming his inherited peerage is Tony Benn.

The House of Lords Act 1999

The act removed the right of most hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House. An amendment to the Bill enabled 92 hereditary peers to remain until the House was fully reformed.

The Labour Party and the House of Lords

For many years the Labour party in the United Kingdom attempted to have the House of Lords abolished, with little success. This was because the members of the House of Lords were mostly members of the Conservative party. Most notorious were the so-called 'backwoodsmen', who never attended Parliament except to defeat important Labour legislation opposed by the Conservatives. Later the Labour party managed to extract another reform, the Parliament Act of 1949, which limited the power of the House of Lords to defeat House of Commons legislation. Finally when Tony Blair came to power in 1997, legislation was introduced to remove hereditary peers from the House of Lords, as the first step in the reform of the House. However, in order to get the law passed by the House of Lords, the Government had to compromise and allow 92 hereditary peers to remain until reform of the House was completed.

The House of Lords is located in the Palace of Westminster even to this day.

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