House of Lords

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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. 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
  • 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 responsible for the administration of the British judicial system.


Reform Act of 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.

Reforms by the Labour party

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. The Labour party, while it was in office, managed to extract two major reforms, the Parliament Acts of 1999, 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 act in question was the House of Lords Act 1999.

The House of Lords is located in the Palace of Westminster.

What are the 'Parliament Acts of 1999'? -- no such legislation exists according to Her Majesty's Stationery Office website. You don't mean the Parliament Acts 1911-1949, do you? -- SJK