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[Acts of Parliament - role of the Commons and Lords - a check on the Government]
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The House of Commons

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’

Parliament usually sits for an average of 163 days a year.


The House of Lords

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).


Changes were 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).


Parliament can 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 traditional method.


Composition of the Upper House – The House of Lords

Archbishops and bishops



Life Peers under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876

(1 woman)


Life Peers under the Life Peerages Act 1958

(108 women)


Peers under House of Lords Act 1999

(4 women)






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.


The ancient 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.


Appellate Committee

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.

Serving law 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.

BBC summary here

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