The evolving House of Lords

Interview with Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit at University College, London, and author of The Contemporary House of Lords: Westminster Bicameralism Revived (Oxford University Press, 2103). Meg is an expert in the workings of the House of Lords

House of Lords Reform

Impact of the Lords.

Evaluation of functions

Representation

Positive

In many ways the Lords is more representative than the Commons. Many sections of society and associations are represented by peers who have special links with them and specific experience and knowledge.

Negative

The Lords is unelected and so could be said to represent no one because it is not accountable. It is not socially representative, with a high average age, a shortage of women and ethnic minority members and few members from working-class origins.

Calling government to account Positive Peers are more independent minded than MPs and can be more active in their questioning and criticisms of ministers. Negative There are no departmental select committees in the Lords, so a valuable means by which government can be called to account is missing.

Scrutiny .

Positive

The legislative committees in the Lords can be more effective than their counterparts in the Commons. These committees divide much less along party lines and are more independent. Furthermore, the peers who are members of these committees often have special knowledge, expertise and experience in the matters contained in the legislation.

Negative

Though the Lords often does propose legislative amendments, it cannot force them through as they may be overturned by the Commons.

Legislating

Positive

Laws must go through the House of Lords to be passed. There is therefore knowledge that legislation has been fully scrutinised.

Negative

As an unelected body, the Lords cannot provide legitimation to legislation.

Deliberation

Positive

The House of Lords has two great advantages in deliberating on important issues. First, it has more time to do so than the Commons. Second, the Lords contains a vast well of knowledge and experience among its members.

Negative

The fact that the Lords has weak legislating powers means that its debates may be largely symbolic.

Checking government power

Positive

As its members cannot be controlled by the government, the Lords does, from time to time, act in a very independent way.

Negative

The government has several ways of bypassing obstruction by the Lords. The elected government and House of Commons will ultimately win out over the unelected Lords.

House of Lords reform: proposals and evaluation