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Practices and reforms in the Westminster Parliament

Reinventing the House of Lords for the XXIst century

Réinventer la Chambre des Lords pour le xxie siècle
Anne Cousson

Résumés

Une Chambre Haute entièrement non-élue semble, apparemment, constituer une anomalie dans une démocratie au xxie siècle. Dans ce contexte, la Chambre des Lords a dû se créer sa propre place dans la constitution britannique. Depuis les réformes du début du siècle, sa légitimité et sa position ont changé. Cet article se concentre sur l’étude des débats parlementaires autour de quatre lois afin d’analyser quelle est la place de la Chambre des Lords aujourd’hui. Les Lords sont devenus une Chambre spécialisée avec un intérêt particulier pour les questions de droits de l’Homme et de libertés publiques. Ce rôle les a placés en position de contre-pouvoir face à l’exécutif gouvernemental, tout en maintenant des stratégies de collaboration avec la Chambre des Communes dans l’élaboration des lois.

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1The House of Lords might, at first glance, appear to be an anomaly in a XXIst century democracy. It is an unelected Chamber, made up of hereditary peers, of bishops and archbishops, and of experts or former politicians, who, after being appointed by the Prime Minister, enjoy a lifetime role in the legislature. Its very existence can look quite antiquated.

  • 1 Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution [1867], Paul Smith (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University (...)

2As an unelected upper Chamber, its members recognize their secondary role. Such a position is not a XXth century novelty, rather, it dates back to the English Civil Wars of the mid-XVIIth century. Walter Bagehot, the XIXth century essayist whose description of the British Constitution remains a pivotal piece of work, called it a “revising and suspending house”,1 thus underlining the limits of its role. The House of Commons is considered to be the heart of the British constitution, based as it is on the concept of “parliamentary sovereignty”, which includes the House of Lords only as a complement to the Commons.

  • 2 Chris Ballinger, The House of Lords, 1911-2011: a Century of Non-Reform, Oxford: Hart publishing, (...)
  • 3 Michael Parsons, “Reform of the House of Lords: a ‘parliamentary version of Waiting for Godot’?”, E (...)
  • 4 Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie, “Parties and crossbenchers voting in the post-2010 House of Lords: (...)

3The House of Lords has been studied less often than the House of Commons, which is not surprising given the centrality of the Commons in the British constitution. However, there has been renewed academic interest in the question since the 1999 and 2005 reforms.2 Much attention has been given to the reforms of the House as well as the apparent impossibility of finishing them, that is to say of deciding whether the House should be entirely elected or not.3 The Crossbenchers are a specific area of interest as a peculiarity of the British upper House.4

4The Constitution Unit at University College London in particular has led pioneering research on the Lords.5 They have been updating a database of “government defeats” in the Lords since the 2005-2006 session which constitutes a valuable tool in quantifying the push against government originating in the House, even if the pragmatic result of those defeats varies.6 Daniel Gover and Meg Russell have also analysed in detail the role of the Lords in the legislative process as part of their study of the way the law is made in Westminster.7

  • 8 Gianfranco Baldini, Edoardo Bressanelli and Emanuele Massetti, “Who is in Control? Brexit and the W (...)

5Finally, because of the prominent place they have had in the Brexit debate, the Lords have recently attracted more attention. It has focused especially on the willingness of the Lords to use the powers they do have, and on the extent to which this signals a new step in British constitutional practices.8

6Drawing on this body of research, it is interesting to analyse the role of the Lords today in the British parliamentary system to see how far they are willing to exercise their powers and oppose both government and the House of Commons. Four bills were chosen for closer analysis. They are the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, the 2005 Identity Cards Bill, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill of 2018 and the Coronavirus Bill 2020. To complement these bills, the study of the debates around prisoners’ right to vote, although they did not lead to legislation, also help us understand how the influence of the Lords is deployed beyond the simple drafting of the law.

7These bills were debated in very different circumstances. The first two were pushed through under a Labour government, less than ten years after the 1999 reform. The last two were debated under a Conservative government, about two decades after it. Furthermore, the EU Withdrawal Bill and the Coronavirus Act were passed with the government in two very different situations. The Brexit Bill was debated by a minority government, with only a conditional support from the DUP, while the government was much stronger in 2020 and was taking emergency measures at a time that most MPs and peers considered to be exceptional, bolstering a form of national union. All four bills affect civil liberties issues greatly, which is becoming an area of special interest for the Lords, and all of them are politically salient: they have raised very public debates and disagreements, and therefore have a very high profile for public opinion.

8This paper, after a short description of the Lords’ current powers and constitutional position, focuses on three aspects of the evolution of the Lords’ political role over the beginning of the XXIst century as they have participated fully to the controversial debates of the period. First, one objective of the 1999 reform was to make the Lords a more specialised House, with expertise on non-electorally salient topics. The Lords have indeed seized this opportunity to establish their legitimacy as non-elected specialists, especially in the fields of constitutional guarantees and the defence of civil liberties. Second, given this specialisation, it is not surprising that the House would have come head-to-head with the government. The House has thus become a counter-power to the executive, in a British constitution where the House of Commons is a natural ally of the government which emanates directly from it. This position as counter-power is proportional to the government of the time’s strength rather than the merit of the Lords’ debates. Third, despite this position, the Lords have kept a close relationship with the Commons. They have used their specificities to adopt a more collaborative approach to negotiating legislation, with both Houses considering that they need to work together to achieve their goals. Because the Commons find it harder to oppose government directly, they have used the Lords as a Chamber of second thought where their objections would have a greater chance of being heard, while the Lords have used their debates to attract the Commons’ attention on points they believe should have been debated in more detail.

A gradual process of reform

  • 9 Joint Committee on Conventions, Conventions of the UK Parliament, House of Lords and House of Commo (...)
  • 10 The conflict hinged, mostly, on the will of the Labour government to create the Welfare State, whic (...)
  • 11 Select Committee on the Constitution, The Salisbury-Addison Convention, House of Lords, 18 October (...)

9Like many aspects of the British constitution, the House of Lords functions following both laws and conventions which define their relationship to the Commons. For instance, the Lords will, as a convention, not directly oppose the bills which have been set out in the electoral manifesto of the party in government. This convention, named Salisbury-Addison, or more commonly only Salisbury after the name of the Marquess who first developed the idea when he was Leader of the House, has evolved over time to adapt to the realities of political changes and of constitutional reforms.9 It was originally meant to prevent the conflict between the in-built Conservative majority in the Lords and the new Labour majority in the Commons after their 1945 victory.10 It had to be adapted to new political circumstances, like the creation of a coalition government in 2010.11 Indeed, in this case, the manifesto promises of either party could be contradictory. Could the convention apply to the confidence and supply agreement of the coalition parties in the same way? Thus, the British constitution can evolve organically through solving immediate issues.

  • 12 Vernon Bogdanor, The New British Constitution, Oxford: Hart, 2009.
  • 13 Select Committee on the Constitution, Money Bills and Commons Financial Privileges, House of Lords, (...)

10In addition to this evolution, in the XXth century, a number of reforms were implemented in order to make the House of Lords more democratic by moving away from conventions and setting out some of the powers of the House in statutory law.12 In 1911, after a period of conflict between the Liberal government and the Lords, the Parliament Act removed the Lords’ right of veto to replace it with a simple delaying power, and completely prevented them from having a say about “Money Bills”, defined as bills primarily dealing with financial issues.13 In practice, the Lords have always respected this and the Parliament Act has never been ued to force the passage of such a bill over the opposition of the Lords. In 1945, a further Parliament Act reduced the delaying power of the Lords from two to one parliamentary session.

  • 14 Vernon Bogdanor, The New British Constitution, op. cit., 155.

11The House’s composition was fundamentally altered by the Life Peerages Act of 1958 which made it possible to appoint life peers and therefore to challenge the hereditary nature of the House, although Vernon Bogdanor underlines the fact that it did little to change the balance of power in the House as “in the mid-1990s, around two-thirds of the members were still hereditary peers.”14

  • 15 In theory because, as a string of scandals has shown, the risk of cronyism is ever-present, see for (...)
  • 16 Women could sit in the House of Lords from the creation of Life Peerages in 1958, but they could on (...)
  • 17 Matthew Purvis, Ethnic and Religious Diversity in the House of Lords, House of Lords Library, 5 Nov (...)
  • 18 Meg Russell and Meghan Benton, Professional and other Diversity in the House of Lords, Constitution (...)

12The greatest change, therefore, came from the 1999 House of Lords Act which removed all but 92 hereditary peers from the House, giving more space to life peers, who are appointed, in theory at least,15 for their expertise. This has meant that the composition of the House changed. The Lords, in 2019 included 27% women,16 compared to the 33% women in the Commons. As far as ethnic minorities are concerned, they account for about 6% of the Lords, compared with 10% in the Commons and 14% in the general British population. Although modest, this figure is still an improvement since the 1990s, by the end of which only 3% of peers were from ethnic minorities.17 However, professional diversity is less well represented, with 27% of peers coming from representative politics, 14% from banking and commerce, 12% from banking and finance and 10% from the legal professions.18

  • 19 Thomas Brown, House of Lords: Membership in June 2020, House of Lords Library, 12 June 2020.

13The political balance in the House was also changed through this reform. Whereas, in a House where hereditary peers had a much bigger weight, the Conservatives had an in-built majority, the change meant a better representation of voters’ political diversity in general. Today, no party holds an absolute majority: in June 2020, there were 31.4% Conservative peers, 22.8% Labour peers and 11.6% Liberal Democrats. The House also includes 23% Crossbenchers.19 The latter are non-affiliated peers who therefore make up an independent group. Their proportion in the House, just under a quarter, means that they are a force to be reckoned with, although, as will be shown further down, there are significant limits to their influence.

  • 20 Chris Ballinger, The House of Lords, 1911-2011: A Century of Non-Reform, op. cit., 94, 164.
  • 21 Meg Russell, “The Truth about House of Lords Appointments”, The Constitution Unit Blog, 29 July 201 (...)
  • 22 Meg Russell, “Boris Johnson’s 36 New Peerages Make the Need to Constrain Prime Ministerial Appointm (...)

14Despite a better balance between the parties being a motivation behind numerous reforms,20 the composition of the House does not necessarily correspond to the shifts caused in the Commons by General Elections and there is no legal requirement for the Prime Minister to appoint new peers to reflect the results of elections.21 However, during their time in government between 1997 and 2010, the Labour Party created enough peerages for their group to become marginally larger than the others by 2005.22 The balance has shifted since then and the Conservatives have come back as the largest group, but they still do not enjoy an overall majority.

15The origins of this reform lie in the 1997 electoral manifesto promises of the Labour Party, which pledged to reform an institution which was perceived as fundamentally Conservative-dominated and undemocratic. When elected, the government embarked on a wide-ranging set of constitutional reforms, which included the House of Lords Act 1999 as its last major piece of legislation, after devolution in 1998 and the creation of the Human Rights Act 1998. Including the House of Lords Act into this ambitious set of legislation pieces shows that the hope was for the House of Lords to change its culture and play a different part in political life: more representative, even without electoral legitimacy, and more focused on the deliberative and expert aspects of the peers’ work. The aim was to modernize the House, as the Lord Privy Seal said, rather provocatively, when introducing the White Paper to the House:

  • 23 House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 20 January 1999, col. 583.

Nobody suggests we should today select Members of one House of Parliament, the House of Commons, as we did in the XVIIIth century; why should we select the Members of the other as we did in the XVth century? Society, and politics, have moved on and your Lordships’ House must, however reluctantly, move with them.23

  • 24 Modernising Parliament Reforming the House of Lords, Cm 4183, December 1998.

16The White Paper published to prepare the bill was named “Modernising Parliament”, indicating clearly the will to create a change with the past.24

17The Labour Party decided against abolishing hereditary peers altogether during what they called “Stage one” but promised “Stage two” to deal with the “unfinished business” of reforming the House. They were not able to achieve that, and the reform of the House still hangs up in the air today, twenty years after the reform as the House has undertaken the work of carving out a new identity for itself.

  • 25 Those judges of the Supreme Court who were Law Lords before the reform will be allowed to return to (...)

18A further reform, in 2005, contributed to making the House more modern tackling this time the Lords in their capacity as the highest court in the land. Prior to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, judges were appointed to the House of Lords, where they could sit for the rest of their live. Such Law Lords were both part of the last court of appeal and of the legislature. The Lord Chancellor also held three roles: Cabinet member, head of the judiciary and Speaker of the House of Lords. Thus, there was no strict separation between judiciary, executive and legislative powers. The 2005 reform ended this British constitutional peculiarity. It created the United Kingdom Supreme Court, whose judges are no longer part of the House of Lords.25 The Lord Chancellor is now only an (admittedly high-ranking) Cabinet member, with the Lord Chief Justice becoming head of the judiciary and the Speaker of the Lords being independent from the government.

  • 26 Chris Ballinger, The House of Lords, 1911-2011: a century of non-reform, op. cit.

19The motivations behind those reforms throughout the XXth century have been studied by Chris Ballinger.26 He showed how questions of political balance as well as pragmatic short-term crises have allowed governments to reform the institution at different points in time, and how numerous attempts at reform were mostly unsuccessful, or only partially successful. One condition is that the government be able and willing to use political capital for a constitutional reform which has hardly any electoral salience. Simply put, most voters do not care very much about the House of Lords, they are a very low priority.

20After all these reforms, what constitutional powers do the Lords actually hold today? They can amend bills sent to them and reject or accept Commons amendments. In case of disagreement after the end of the parliamentary “ping-pong”, the Commons can pass the law anyway by using the Parliament Act. However, the Houses mostly find a way to agree, with the Lords tending to defer to the elected legitimacy of the Commons. All in all, the powers of the Lords are mainly deliberative, and a government that is confident in their Commons majority will not fear a defeat in the Lords.

A specialist House

  • 27 Kenneth O. Morgan, “Corridor or Cul de Sac? The House of Lords as a Corridor of Power”, Observatoir (...)
  • 28 Meg Russell and Meghan Benton, Professional and other Diversity in the House of Lords, Constitution (...)
  • 29 “Elect the House of Lords”, Electoral Reform Society, <https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/campaign (...)
  • 30 Meg Russell and Maria Sciara, The House of Lords in 2006: Negotiating a Stronger Second Chamber, op (...)

21Since the beginning of the XXIst century, the position of the House of Lords as a House of specialists has been well established. The peers created by the Life Peerages Act are now a majority thanks to the House of Lords Reform Act of 1999. This means, in theory, that there is now a wider range of expertise available in the Lords.27 In practice, there are limits to the effects of these changes. Firstly, as was mentioned before, the single largest professional group in the Lords is that of former politicians rather than subject specialists,28 a fact much bemoaned by those who wish for a fully elected House.29 Secondly, attendance of such specialists is often limited to their area of specialty, especially for Crossbenchers.30

22However, the way the House functions enables it to have detailed debates both on the principles and on the minutiae of the law. The House of Lords decides on their own timetables for instance, all the amendments proposed by peers can be discussed. This allows for a close line-by-line scrutiny with no government interference on the length of the debate. Committees of the House of Lords, to which any peer can participate, also tend to attract subject specialists and to provide precise expertise on the bill.

  • 31 House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 24 January 2006, col. 1073.

23This effect has been seen more strongly on the questions of civil liberties where the Lords have positioned themselves as defenders of people’s rights against government’s possible abuses. This point of view was defended during the debate on the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill by the Conservative peer and former member of Cabinet Lord Hunt of Wirral who said that the House’s defence of freedom of speech in this case “was the House of Lords at its best, in its traditional role of amending and improving legislation and defending civil liberties.”31 One reason for that might be the fact that many of the Lords come from the legal professions. Furthermore, the former Law Lords still sit in the House. All of this points to a particular interest in defending constitutional guarantees for rights.

  • 32 Paul Baker, “‘Unnatural Acts’: Discourses of homosexuality within the House of Lords debates on gay (...)
  • 33 Julia Hartley-Brewer, “Blair loses section 28 vote”, The Guardian, 25 July 2000, 28.
  • 34 Julia Langdon, “Obituary: Lady Young of Farnworth”, The Guardian, 7 September 2002, <http://www.the (...)
  • 35 Jamie Y. Findlay, “Unnatural acts lead to unconsummated marriages: Discourses of homosexuality with (...)

24The perception of the rights which should be defended has evolved since the beginning of the XXIst century. Up until 2000, for instance, the House was opposed to reforms to lower the age of consent for sexual relationship between two men, which was 18, compared to 16 for everyone else.32 The Lords also delayed the repeal of Section 28, a Thatcher-era measure forbidding the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities which was widely received as a limitation of freedom of speech for gay people.33 The measure was repealed in 2003, only after the newly devolved Scottish government had repealed it, and after the death of Baroness Young, a Conservative peer who had been at the forefront of the resistance to the change.34 Yet, in 2013, the Lords passed the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill without difficulty and with a strong majority.35 On the issue of gay rights, therefore, the position of the House has shifted at the same time as its political role was transformed by the 1999 reform.

  • 36 Daniel Gover and Meg Russell, Legislation at Westminster: parliamentary actors and influence in the (...)
  • 37 Ibid.

25The Lords have appeared to be the preferred platform of debate on civil liberties. In the debates on the Identity Cards Bill, for instance, the Liberal Democrats developed a differentiated strategy between their discourse in the Commons and in the Lords. The Liberal Democrats’ focus on civil liberties is one of the founding tenets of their party so they opposed identity cards on principle. However, they noticed that most of the population was in favour of having an identity card, but that they would probably balk at having to pay for it.36 As a result, they focused on the question of cost in the Commons, and left freedom-related issues to be debated in the Lords. A Commons backbencher, interviewed by D. Russell and M. Gover, considered that the Lords “were passionate about civil liberties issues because that’s the indulgence at the House of Lords. They didn’t have to face the electorate.”37

  • 38 Compare for instance the Labour former Home Secretary Jack Straw’s understanding of the decision: “ (...)

26The Lords are therefore able to defend questions that do not have the support of the electorate. They are for instance more likely to mention the European Convention of Human Rights in a positive light in the debates. In the discussions about the right to vote for prisoners, for instance, the Commons tended to mention the European Courts of Human Rights’ decision as absurd while the Lords presented it as a full part of a worthy international law system that the UK should be proud to be a part of.38

  • 39 See for instance the Labour peer Lady Thornton: “We need to put the noble Lord on notice that, part (...)

27The legal specialisation in the defence of civil liberties also means that the Lords are more likely to defend procedural limits to the power of the executive. For instance, in the debates about the Coronavirus Bill, they have more vividly expressed their attachment to procedural guarantees for a regular review of government actions, insisting on the necessity for the measures to be only temporary.39 The Lords have thus played a part in working to define and defend a certain vision of a balance of power where they can be a counter-power to the executive.

Setting limits to executive dominance

  • 40 See for instance Mark Shephard, “Parliamentary Scrutiny and Oversight of the British ‘War on Terror (...)
  • 41 Coronavirus Statutory Instruments Dashboard, <https://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/publications/data/c (...)
  • 42 Chris Watson, “Acts and Statutory Instruments: The Volume of UK Legislation 1850 to 2019”, House of (...)
  • 43 Such was the case, for instance, for the Identity Cards Bill, see Daniel Gover and Meg Russell, Leg (...)
  • 44 Mark Shephard, “Parliamentary Scrutiny and Oversight of the British ‘War on Terror’: From Accretion (...)
  • 45 Keith Ewing, Bonfire of the Liberties: New Labour, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law, op. cit.

28Political power in the UK has become increasingly centred on the executive.40 This has been made most visible lately through the way the Coronavirus crisis has been handled by the government, where many of the measures taken have not been voted on but have been passed as statutory instruments requiring no parliamentary scrutiny.41This reflects a more general shift in the law-making process where the number of statutory instruments has risen steadily over the second half of the XXth century42 and more and more bills are “skeleton bills” which require further details to be filled in by secondary legislation.43 The reasoning behind this is the necessity of acting quickly and the belief that parliamentary debate is never quick enough. For instance, this had already been the case in such situation as the emergency measures aimed at fighting terrorism.44 However, this executive dominance does tend to extend beyond strict periods of emergency and to affect normal times politics as the continuation of counter-terrorism measures tend to show.45

29Because of the relationship between the legislature and the government in the UK, executive dominance has different consequences for the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Indeed, as the Prime Minister and most Cabinet members are MPs, the House of Commons has a much closer relationship to them. Governments enjoy a natural majority in the Commons which they can depend upon more reliably, despite possible rebellions from their backbenchers. Indeed, MPs are more dependent on the government which, because it is composed of the leading members of their party, has more power over their political careers. There are relationships of patronage and support at play during electoral campaigns which can make rebellions rather costly for individual MPs.

  • 46 Neil Johnston, Prisoner’s voting rights, Briefing Paper no 07461, House of Commons Library, 14 Augu (...)
  • 47 Colin Murray, “A Perfect Storm: Parliament and Prisoner Disenfranchisement”, Parliamentary Affairs, (...)

30The structure of the House of Lords itself gives it power over the government. Although its unelected nature sets it up as a secondary Chamber to the House of Commons, it also gives it relative independence from immediate electoral pressure. The former might therefore be able to debate sensitive topics or topics with little to no chance of public support. For instance, it is the Lords who have, much more frequently than the Commons, reminded the government of its obligation towards the Council of Europe to end the blanket ban on prisoners voting in the UK.46 This measure ran counter to a tendency toward penal populism, where any gesture towards the human rights of prisoners was perceived by MPs as alienating a large portion of the electorate.47

  • 48 Meg Russell and Maria Sciara, “Independent Parliamentarians En Masse: The Changing Nature and Role (...)
  • 49 Kenneth O. Morgan, “Corridor or Cul de Sac? The House of Lords as a Corridor of Power”, op. cit.

31This independence is relative, though, as the House is still structured along party lines. All the main political parties are represented in the Lords. There, they are organized along the same lines as the House of Commons, with a group, leaders, regular meetings, resources, briefings and whips.48 They are therefore aware of the party line and tend to have a high whip discipline. They also work in close collaboration with their fellow party members in the Commons.49

  • 50 Although there is a separate non-affiliated group which comprises the peers who belong to such smal (...)
  • 51 UK Parliament, ‘Lords Membership’, <https://members.parliament.uk/parties/Lords, accessed April 15, (...)
  • 52 Michael Parsons, “Reform of the House of Lords: a ‘parliamentary version of Waiting for Godot’?”, o (...)
  • 53 Meg Russell and Maria Sciara, “Independent Parliamentarians En Masse: The Changing Nature and Role (...)

32Crossbenchers escape this party discipline. They are a specificity of the House of Lords: a group of peers with no official party affiliation50. Today, they make up 24% of the membership of the House,51 which means that, as a group, they are a similar weight to that of the Labour peers, and larger than the Liberal Democrats’ group. However, they do not hold a similar power for three main reasons. First, they do not vote as a group. Therefore, the bloc they constitute cannot be strong enough to be courted by the government or to have a deciding voice in divisions.52 Although their participation has been crucial in a handful of votes, it has been a minority of cases.53

  • 54 Since then, the Convenor has been elected and has varied resources at their disposal. Lord Hope of (...)
  • 55 “Financial assistance for Opposition parties”, UK Parliament, <https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords- (...)
  • 56 Meg Russell and Maria Sciara, “Independent Parliamentarians En Masse: The Changing Nature and Role (...)
  • 57 Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie, “Parties and crossbenchers voting in the post-2010 House of Lords: (...)

33The group itself is loosely organized around a Convenor, whose position first appeared in 1964 before being formalized in 1995.54 Still, the Convenor’s role is not to whip the Crossbenchers, but to provide information. Even in this respect, though, the Convenor does not have the same power as party whips which constitutes the second obstacle to them being a powerful opposition: because they are not an official group, they are not granted the same resources as the party-backed groups. They have been receiving funding as opposition groups since 1999, but the money they get is well below that received by other groups. For the fiscal year 2021/2022, the Labour Party, with a comparable share of peers, received £666,802 while the Crossbench group received only £101,267. Even the Liberal Democrat peers, who comprise only 93 members, which is half the number of Crossbenchers, received £332,928.55 This means the Convenor only has limited opportunities to put together the notes guiding the peers in their study of the bills. The third limit to the power of the Crossbenchers is simply the fact that they do not wish to exercise it excessively and they tend to vote less often than the other peers, although they do participate in the debates.56 They have a very low turnout, except in bills that focus on procedural issues or that are related to their expertise.57

34However, their very presence does influence the legislative process, and they can be a thorn in the side of the government. They can, for instance, raise the profile of an issue by forcing the government to answer a question or by calling for a debate on it. In the case of the prisoners’ right to vote, the issue was raised time and time again by two specific peers. One, Lord Ramsbotham, is the former Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales as well as being involved in a variety of associations dealing with people in prison.58 This means that the issue of prison and prisoners is one of his areas of expertise. The other, Lord Pannick, is a practising barrister specialising in human rights and constitutional law.59 It is not surprising, therefore, that they would make it their role to advocate for prisoners’ rights in the House of Lords. Such specialists with specific expertise can then force the government to address unpopular issues which ministers would rather have swept under the carpet.

  • 60 Neil Johnston, Prisoner’s voting rights, op. cit.

35The result of such actions is heavily dependent on the political context of the time. In the case of the prisoners’ right to vote, not much was achieved as far as substantial action is concerned. After much pressure from the Council of Europe, the British government issued a recommendation stating that a small number of prisoners would be entitled to vote in very specific cases, which the Council of Europe deemed sufficient to fulfill the UK’s treaty obligations.60 This was a very limited understanding of the decision of the European Court on Human Rights, and probably not what Lord Ramsbotham or Lord Pannick had in mind. When the political salience of an issue is higher and the Commons are more divided, however, the House of Lords play rather a different part.

Brexit and the House of Lords

36The 2018 debates on the withdrawal from the EU are a good illustration of the extent to which the Lords are willing to use their powers today. As was shown, there are two sides to this power: the ability of the Lords to defeat the government through voting amendments and the influence they can exercise so that the government shifts its position. In the case of Brexit, they have been able to wield both.

  • 61 Julie Smith, “Fighting to ‘Take Back Control’: The House of Lords and Brexit”, op. cit, 95.
  • 62 Ibid, 102.
  • 63 A typical example would be Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a crossbench peer who defended his amendment to (...)
  • 64 Julie Smith, “Fighting to ‘Take Back Control’: The House of Lords and Brexit”, op. cit.

37After the 2016 referendum results which resulted in a majority of British voters supporting Brexit, the Lords found themselves in an uncomfortable position. Indeed, the peers are much more Europhile than MPs, especially on the Liberal Democrat benches.61 Therefore, they had to scrutinize bills to implement a policy with which many of them fundamentally disagreed. They also considered they could not directly oppose the House of Commons because of its elective legitimacy.62 Therefore, the opposition choose to qualify the results of the referendum in order to justify their opposition: they would respect the result of the referendum, but the referendum was not specific enough on some aspects.63 Although they legally could have delayed the Withdrawal Bill by a year, following the 1949 Parliament Act, this would have constituted a major obstacle to the negotiations with the European Union in the timeframe set out by article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union. After the 2017 General Elections returned a minority Conservative government, the Lords were both emboldened by the weakness of the government’s position in the Commons and bound more strongly by the Salisbury Convention (because the Conservative manifesto had set out in more detail what the Withdrawal Bill would be).64 They knew there was a sizable minority of backbenchers on the government’s side of the House, which left them some space to set out their own position as opposed to the government.

  • 65 “Government Defeats in the House of Lords”, The Constitution Unit, <http://www.ucl.ac.uk/silva/cons (...)
  • 66 Julie Smith, “Fighting to ‘Take Back Control’: The House of Lords and Brexit”, op. cit.; “EU Withdr (...)
  • 67 House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 28 February 2018, col. 1647.
  • 68 Thomas Hunt, “How DARE THEY?! Unelected Labour and Lib Dem Lords plan ‘to plunge Brexit into CHAOS’ (...)

38The term “defeat”, however, might be exaggerated. The Lords still did not defeat the government outright, except in a handful of cases.65 The amendments that were passed in the House of Lords almost all originated from the government, and of the few government defeats in the Lords, less than half were rejected, the rest was replaced by government proposals accepted by both Houses in the next round of parliamentary ping-pong.66 The argument was that, because of their less legitimate constitutional position, the peers refused to block or wreck the bill, or to delay it unreasonably. This was used by Conservative Lords who supported the government in particular. For instance, Lord Callanan, Minister of state for departing the European Union, that is to say the government representative in the House of Lords for this debate, started by reminding the peers of the result of the referendum, as organized by the elected Commons, then warned them against “amendments which could be perceived as a means to delay or disregard that result” because they “carry with them their own risks to people’s faith in their democracy and its institutions.”67 This line of argument aimed at limiting the risks of defeat for the government but also at defining the specific position of the Lords, who were accused by the press of abusing their position.68

  • 69 “My Lords, there seems to be a body of opinion on the Conservative Benches that there is a great pr (...)

39From the opposition’s point of view, the other side of the constitutional argument is that the House of Lords has a specific role to fulfil which is different from that of the House of Commons but which is nonetheless indispensable to the government. Therefore, it should not be ignored. The Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Greaves, during the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in 2020, blamed Conservative peers for using a discourse of constitutional propriety that limits the power of the Lords instead of carrying out the Lords’ task in his eyes: “scrutinizing the bill properly.”69 For him, even though the ultimate goal was not to overturn the Commons’ decisions, there was a legitimacy to the Lords, and they should use it.

40Rather than defeats, what the Lords did achieve was a series of compromises. The government realized that it was in a precarious position with the Withdrawal Bill as it was supported by a minority in the House of Commons. Therefore, it adapted its proposals to the issues the Lords called their attention to. This allowed the government not to lose face by being defeated directly too often. These compromises are less visible than defeats in the votes on amendments, they work mainly through backchannel discussions. They are, however, only possible because the Lords are willing to use their constitutional position to spotlight issues and because they realised that the Conservative party in the House of Commons was divided enough that any open defeat would be too costly for the government.

  • 70 House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 30 April 2018, col. 1847

41All in all, the attitude of the Lords during the Brexit debates exemplifies well what they feel that their role in modern-day Parliament is. This “revising Chamber” will not directly oppose the government. They will, however, work to revise the law, scrutinize its precise drafting and put to the fore what they consider is a set of core issues, thereby opening a discussion with the government outside the Chamber in order to obtain results in actual policy. This is summarized by Viscount Hailsham, as he set out an amendment to give a “meaningful vote” to both Houses of Parliament about the Withdrawal Agreement, a vote which, in his eye, should mainly reflect the decisions of the Commons. For him, the Lords “must accept that the decisive decisions have to be made by the elected Chamber. What this House can properly do is to suggest, argue, explain and enable.”70

Lords and Commons: a collaboration

  • 71 “Government Defeats in the House of Lords”, The Constitution Unit, <http://www.ucl.ac.uk/silva/cons (...)
  • 72 Daniel Gover and Meg Russell, Legislation at Westminster: parliamentary actors and influence in the (...)

42The two Houses of the British political system have to collaborate in order to successfully scrutinise legislation. They do this by playing on the political balance in each House and between the Houses and the government. This will translate, for instance, into the House of Commons starting up a debate, which is then picked up in the Lords. There, amendments are proposed which may turn into a defeat for the government. A prime example of that is the Identity Cards Bill debated in 2005 and 2006. The controversial nature of the bill meant that the government had prepared its draft paper very carefully and attempted to avoid as much resistance in Parliament as they could. However, they still met with considerable opposition in the Commons and had to deal with their own backbenchers. Therefore, when the bill got to the House of Lords, it was already weakened by the heated Commons debate. The Blair government suffered 12 defeats in the Lords.71 Some of them were only minor, while others amounted to burying the project.72 For instance, the Lords imposed a requirement that the scheme would not go on before a complete audit of its costs was led. The bill was also amended so that participation to the scheme would happen on a voluntary basis, rather than automatically when renewing a passport.

43During the debate on the consideration of the Commons amendment, in a late stage of parliamentary ping-pong, the Conservative Lord Crikhowell, congratulated the Lords on the part they had played in having the Commons pass an amendment:

  • 73 “The other place” or “another place” are the traditional expressions used in the Lords to refer to (...)
  • 74 House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 6 March 2006, col. 536.

My Lords, it is a notable achievement by the House that we have made this much progress. As a result of our amendment being sent to the other place73, there was a long and major debate there on the issue of costs, which had not happened before. A great deal of scepticism was expressed, not least from the government Benches, about the Government’s cost estimates. We have drawn the attention of the other place to the flaws in the Government’s presentation of costs, and that is important.74

44The role delineated here for the Lords is that of a pioneer in attracting attention, as has been seen before. However, Lord Crickhowell also draws attention to the role played by the backbenchers in this process: it is because they also expressed “scepticism” that the Lords’ insistence on their amendment was now possible.

  • 75 Daniel Gover and Meg Russell, Legislation at Westminster: parliamentary actors and influence in the (...)

45The exchange between the Lords and the Commons also functions in the other direction, with the Lords taking up a debate started by MPs. In the case of the compulsory nature of the identity cards, for instance, the opposition in the Commons had tried to have it removed from the bills in the early stages, but failed. The Lords, on the contrary, successfully defeated the government on this topic.75

  • 76 Michael White, “Government suffers chaotic double defeat over bill to combat religious hatred”, The (...)

46This kind of parliamentary move can only happen if the balance of power is right, that is to say if the government’s majority is too fragile to risk losing a vote. It is particularly sensitive in controversial topics. The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill of 2006 was such an instance. The 2005 General Election had left Tony Blair’s Labour government with only a tiny majority, with the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives able to defeat them if they presented a united front. Furthermore, the peers realised that there was backbencher unease at some of the bill’s clauses because there was a fear it might threaten freedom of speech. The Lords were able to pass a pivotal amendment which greatly reduced the scope of the bill76. It would only criminalise speech that is “threatening” instead of speech that is “threatening and insulting.”

47On Labour side of the House of Commons, backbenchers used this opportunity to rebel against their government by using the justification of the Lords’ amendments. This was put explicitly by Labour MP Tony Wright:

  • 77 House of Commons Debates, Hansard, 31 January 2006, col. 228.

The Lords delivered to us a Bill which, if it did not completely square the circle, did it as well as it was humanly possible to do. I would have been very happy to support it on that basis. We would have fulfilled our manifesto commitment, but we would have done it in a way that did not damage the traditions of free speech that are essential to our society. I regret the fact that the Government have not felt it possible to accept what the other place has done.77

  • 78 Ibid.

48His language is not one of open conflict or outright condemnation and he still seemed to agree with the government on some points. This is best illustrated by the fact that he later called himself a “reluctant rebel.”78 The amendments passed in the Lords as well as the knowledge that the government was in a minority on this point allowed him to express his point of view and vote accordingly.

  • 79 Meg Russell and Philip Cowley, “Modes of UK Executive–Legislative Relations Revisited”, The Politic (...)

49Therefore, the opposition in the House of Lords can mostly be effective when it is working with backbenchers79. In a situation with a weaker government, like in the case of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act or, to a lesser degree, with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the Lords play a pivotal part in defeating the government.

Conclusions: what future for the Lords?

50The powers of the House of Lords keep evolving and this evolution is gradual. However, change has accelerated since the 1999 reform, which remains unfinished. Some still wish for the House of Lords to be reformed further.

  • 80 Chris Ballinger, The House of Lords, 1911-2011: a century of non-reform, op. cit.
  • 81 Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill – First Report, HL Paper 284–I; HC 1313–I, (...)

51In the 2010 Coalition agreement, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government announced a series of bills to start wide-ranging constitutional reforms, including the revision of the boundaries of constituencies for General Elections or provisions for the Alternative Vote referendum. They also committed to reforming the House of Lords and a draft bill was published in 2011. This bill had been foreshadowed in the election manifestos of the main parties, all of which pledged to continuing the reform.80 One major element of the debate, as far as the Lords were concerned, was whether the House should be elected, partly or entirely, and whether membership should be on a fixed-term basis. The missions of the House, its ethos, specificities and legitimacy were invoked to justify a variety of proposals, which all failed to gather enough support. The Joint Committee on the Draft Bill found it impossible to reach a working compromise and, though Parliament passed the second reading of the bill, it was never timetabled to have a third reading and therefore was left to die quietly.81

52However, some groups are still fighting in favour of either simply abolishing the House of Lords, thus transforming the Westminster system into a unicameral system,82 or reforming it. It is, for instance, one of the main campaigns of the Electoral Reform Society.83 The major parties are all committed to some form of reform. The Labour Party promised in the 2019 General Election manifesto to create a wholly elected House: “We will act immediately to end the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, and work to abolish the House of Lords in favour of Labour’s preferred option of an elected Senate of the Nations and Regions.”84 The Liberal Democrats’ mention of the Lords is more vague, they promised to “reform the House of Lords with a proper democratic mandate,”85 with the Conservatives’ proposal vaguer still “After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords.”86 Clearly, the issue lacks political salience.

  • 87 Report of the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House, House of Lords, 31 October 2017.
  • 88 Dan Sabbagh and Lisa O’Carroll, “PM Set to Nominate 10 Tory Peers after String of Brexit Defeats”, (...)
  • 89 Fourth Report of the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House, House of Lords, 9 May 2021.

53The question of the size of the House is also regularly raised, linked with issues of budgetary control. A Committee on the size of the House was formed in 2016 and published its findings in 2017. They recommended a reduction of the number of peers, mostly through a mechanism where, for every two peers leaving the House (either through retiring or dying), only one would be appointed. They also proposed the implementation of a fixed-term membership of the House.87 None of their proposals has, thus far, been implemented. Under the premiership of Theresa May, the “two-out, one-in” approach seemed to have been accepted by the government (although some of her nominations have been interpreted as an attempt to “pack the House”)88, but the situation has reversed with Boris Johnson, with the Committee warning against a possible issue with the public perception of the Lords.89

  • 90 Meg Russell, “Lords reform is back on the agenda: what are the options?”, The Constitution Unit Blo (...)

54With Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic occupying center stage in British political life over the past few years, it is unlikely that a reform of the House of Lords will actually be undertaken any time soon, although proposals are regularly put forward.90

55Still, the Lords are taking their own position very seriously and are building new conventions and practices allowing them to defend their legitimacy in the XXIst century British democracy. They are using their influence to get the government to look again at proposed legislation and pushing back when they fear that the executive dominance might be getting disproportionate. In the European Union Withdrawal debate, they have showed restraint and were unwilling to use some of their constitutional powers as they preferred to defer to the elected House. They are however able to exchange with the Commons and work with them to defend their own areas of expertise and interest, far from immediate electoral concerns. All of which tends to point at an upper Chamber that, far from being antiquated, brings its own assets to the British political system.

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Notes

1 Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution [1867], Paul Smith (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

2 Chris Ballinger, The House of Lords, 1911-2011: a Century of Non-Reform, Oxford: Hart publishing, 2012.

3 Michael Parsons, “Reform of the House of Lords: a ‘parliamentary version of Waiting for Godot’?”, E-rea. Revue électronique d’études sur le monde anglophone, 2009, no 7.1 ; Chris Ballinger, Ibid.

4 Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie, “Parties and crossbenchers voting in the post-2010 House of Lords: The example of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill”, British Politics, December 2011, vol. 6, no 4, 430-452; Meg Russell and Maria Sciara, “Independent Parliamentarians En Masse: The Changing Nature and Role of the ‘Crossbenchers’ in the House of Lords”, Parliamentary Affairs, October 2008, vol. 62, no 1, 32-52.

5 The Constitution Unit, University College London, <https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/>, accessed June 24, 2022.

6 Government Defeats in the House of Lords, The Constitution Unit, <http://www.ucl.ac.uk/silva/constitution-unit/research/parliament/house-of-lords/lords-defeats>, accessed August 28, 2021.

7 Daniel Gover and Meg Russell, Legislation at Westminster: parliamentary actors and influence in the making of British law, Oxford: University Press, 2017.

8 Gianfranco Baldini, Edoardo Bressanelli and Emanuele Massetti, “Who is in Control? Brexit and the Westminster Model”, The Political Quarterly, 2018, vol. 89, no 4, 537-544; Julie Smith, “Fighting to ‘Take Back Control’: The House of Lords and Brexit”, in Thomas Christiansen and Diane Fromage (eds.), Brexit and Democracy: The Role of Parliaments in the UK and the European Union, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

9 Joint Committee on Conventions, Conventions of the UK Parliament, House of Lords and House of Commons, 31 October 2006.

10 The conflict hinged, mostly, on the will of the Labour government to create the Welfare State, which the Lords were not too keen on, but the Marquess of Salisbury, recognising that the landslide victory of the Labour Party gave them greater legitimacy, announced that the policies foreshadowed in the manifesto would not be blocked by the House.

11 Select Committee on the Constitution, The Salisbury-Addison Convention, House of Lords, 18 October 2017.

12 Vernon Bogdanor, The New British Constitution, Oxford: Hart, 2009.

13 Select Committee on the Constitution, Money Bills and Commons Financial Privileges, House of Lords, 2 February 2011.

14 Vernon Bogdanor, The New British Constitution, op. cit., 155.

15 In theory because, as a string of scandals has shown, the risk of cronyism is ever-present, see for instance Meg Russell and Maria Sciara, The House of Lords in 2006: Negotiating a Stronger Second Chamber, London: Constitution Unit, University College London, 2006, 7-8. The “cash for peerages” scandal of 2006 tainted the Lords and the Labour government, but the revelations did not stop the practice. See for instance The Guardian, “‘Cash-for-Honours’ Timeline”, 11 October 2007, <https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2007/oct/11/partyfunding.uk>, accessed June 24, 2022 or Nicola Slawson, “Boris Johnson Faces Legal Action over Peerage for Billionaire Tory Donor”, The Guardian, 12 June 2021,<https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/jun/12/boris-johnson-faces-legal-action-over-peerage-for-billionaire-tory-donor-peter-cruddas>, accessed June 24, 2022.

16 Women could sit in the House of Lords from the creation of Life Peerages in 1958, but they could only inherit a peerage after the Peerage Act of 1963.

17 Matthew Purvis, Ethnic and Religious Diversity in the House of Lords, House of Lords Library, 5 November 2019; Elise Uberoi and Rebecca Lees, Ethnic diversity in politics and public life, House of Commons Library, 22 October 2020; James Goddard, House of Lords: Statistics on Size and Composition, House of Lords Library, 18 December 2019.

18 Meg Russell and Meghan Benton, Professional and other Diversity in the House of Lords, Constitution Unit, November 2009.

19 Thomas Brown, House of Lords: Membership in June 2020, House of Lords Library, 12 June 2020.

20 Chris Ballinger, The House of Lords, 1911-2011: A Century of Non-Reform, op. cit., 94, 164.

21 Meg Russell, “The Truth about House of Lords Appointments”, The Constitution Unit Blog, 29 July 2015, <https://constitution-unit.com/2015/07/29/the-truth-about-house-of-lords-appointments/>, accessed June 24, 2022.

22 Meg Russell, “Boris Johnson’s 36 New Peerages Make the Need to Constrain Prime Ministerial Appointments to the House of Lords Clearer than Ever”, The Constitution Unit Blog, 31 July 2020. <https://constitution-unit.com/2020/07/31/boris-johnsons-36-new-peerages-make-the-need-to-constrain-prime-ministerial-appointments-to-the-house-of-lords-clearer-than-ever/>, accessed June 24, 2022.

23 House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 20 January 1999, col. 583.

24 Modernising Parliament Reforming the House of Lords, Cm 4183, December 1998.

25 Those judges of the Supreme Court who were Law Lords before the reform will be allowed to return to the House of Lords when they retire, but newly-appointed judges will not be given a peerage.

26 Chris Ballinger, The House of Lords, 1911-2011: a century of non-reform, op. cit.

27 Kenneth O. Morgan, “Corridor or Cul de Sac? The House of Lords as a Corridor of Power”, Observatoire de La Société Britannique, 1 June 2008, no 6, 225-244, accessed June 24, 2022. DOI : 10.4000/osb.475.

28 Meg Russell and Meghan Benton, Professional and other Diversity in the House of Lords, Constitution Unit, November 2009.

29 “Elect the House of Lords”, Electoral Reform Society, <https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/campaigns/elected-house-of-lords/>, accessed August 23, 2021.

30 Meg Russell and Maria Sciara, The House of Lords in 2006: Negotiating a Stronger Second Chamber, op. cit.

31 House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 24 January 2006, col. 1073.

32 Paul Baker, “‘Unnatural Acts’: Discourses of homosexuality within the House of Lords debates on gay male law reform”, Journal of Sociolinguistics, 2004, vol. 8, no 1, 88-106.

33 Julia Hartley-Brewer, “Blair loses section 28 vote”, The Guardian, 25 July 2000, 28.

34 Julia Langdon, “Obituary: Lady Young of Farnworth”, The Guardian, 7 September 2002, <http://www.theguardian.com/news/2002/sep/07/guardianobituaries.obituaries>, accessed June 24, 2022.

35 Jamie Y. Findlay, “Unnatural acts lead to unconsummated marriages: Discourses of homosexuality within the House of Lords debate on same-sex marriage”, Journal of Language and Sexuality, January 2017, vol. 6, no 1.

36 Daniel Gover and Meg Russell, Legislation at Westminster: parliamentary actors and influence in the making of British law, op. cit., 96.

37 Ibid.

38 Compare for instance the Labour former Home Secretary Jack Straw’s understanding of the decision: “the problem is not the plain text of the convention, but the way in which it has been over-interpreted to extend the jurisdiction of the European Court” (House of Commons Debates, Hansard, 10 February 2011, col. 501) and the Labour peer Lord Lester, a former human rights lawyer: “My Lords, the Government have a very good reputation, of which they should be proud, in abiding by judgments of the European Court of Human Rights” (House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 17 June 2009, col. 1066).

39 See for instance the Labour peer Lady Thornton: “We need to put the noble Lord on notice that, particularly in this House, we will tolerate this for as short a period as possible”, House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 24 March 2020, col. 1732.

40 See for instance Mark Shephard, “Parliamentary Scrutiny and Oversight of the British ‘War on Terror’: From Accretion of Executive Power and Evasion of Scrutiny to Embarrassment and Concessions”, The Journal of Legislative Studies, 2009, vol. 15, no 2-3, 191-218; Keith Ewing, Bonfire of the Liberties: New Labour, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010; Helen Hardman, “In the name of parliamentary sovereignty: conflict between the UK Government and the courts over judicial deference in the case of prisoner voting rights”, British Politics, June 2020, vol. 15, no 2, 226-250.

41 Coronavirus Statutory Instruments Dashboard, <https://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/publications/data/coronavirus-statutory-instruments-dashboard>, accessed August 23, 2021.,

42 Chris Watson, “Acts and Statutory Instruments: The Volume of UK Legislation 1850 to 2019”, House of Commons Library, 4 November 2019, 8.

43 Such was the case, for instance, for the Identity Cards Bill, see Daniel Gover and Meg Russell, Legislation at Westminster: parliamentary actors and influence in the making of British law, op. cit., 59.

44 Mark Shephard, “Parliamentary Scrutiny and Oversight of the British ‘War on Terror’: From Accretion of Executive Power and Evasion of Scrutiny to Embarrassment and Concessions”, op. cit.

45 Keith Ewing, Bonfire of the Liberties: New Labour, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law, op. cit.

46 Neil Johnston, Prisoner’s voting rights, Briefing Paper no 07461, House of Commons Library, 14 August 2019, <https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7461#fullreport>, accessed June 24, 2022.

47 Colin Murray, “A Perfect Storm: Parliament and Prisoner Disenfranchisement”, Parliamentary Affairs, 2013, vol. 66, no 3, 511-539.

48 Meg Russell and Maria Sciara, “Independent Parliamentarians En Masse: The Changing Nature and Role of the ‘Crossbenchers’ in the House of Lords”, op. cit.

49 Kenneth O. Morgan, “Corridor or Cul de Sac? The House of Lords as a Corridor of Power”, op. cit.

50 Although there is a separate non-affiliated group which comprises the peers who belong to such small political parties as the Democratic Unionist Party and Plaid Cymru. Thomas Brown, House of Lords in 2020: Profile of Membership, House of Lords Library, 5 February 2020.

51 UK Parliament, ‘Lords Membership’, <https://members.parliament.uk/parties/Lords>, accessed April 15, 2022.

52 Michael Parsons, “Reform of the House of Lords: a ‘parliamentary version of Waiting for Godot’?”, op. cit.

53 Meg Russell and Maria Sciara, “Independent Parliamentarians En Masse: The Changing Nature and Role of the ‘Crossbenchers’ in the House of Lords”, op. cit.

54 Since then, the Convenor has been elected and has varied resources at their disposal. Lord Hope of Craighead, A View from the Crossbenches, 28 November 2016, <http://www.statutelawsociety.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/A-View-from-the-Crossbenches-Lord-Hope-lecture2.pdf>, accessed June 24, 2022.

55 “Financial assistance for Opposition parties”, UK Parliament, <https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/members-allowances/house-of-lords/financial-assistance-for-opposition-parties/>, accessed April 15, 2022.

56 Meg Russell and Maria Sciara, “Independent Parliamentarians En Masse: The Changing Nature and Role of the ‘Crossbenchers’ in the House of Lords”, op. cit.

57 Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie, “Parties and crossbenchers voting in the post-2010 House of Lords: The example of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill”, British Politics, December 2011, vol. 6, no 4, 430-452.

58 “Experience for Lord Ramsbotham – MPs and Lords”, UK Parliament, <https://members.parliament.uk/member/3744/experience>, accessed August 17, 2021.

59 “Lord Pannick QC”, Blackstone Chambers, <https://www.blackstonechambers.com/barristers/lord-pannick-qc/>, accessed August 17, 2021.

60 Neil Johnston, Prisoner’s voting rights, op. cit.

61 Julie Smith, “Fighting to ‘Take Back Control’: The House of Lords and Brexit”, op. cit, 95.

62 Ibid, 102.

63 A typical example would be Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a crossbench peer who defended his amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by saying: “Perhaps I may continue. I recall no debate at all at the time of the referendum on a customs union. The country voted narrowly to leave the European Union, but no one can argue that it voted knowingly to leave the customs union with the European Union”, House of Lords debates, Hansard, vol. 790, col. 1176, April 18, 2018.

64 Julie Smith, “Fighting to ‘Take Back Control’: The House of Lords and Brexit”, op. cit.

65 “Government Defeats in the House of Lords”, The Constitution Unit, <http://www.ucl.ac.uk/silva/constitution-unit/research/parliament/house-of-lords/lords-defeats>, accessed June 24, 2022.

66 Julie Smith, “Fighting to ‘Take Back Control’: The House of Lords and Brexit”, op. cit.; “EU Withdrawal Bill: amendments and debates”, The Institute for Government, 14 November 2017, <https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/eu-withdrawal-bill-amendments-and-debates>, accessed June 24, 2022.

67 House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 28 February 2018, col. 1647.

68 Thomas Hunt, “How DARE THEY?! Unelected Labour and Lib Dem Lords plan ‘to plunge Brexit into CHAOS’”, The Daily Express, 22 June 2017, <http://www.express.co.uk/pictures/pics/13680/queens-speech-opening-parliament-theresa-may-jeremy-corbyn-brexit-pictures>, accessed June 24, 2022.

69 “My Lords, there seems to be a body of opinion on the Conservative Benches that there is a great pressure group in this House seeking to wreck this Bill and to stop it happening so that the 31 January deadline cannot take place. That is complete rubbish, and it would be far better if Members on the Government Front Bench and Conservatives joined us in scrutinising the Bill properly, which is our function, and stop raising hares which do not exist”, House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 13 January 2020, col. 507.

70 House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 30 April 2018, col. 1847

71 “Government Defeats in the House of Lords”, The Constitution Unit, <http://www.ucl.ac.uk/silva/constitution-unit/research/parliament/house-of-lords/lords-defeats>, accessed June 24, 2022.

72 Daniel Gover and Meg Russell, Legislation at Westminster: parliamentary actors and influence in the making of British law, op. cit., 109.

73 “The other place” or “another place” are the traditional expressions used in the Lords to refer to the Commons, although “the House of Commons” or “the Commons” are also sometimes used, rather less frequently.

74 House of Lords Debates, Hansard, 6 March 2006, col. 536.

75 Daniel Gover and Meg Russell, Legislation at Westminster: parliamentary actors and influence in the making of British law, op. cit., 143.

76 Michael White, “Government suffers chaotic double defeat over bill to combat religious hatred”, The Guardian, 1 February 2006.

77 House of Commons Debates, Hansard, 31 January 2006, col. 228.

78 Ibid.

79 Meg Russell and Philip Cowley, “Modes of UK Executive–Legislative Relations Revisited”, The Political Quarterly, 2018, vol. 89, no 1, 18-28.

80 Chris Ballinger, The House of Lords, 1911-2011: a century of non-reform, op. cit.

81 Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill – First Report, HL Paper 284–I; HC 1313–I, 26 March 2012, <https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201012/jtselect/jtdraftref/284/28402.htm>, accessed June 24, 2022.

82 See for instance the Westminster Hall Debate of the House of Lords on June 18, 2018, about an e-petition which over a hundred thousand people had signed by the date of the debate. House of Lords Debates, Hansard, volume 643, columns 1WH to 28WH.

83 “Elect the House of Lords”, Electoral Reform Society, <https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/campaigns/elected-house-of-lords/>, accessed June 24, 2022.

84 Real Change Labour Manifesto, 2019, 81, <https://labour.org.uk/manifesto-2019/>, accessed June 24, 2022.

85 Stop Brexit and Build a Brighter Future the Liberal Democrats manifesto, 2019, 81, <https://www.libdems.org.uk/plan>, accessed June 24, 2022.

86 Get Brexit Done Unleash Britain’s potential: the Conservative manifesto, 2019, 48, <https://www.conservatives.com/our-plan>, accessed June 24, 2022.

87 Report of the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House, House of Lords, 31 October 2017.

88 Dan Sabbagh and Lisa O’Carroll, “PM Set to Nominate 10 Tory Peers after String of Brexit Defeats”, The Guardian, 17 May 2018, <https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/may/18/pm-set-to-nominate-10-tory-peers-in-attempt-to-overcome-brexit-defeats>, accessed June 24, 2022.

89 Fourth Report of the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House, House of Lords, 9 May 2021.

90 Meg Russell, “Lords reform is back on the agenda: what are the options?”, The Constitution Unit Blog, 23 February 2020, <https://constitution-unit.com/2020/02/23/lords-reform-is-back-on-the-agenda-what-are-the-options>, accessed June 24, 2022.

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Anne Cousson, « Reinventing the House of Lords for the XXIst century »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. 20-n°54 | 2022, mis en ligne le 18 octobre 2022, consulté le 01 décembre 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/14530 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.14530

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Anne Cousson

Anne Cousson is a Senior Lecturer in British studies at the Université de Poitiers. Her research focuses on institutional and constitutional issues of contemporary British political life. She also studies the political discourse of fundamental rights.

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