With David Cameron’s recent appointments to the House of Lords proving controversial, we decided to look at just what the House of Lords is, who they are, and what they do.
The Parliament of the United Kingdom is split up into two houses; the upper house, the House of Lords, and the lower house, the House of Commons. The aim of Parliament is to pass legislation, and the government of the day has the power to introduce bills to the House of Commons, before it gets sent to the House of Lords for scrutiny, one of the key roles of the Lords, where it can be reviewed and amended where necessary.
However, the House of Commons is an elected body, with is a defined 650 seat membership. On the other hand, the House of Lords has no upper limit, there are currently 826 members, and all are either appointed by the Queen on behalf of the Prime Minister, or are hereditary peers, meaning they have their title from birth. There are 92 hereditary peers, along with 26 Bishops, who are known as Lords Spiritual.
How do I become a Lord?
Unless you become an important Bishop or happen to be born into the right family, the only way you can become a Lord is by being nominated. This can happen either on the advice on the Prime Minister or by an independent body, and often as a result of years of work towards a public service. So for example, Lord Sugar (that one off The Apprentice) was awarded a peerage for services to business and enterprise, and Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber (that musical one) was awarded a peerage for services to music.
So what is the problem?
The first problem is purely a practical one; the House of Lords can only physically seat around 400 members, and with David Cameron’s recent appointments, the total is in excess of 800. Furthermore, since becoming Prime Minister in 2010, David Cameron’s rate of appointments is higher than any Prime Minister in British History. In addition to this, the fact the Lords are appointed and not elected remains a problem in the eyes of some. An overwhelming majority of bicameral legislatures have both an elected upper and lower house, and there have been renewed calls for the UK to follow suite.
Tony Blair passed legislation to reduce the number of hereditary peers to 92 in 1992, but there are arguments to suggest that this has not gone far enough. Would making the House of Lords a fully elected chamber work? Would it diminish the role of the MP? Is the best solution a part elected, part appointed chamber? Would that even work?
The solution is not necessarily straightforward, and so for the foreseeable future the House of Lords will continue to operate the same way, amending bills and challenging the government where appropriate.
Feature image by Chester Frampton