The House of
There are 659
Members in the Commons; we call them MPs (Members of Parliament). The
public elect them, usually every five years. They represent a local area
called a constituency. All the members of the government, including the
Prime Minister are members of parliament, and if they are not re-elected,
they lose their position in government. General Elections are held every 5
years (or when the Prime Minister calls one). If a member dies or
“resigns” the electorate choose a replacement MP during a by-election.
Power flows from the electorate to Parliament, which chooses and controls
the executive; by executive, we mean the government, so MPs are
representatives and not merely 'delegates’
usually sits for an average of 163 days a year.
The House of
House of Lords
was originally a body of influential noblemen and bishops brought together
to advise the Monarch; It is now made up of appointed members, known as
peers (A peer is a nobleman for example, a duke, marquise, earl, viscount
or baron or the female equivalent).
brought about by Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 which admitted the
Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (Law Lords) who are life peers, and the
Life Peerages Act 1958 which provided for the appointment of life
peers (life peers hold their office during their life-time and do not pass
the title on to their heirs).
change its own constitution and did so by the House of Lords Act 1999.
Parliament passed the legislation to remove hereditary peers, which
means those peers who had a right to sit in the Lords because of there
title which they handed down from father to son, sometimes for hundreds of
years. There were about 1,200 peers, many never bothered to attend the
“Upper House”, as the House of Lords is sometimes called. About 751 of
them were hereditary. The Act removed all but 92 of them. It remains the
fact that all of its members, who are called life-peers, are not elected,
but appointed by the Queen (on the advice of the Prime Minister so,
essentially by him) this is refereed to as “patronage”, and some argue is
open to abuse.
In the summer of
2001, an independent Commission appointed 15 peers originally dubbed
“People’s Peers”, but the process was widely regarded as perpetuating the
existing system by recommending exactly the same sort of people as the
government would have appointed to the Upper House by any other
Composition of the Upper House – The House of Lords
under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876
under the Life Peerages Act 1958
House of Lords Act 1999
The role of the
House of Lords is that of a constitutional watchdog. The Lords reviews
proposals from the House of Commons, although the Lords will sometimes
introduce uncontroversial bills itself. The Lords' main legislative role
is to scrutinise and revise Bills from the Commons. In this way, the Lords
can be seen as a “revising chamber”. The Commons accepts most amendments
made by the Lords. However, when the Lords strongly resist a Bill it can
rouse passionate feelings in the Commons, where the MPs represent the
people and where the true power lies.
The proposal of
the Wakeham Commission 2000, that one third of the members of the Lords
should be elected, has not been implemented, and it is widely thought they
never will. If the peers were elected, they too would have a mandate, the
same as the Commons.
right of a peer to be tried by his fellow peers in cases of treason, or
felony was abolished by the Criminal Justice Act 1948.
The House of
Lords also serves as the final court of appeal for most cases in the
United Kingdom (not criminal cases from Scotland). The Appellate Committee
by Lords of Appeal in Ordinary performs this function (Law Lords).
Law lords are full members of the
House and may speak and vote on all business.
lords, however, do not engage in matters where there is a strong
element of party political controversy; and they bear in mind that they
may render themselves ineligible to sit judicially if they express an
opinion on a matter that might later be relevant to an appeal to the
House. When a law lord retires, he remains a member of the House
and is then much freer to participate in debates on legislation and public
policy: several do so regularly.