House of Lords
The House of Lords[a] is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by appointment, heredity or official function. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster.
Members of the House of Lords are drawn from the peerage, made up of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal. The Lords Spiritual are 26 archbishops and bishops in the established Church of England. Most Lords Temporal are life peers, appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister or House of Lords Appointments Commission, but they also include hereditary peers.
Membership was once an entitlement of all hereditary peers, other than those in the peerage of Ireland, but the House of Lords Act 1999 restricted it to 92 hereditary peers. Since the resignation of the Countess of Mar in May 2020 (who had been the only female hereditary peer since 2014), none of these 92 is female. Most hereditary peerages can be inherited only by men.
While the House of Commons has a defined number of members, the number of members in the House of Lords is not fixed. Currently, it has 790 sitting members. The House of Lords is the only upper house of any bicameral parliament in the world to be larger than its lower house, and is the second-largest legislative chamber in the world behind the Chinese National People's Congress.
The House of Lords scrutinises bills that have been approved by the House of Commons. It regularly reviews and amends Bills from the Commons. While it is unable to prevent Bills passing into law, except in certain limited circumstances, it can delay Bills and force the Commons to reconsider their decisions. In this capacity, the House of Lords acts as a check on the House of Commons that is independent from the electoral process. Bills can be introduced into either the House of Lords or the House of Commons. While members of the Lords may also take on roles as government ministers, high-ranking officials such as cabinet ministers are usually drawn from the Commons. The House of Lords has its own support services, separate from the Commons, including the House of Lords Library.
The Queen's Speech is delivered in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. In addition to its role as the upper house, until the establishment of the Supreme Court in 2009, the House of Lords, through the Law Lords, acted as the final court of appeal in the United Kingdom judicial system. The House also has a Church of England role, in that Church Measures must be tabled within the House by the Lords Spiritual.
Today's Parliament of the United Kingdom largely descends, in practice, from the Parliament of England, through the Treaty of Union of 1706 and the Acts of Union that ratified the Treaty in 1707 and created a new Parliament of Great Britain to replace the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland. This new parliament was, in effect, the continuation of the Parliament of England with the addition of 45 MPs and 16 Peers to represent Scotland.
The House of Lords developed from the "Great Council" (Magnum Concilium) that advised the King during medieval times. This royal council came to be composed of ecclesiastics, noblemen, and representatives of the counties of England and Wales (afterwards, representatives of the boroughs as well). The first English Parliament is often considered to be the "Model Parliament" (held in 1295), which included archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, and representatives of the shires and boroughs.
The power of Parliament grew slowly, fluctuating as the strength of the monarchy grew or declined. For example, during much of the reign of Edward II (1307–1327), the nobility was supreme, the Crown weak, and the shire and borough representatives entirely powerless. In 1569, the authority of Parliament was for the first time recognised not simply by custom or royal charter, but by an authoritative statute, passed by Parliament itself.
During the reign of Edward II's successor, Edward III, Parliament clearly separated into two distinct chambers: the House of Commons (consisting of the shire and borough representatives) and the House of Lords (consisting of the archbishops, bishops, abbots and peers). The authority of Parliament continued to grow, and during the early 15th century both Houses exercised powers to an extent not seen before. The Lords were far more powerful than the Commons because of the great influence of the great landowners and the prelates of the realm.
The power of the nobility declined during the civil wars of the late 15th century, known as the Wars of the Roses. Much of the nobility was killed on the battlefield or executed for participation in the war, and many aristocratic estates were lost to the Crown. Moreover, feudalism was dying, and the feudal armies controlled by the barons became obsolete. Henry VII (1485–1509) clearly established the supremacy of the monarch, symbolised by the "Crown Imperial". The domination of the Sovereign continued to grow during the reigns of the Tudor monarchs in the 16th century. The Crown was at the height of its power during the reign of Henry VIII (1509–1547).
The House of Lords remained more powerful than the House of Commons, but the Lower House continued to grow in influence, reaching a zenith in relation to the House of Lords during the middle 17th century. Conflicts between the King and the Parliament (for the most part, the House of Commons) ultimately led to the English Civil War during the 1640s. In 1649, after the defeat and execution of King Charles I, the Commonwealth of England was declared, but the nation was effectively under the overall control of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland.
The House of Lords was reduced to a largely powerless body, with Cromwell and his supporters in the Commons dominating the Government. On 19 March 1649, the House of Lords was abolished by an Act of Parliament, which declared that "The Commons of England [find] by too long experience that the House of Lords is useless and dangerous to the people of England." The House of Lords did not assemble again until the Convention Parliament met in 1660 and the monarchy was restored. It returned to its former position as the more powerful chamber of Parliament—a position it would occupy until the 19th century.
The 19th century was marked by several changes to the House of Lords. The House, once a body of only about 50 members, had been greatly enlarged by the liberality of George III and his successors in creating peerages. The individual influence of a Lord of Parliament was thus diminished.
Moreover, the power of the House as a whole decreased, whilst that of the House of Commons grew. Particularly notable in the development of the Lower House's superiority was the Reform Bill of 1832. The electoral system of the House of Commons was far from democratic: property qualifications greatly restricted the size of the electorate, and the boundaries of many constituencies had not been changed for centuries.
Entire cities such as Manchester had not even one representative in the House of Commons, while the 11 voters living in Old Sarum retained their ancient right to elect two MPs. A small borough was susceptible to bribery, and was often under the control of a patron, whose nominee was guaranteed to win an election. Some aristocrats were patrons of numerous "pocket boroughs", and therefore controlled a considerable part of the membership of the House of Commons.
When the House of Commons passed a Reform Bill to correct some of these anomalies in 1831, the House of Lords rejected the proposal. The popular cause of reform, however, was not abandoned by the ministry, despite a second rejection of the bill in 1832. Prime Minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey advised the King to overwhelm opposition to the bill in the House of Lords by creating about 80 new pro-Reform peers. William IV originally balked at the proposal, which effectively threatened the opposition of the House of Lords, but at length relented.
Before the new peers were created, however, the Lords who opposed the bill admitted defeat and abstained from the vote, allowing the passage of the bill. The crisis damaged the political influence of the House of Lords but did not altogether end it. A vital reform was effected by the Lords themselves in 1868, when they changed their standing orders to abolish proxy voting, preventing Lords from voting without taking the trouble to attend. Over the course of the century the powers of the upper house were further reduced stepwise, culminating in the 20th century with the Parliament Act 1911; the Commons gradually became the stronger House of Parliament.
The status of the House of Lords returned to the forefront of debate after the election of a Liberal Government in 1906. In 1909 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, introduced into the House of Commons the "People's Budget", which proposed a land tax targeting wealthy landowners. The popular measure, however, was defeated in the heavily Conservative House of Lords.
Having made the powers of the House of Lords a primary campaign issue, the Liberals were narrowly re-elected in January 1910. The Liberals had lost most of their support in Lords, which was routinely rejecting Liberals bills. Prime Minister H. H. Asquith then proposed that the powers of the House of Lords be severely curtailed. After a further general election in December 1910, and with a reluctant promise by King George V to create sufficient new Liberal peers to overcome Lords' opposition to the measure if necessary, the Asquith Government secured the passage of a bill to curtail the powers of the House of Lords. The Parliament Act 1911 effectively abolished the power of the House of Lords to reject legislation, or to amend it in a way unacceptable to the House of Commons: most bills could be delayed for no more than three parliamentary sessions or two calendar years. It was not meant to be a permanent solution; more comprehensive reforms were planned. Neither party, however, pursued the matter with much enthusiasm, and the House of Lords remained primarily hereditary. The Parliament Act 1949 reduced the delaying power of the House of Lords further to two sessions or one year. In 1958 the predominantly hereditary nature of the House of Lords was changed by the Life Peerages Act 1958, which authorised the creation of life baronies, with no numerical limits. The number of Life Peers then gradually increased, though not at a constant rate.
The Labour Party had, for most of the 20th century, a commitment, based on the party's historic opposition to class privilege, to abolish the House of Lords, or at least expel the hereditary element. In 1968 the Labour Government of Harold Wilson attempted to reform the House of Lords by introducing a system under which hereditary peers would be allowed to remain in the House and take part in debate, but would be unable to vote. This plan, however, was defeated in the House of Commons by a coalition of traditionalist Conservatives (such as Enoch Powell), and Labour members who continued to advocate the outright abolition of the Upper House (such as Michael Foot).
When Michael Foot became leader of the Labour Party in 1980, abolition of the House of Lords became a part of the party's agenda; under his successor, Neil Kinnock, however, a reformed Upper House was proposed instead. In the meantime, the creation of hereditary peerages (except for members of the Royal Family) has been arrested, with the exception of three creations during the administration of the Conservative Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
Whilst some hereditary peers were at best apathetic, the Labour Party's clear commitments were not lost on Merlin Hanbury-Tracy, 7th Baron Sudeley, who for decades was considered an expert on the House of Lords. In December 1979 the Conservative Monday Club published his extensive paper entitled Lords Reform – Why tamper with the House of Lords? and in July 1980 The Monarchist carried another article by Sudeley entitled Why Reform or Abolish the House of Lords?. In 1990 he wrote a further booklet for the Monday Club entitled The Preservation of the House of Lords.
There were no women sitting in the House of Lords until 1958, when a small number came into the chamber as a result of the Life Peerages Act 1958. One of these was Irene Curzon, 2nd Baroness Ravensdale, who had inherited her father's peerage in 1925 and was made a life peer to enable her to sit. After a campaign stretching back in some cases to the 1920s, another twelve women who held hereditary peerages in their own right were admitted by the Peerage Act 1963.
The Labour Party included in its 1997 general election manifesto a commitment to remove the hereditary peerage from the House of Lords. Their subsequent election victory in 1997 under Tony Blair led to the denouement of the traditional House of Lords. The Labour Government introduced legislation to expel all hereditary peers from the Upper House as a first step in Lords reform. As a part of a compromise, however, it agreed to permit 92 hereditary peers to remain until the reforms were complete. Thus all but 92 hereditary peers were expelled under the House of Lords Act 1999 (see below for its provisions), making the House of Lords predominantly an appointed house.
Since 1999, however, no further reform has taken place. The Wakeham Commission proposed introducing a 20% elected element to the Lords, but this plan was widely criticised. A parliamentary Joint Committee was established in 2001 to resolve the issue, but it reached no conclusion and instead gave Parliament seven options to choose from (fully appointed, 20% elected, 40% elected, 50% elected, 60% elected, 80%, and fully elected). In a confusing series of votes in February 2003, all of these options were defeated, although the 80% elected option fell by just three votes in the Commons. Socialist MPs favouring outright abolition voted against all the options.
In 2005, a cross-party group of senior MPs (Kenneth Clarke, Paul Tyler, Tony Wright, George Young and Robin Cook) published a report proposing that 70% of members of the House of Lords should be elected—each member for a single long term—by the single transferable vote system. Most of the remainder were to be appointed by a Commission to ensure a mix of "skills, knowledge and experience". This proposal was also not implemented. A cross-party campaign initiative called "Elect the Lords" was set up to make the case for a predominantly elected Second Chamber in the run up to the 2005 general election.
At the 2005 election, the Labour Party proposed further reform of the Lords, but without specific details. The Conservative Party, which had, prior to 1997, opposed any tampering with the House of Lords, favoured an 80% elected Second Chamber, while the Liberal Democrats called for a fully elected Senate. During 2006, a cross-party committee discussed Lords reform, with the aim of reaching a consensus: its findings were published in early 2007.
On 7 March 2007, members of the House of Commons voted ten times on a variety of alternative compositions for the upper chamber. Outright abolition, a wholly appointed house, a 20% elected house, a 40% elected house, a 50% elected house and a 60% elected house were all defeated in turn. Finally the vote for an 80% elected chamber was won by 305 votes to 267, and the vote for a wholly elected chamber was won by an even greater margin: 337 to 224. Significantly this last vote represented an overall majority of MPs.
Furthermore, examination of the names of MPs voting at each division shows that, of the 305 who voted for the 80% elected option, 211 went on to vote for the 100% elected option. Given that this vote took place after the vote on 80% – whose result was already known when the vote on 100% took place – this showed a clear preference for a fully elected upper house among those who voted for the only other option that passed. But this was nevertheless only an indicative vote and many political and legislative hurdles remained to be overcome for supporters of an elected second chamber. The House of Lords, soon after, rejected this proposal and voted for an entirely appointed House of Lords.
In July 2008, Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, introduced a white paper to the House of Commons proposing to replace the House of Lords with an 80–100% elected chamber, with one third being elected at each general election, for a term of approximately 12–15 years. The white paper stated that as the peerage would be totally separated from membership of the upper house, the name "House of Lords" would no longer be appropriate: it went on to explain that there is cross-party consensus for the new chamber to be titled the "Senate of the United Kingdom"; however, to ensure the debate remains on the role of the upper house rather than its title, the white paper was neutral on the title of the new house.
On 30 November 2009, a Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords was agreed by them; certain amendments were agreed by them on 30 March 2010 and on 12 June 2014. The scandal over expenses in the Commons was at its highest pitch only six months before, and the Labourite leadership under Baroness Royall of Blaisdon determined that something sympathetic should be done.
In Meg Russell's article "Is the House of Lords already reformed?", she states three essential features of a legitimate House of Lords. The first is that it must have adequate powers over legislation to make the government think twice before making a decision. The House of Lords, she argues, currently has enough power to make it relevant. (During Tony Blair's first year, he was defeated 38 times in the Lords—but that was before the major reform with the House of Lords Act 1999) Secondly, as to the composition of the Lords, Meg Russell suggests that the composition must be distinct from the Commons, otherwise it would render the Lords useless. The third feature is the perceived legitimacy of the Lords. She writes, "In general legitimacy comes with election."
The Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition agreed, after the 2010 general election, to outline clearly a provision for a wholly or mainly elected second chamber, elected by proportional representation. These proposals sparked a debate on 29 June 2010. As an interim measure, appointment of new peers would reflect the shares of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.
Detailed proposals for Lords reform, including a draft House of Lords Reform Bill, were published on 17 May 2011. These included a 300-member hybrid house, of whom 80% would be elected. A further 20% would be appointed, and reserve space would be included for some Church of England archbishops and bishops. Under the proposals, members would also serve single non-renewable terms of 15 years. Former MPs would be allowed to stand for election to the Upper House, but members of the Upper House would not be immediately allowed to become MPs.
The proposals were considered by a Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform made up of both MPs and Peers, which issued its final report on 23 April 2012, making the following suggestions:
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg introduced the House of Lords Reform Bill 2012 on 27 June 2012 which built on proposals published on 17 May 2011. However, this Bill was abandoned by the Government on 6 August 2012, following opposition from within the Conservative Party.
The House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015 authorised the House to expel or suspend members.
This act makes provision to preferentially admit archbishops and bishops of the Church of England who are women to the Lords Spiritual in the 10 years following its commencement.
In 2015, Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester, became the first woman to sit as a Lord Spiritual in the House of Lords. As of 2019, five women bishops sit as Lords Spiritual, four of them due to this act.
In 2019, a seven-month enquiry by Naomi Ellenbogen QC found that one in five staff of the house had experienced bullying or harassment which they did not report for fear of reprisals. This was proceeded by several cases, including Liberal Democrat Lord Lester, of lords who used their position to sexually harass or abuse women.
On 19 January 2020, it was announced that House of Lords may be moved from London to a city in Northern England, likely York, or Birmingham, in the Midlands, in an attempt to "reconnect" the area. It is unclear how the Queen's Speech would be conducted in the event of a move. The idea was received negatively by many peers.
The size of the House of Lords has varied greatly throughout its history. The English House of Lords—then comprising 168 members—was joined at Westminster by 16 Scottish peers to represent the peerage of Scotland—a total of 184 nobles—in 1707's first Parliament of Great Britain. A further 28 Irish members to represent the peerage of Ireland were added in 1801 to the first Parliament of the United Kingdom. From about 220 peers in the eighteenth century, the house saw continued expansion. From about 850 peers in 1951/52, the size further rose with the increasing numbers of life peers after the Life Peerages Act 1958 and the inclusion of all Scottish peers and the first female peers in the Peerage Act 1963. It reached a record size of 1,330 in October 1999, immediately before the major Lords reform ([House of Lords Act 1999]]) reduced it to 669, mostly life peers, by March 2000.
The chamber's membership again expanded in the following decades, increasing to above eight hundred active members in 2014[contradictory] and prompting further reforms in the House of Lords Reform Act that year.
In April 2011, a cross-party group of former leading politicians, including many senior members of the House of Lords, called on the Prime Minister David Cameron to stop creating new peers. He had created 117 new peers since becoming prime minister in May 2010, a faster rate of elevation than any PM in British history. The expansion occurred while his government had tried (in vain) to reduce the size of the House of Commons by 50 members, from 650 to 600.
In August 2014, despite there being a seating capacity of only around 230 to 400 on the benches in the Lords chamber, the House had 774 active members[contradictory] (plus 54 who were not entitled to attend or vote, having been suspended or granted leave of absence). This made the House of Lords the largest parliamentary chamber in any democracy. In August 2014, former Speaker of the House of Commons Baroness Betty Boothroyd requested that "older peers should retire gracefully" to ease the overcrowding in the House of Lords. She also criticised successive prime ministers for filling the second chamber with "lobby fodder" in an attempt to help their policies become law. She made her remarks days before a new batch of peers were due to be created and several months after the passage of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014, enabling peers to retire or resign their seats in the House, which had previously been impossible.
In August 2015, following the creation of a further 45 peers in the Dissolution Honours, the total number of eligible members of the Lords increased to 826. In a report entitled Does size matter? the BBC said: "Increasingly, yes. Critics argue the House of Lords is the second largest legislature after the Chinese National People's Congress and dwarfs upper houses in other bicameral democracies such as the United States (100 senators), France (348 senators), Australia (76 senators), Canada (105 appointed senators) and India (250 members). The Lords is also larger than the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea (687 members). [...] Peers grumble that there is not enough room to accommodate all of their colleagues in the Chamber, where there are only about 400 seats, and say they are constantly jostling for space – particularly during high-profile sittings", but added, "On the other hand, defenders of the Lords say that it does a vital job scrutinising legislation, a lot of which has come its way from the Commons in recent years".
In late 2016, a Lord Speaker's committee formed to examine the issue of overcrowding, with fears membership could swell to above 1,000, and in October 2017 the committee presented its findings. In December 2017, the Lords debated and broadly approved its report, which proposed a cap on membership at 600 peers, with a fifteen-year term limit for new peers and a "two-out, one-in" limit on new appointments. By October 2018, the Lord Speaker's committee commended the reduction in peers' numbers, noting that the rate of departures had been greater than expected, with the House of Commons's approving the progress achieved without legislation.
By April 2019, with the retirement of nearly one hundred peers since the passage of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014, the number of active peers had been reduced to a total of 782, of whom 665 were life peers. This total however, remains greater than the membership of 669 peers in March 2000, after implementation of the House of Lords Act 1999 removed the bulk of the hereditary peers from their seats; it is well above the proposed 600-member cap, and is still larger than the House of Commons's 650 members.
Legislation, with the exception of money bills, may be introduced in either House.
The House of Lords debates legislation, and has power to amend or reject bills. However, the power of the Lords to reject a bill passed by the House of Commons is severely restricted by the Parliament Acts. Under those Acts, certain types of bills may be presented for the Royal Assent without the consent of the House of Lords (i.e. the Commons can override the Lords' veto). The House of Lords cannot delay a money bill (a bill that, in the view of the Speaker of the House of Commons, solely concerns national taxation or public funds) for more than one month.
Other public bills cannot be delayed by the House of Lords for more than two parliamentary sessions, or one calendar year. These provisions, however, only apply to public bills that originate in the House of Commons, and cannot have the effect of extending a parliamentary term beyond five years. A further restriction is a constitutional convention known as the Salisbury Convention, which means that the House of Lords does not oppose legislation promised in the Government's election manifesto.
By a custom that prevailed even before the Parliament Acts, the House of Lords is further restrained insofar as financial bills are concerned. The House of Lords may neither originate a bill concerning taxation or Supply (supply of treasury or exchequer funds), nor amend a bill so as to insert a taxation or Supply-related provision. (The House of Commons, however, often waives its privileges and allows the Upper House to make amendments with financial implications.) Moreover, the Upper House may not amend any Supply Bill. The House of Lords formerly maintained the absolute power to reject a bill relating to revenue or Supply, but this power was curtailed by the Parliament Acts.
The House of Lords does not control the term of the prime minister or of the government. Only the lower house may force the prime minister to resign or call elections by passing a motion of no-confidence or by withdrawing supply. Thus, the House of Lords' oversight of the government is limited.
Most Cabinet ministers are from the House of Commons rather than the House of Lords. In particular, all prime ministers since 1902 have been members of the lower house. (Alec Douglas-Home, who became prime minister in 1963 whilst still an earl, disclaimed his peerage and was elected to the Commons soon after his term began.) In recent history, it has been very rare for major cabinet positions (except Lord Chancellor and Leader of the House of Lords) to have been filled by peers.
Exceptions include Lord Carrington, who was the Secretary of State for Defence from 1970 to 1974, Secretary of State for Energy briefly for two months in early 1974 and between 1979 and 1982, Lord Cockfield, who served as Secretary of State for Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Lord Young of Graffham (Minister without Portfolio, then Secretary of State for Employment and then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade from 1984 to 1989), Baroness Amos, who served as Secretary of State for International Development, Lord Adonis, who served as Secretary of State for Transport and Lord Mandelson, who served as First Secretary of State, and President of the Board of Trade. Lord Robertson of Port Ellen was briefly a peer whilst serving as Secretary of State for Defence before resigning to take up the post of Secretary General of NATO. From 1999 to 2010 the Attorney General for England and Wales was a member of the House of Lords; the most recent was Patricia Scotland.
The House of Lords remains a source for junior ministers and members of government. Like the House of Commons, the Lords also has a Government Chief Whip as well as several Junior Whips. Where a government department is not represented by a minister in the Lords or one is not available, government whips will act as spokesmen for them.
Historically, the House of Lords held several judicial functions. Most notably, until 2009 the House of Lords served as the court of last resort for most instances of UK law. Since 1 October 2009 this role is now held by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
The Lords' judicial functions originated from the ancient role of the Curia Regis as a body that addressed the petitions of the King's subjects. The functions were exercised not by the whole House, but by a committee of "Law Lords". The bulk of the House's judicial business was conducted by the twelve Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, who were specifically appointed for this purpose under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876.
The judicial functions could also be exercised by Lords of Appeal (other members of the House who happened to have held high judicial office). No Lord of Appeal in Ordinary or Lord of Appeal could sit judicially beyond the age of seventy-five. The judicial business of the Lords was supervised by the Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and their deputy, the Second Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary.
The jurisdiction of the House of Lords extended, in civil and in criminal cases, to appeals from the courts of England and Wales, and of Northern Ireland. From Scotland, appeals were possible only in civil cases; Scotland's High Court of Justiciary is the highest court in criminal matters. The House of Lords was not the United Kingdom's only court of last resort; in some cases, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council performs such a function. The jurisdiction of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom, however, is relatively restricted; it encompasses appeals from ecclesiastical courts, disputes under the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, and a few other minor matters. Issues related to devolution were transferred from the Privy Council to the Supreme Court in 2009.
The twelve Law Lords did not all hear every case; rather, after World War II cases were heard by panels known as Appellate Committees, each of which normally consisted of five members (selected by the Senior Lord). An Appellate Committee hearing an important case could consist of more than five members. Though Appellate Committees met in separate committee rooms, judgement was given in the Lords Chamber itself. No further appeal lay from the House of Lords, although the House of Lords could refer a "preliminary question" to the European Court of Justice in cases involving an element of European Union law, and a case could be brought at the European Court of Human Rights if the House of Lords did not provide a satisfactory remedy in cases where the European Convention on Human Rights was relevant.
A distinct judicial function—one in which the whole House used to participate—is that of trying impeachments. Impeachments were brought by the House of Commons, and tried in the House of Lords; a conviction required only a majority of the Lords voting. Impeachments, however, are to all intents and purposes obsolete; the last impeachment was that of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, in 1806.
Similarly, the House of Lords was once the court that tried peers charged with high treason or felony. The House would be presided over not by the Lord Chancellor, but by the Lord High Steward, an official especially appointed for the occasion of the trial. If Parliament was not in session, then peers could be tried in a separate court, known as the Lord High Steward's Court. Only peers, their wives, and their widows (unless remarried) were entitled to such trials; the Lords Spiritual were tried in ecclesiastical courts. In 1948, the right of peers to be tried in such special courts was abolished; now, they are tried in the regular courts. The last such trial in the House was of Edward Russell, 26th Baron de Clifford, in 1935. An illustrative dramatisation circa 1928 of a trial of a peer (the fictional Duke of Denver) on a charge of murder (a felony) is portrayed in the 1972 BBC Television adaption of Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mystery Clouds of Witness.
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 resulted in the creation of a separate Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, to which the judicial function of the House of Lords, and some of the judicial functions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, were transferred. In addition, the office of Lord Chancellor was reformed by the act, removing his ability to act as both a government minister and a judge. This was motivated in part by concerns about the historical admixture of legislative, judicial, and executive power. The new Supreme Court is located at Middlesex Guildhall.
Members of the House of Lords who sit by virtue of their ecclesiastical offices are known as Lords Spiritual. Formerly, the Lords Spiritual were the majority in the English House of Lords, comprising the church's archbishops, (diocesan) bishops, abbots, and those priors who were entitled to wear a mitre. After the English Reformation's highpoint in 1539, only the archbishops and bishops continued to attend, as the Dissolution of the Monasteries had just disproved of[clarification needed] and suppressed the positions of abbot and prior. In 1642, during the few Lords' gatherings convened during English Interregnum which saw periodic war, the Lords Spiritual were excluded altogether, but they returned under the Clergy Act 1661.
The number of Lords Spiritual was further restricted by the Bishopric of Manchester Act 1847, and by later Acts. The Lords Spiritual can now number no more than 26; these are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Durham, the Bishop of Winchester (who sit by right regardless of seniority) and the 21 longest-serving archbishops and bishops from other dioceses in the Church of England (excluding the dioceses of Sodor and Man and Gibraltar in Europe, as these lie entirely outside the United Kingdom). Following a change to the law in 2014 to allow women to be ordained archbishops and bishops, the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015 was passed, which provides that whenever a vacancy arises among the Lords Spiritual during the ten years following the Act coming into force, the vacancy has to be filled by a woman, if one is eligible. This does not apply to the five archbishops and bishops who sit by right.
The current Lords Spiritual represent only the Church of England. Archbishops and bishops of the Church of Scotland historically sat in the Parliament of Scotland but were finally excluded in 1689 (after a number of previous exclusions) when the Church of Scotland became permanently Presbyterian. There are no longer archbishops and bishops in the Church of Scotland in the traditional sense of the word, and that Church has never sent members to sit in the Westminster House of Lords. The Church of Ireland did obtain representation in the House of Lords after the union of Ireland and Great Britain in 1801.
Of the Church of Ireland's ecclesiastics, four (one archbishop and three bishops) were to sit at any one time, with the members rotating at the end of every parliamentary session (which normally lasted about one year). The Church of Ireland, however, was disestablished in 1871, and thereafter ceased to be represented by Lords Spiritual. Archbishops and bishops of Welsh sees in the Church of England originally sat in the House of Lords (after 1847, only if their seniority within the church entitled them to), but the Church in Wales ceased to be a part of the Church of England in 1920 and was simultaneously disestablished in Wales. Accordingly, archbishops and bishops of the Church in Wales were no longer eligible to be appointed to the House as archbishops and bishops of the Church of England, but those already appointed remained.
Other ecclesiastics have sat in the House of Lords as Lords Temporal in recent times: Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits was appointed to the House of Lords (with the consent of the Queen, who acted on the advice of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher), as was his successor Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Julia Neuberger is the senior rabbi to the West London Synagogue. In recognition of his work at reconciliation and in the peace process in Northern Ireland, the Archbishop of Armagh (the senior Anglican archbishop in Northern Ireland), Robin Eames, was appointed to the Lords by John Major. Other clergy appointed include Donald Soper, Timothy Beaumont, and some Scottish clerics.
There have been no Roman Catholic clergy appointed, though it was rumoured that Cardinal Basil Hume and his successor Cormac Murphy O'Connor were offered peerages by James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair respectively, but declined. Hume later accepted the Order of Merit, a personal appointment of the Queen, shortly before his death. O'Connor said he had his maiden speech ready, but Roman Catholics who have received holy orders are prohibited by canon law from holding major offices connected with any government other than the Holy See.
Former Archbishops of Canterbury, having reverted to the status of a regular bishop but no longer diocesans, are invariably given life peerages and sit as Lords Temporal.
By custom at least one of the archbishops or bishops reads prayers in each legislative day (a role taken by the chaplain in the Commons). They often speak in debates; in 2004 Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, opened a debate into sentencing legislation. Measures (proposed laws of the Church of England) must be put before the Lords, and the Lords Spiritual have a role in ensuring that this takes place.
Since the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Lords Temporal have been the most numerous group in the House of Lords. Unlike the Lords Spiritual, they may be publicly partisan, aligning themselves with one or another of the political parties that dominate the House of Commons. Publicly non-partisan Lords are called crossbenchers. Originally, the Lords Temporal included several hundred hereditary peers (that is, those whose peerages may be inherited), who ranked variously as dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons (as well as Scottish Lords of Parliament). Such hereditary dignities can be created by the Crown; in modern times this is done on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day (except in the case of members of the Royal Family).
Holders of Scottish and Irish peerages were not always permitted to sit in the Lords. When Scotland united with England to form Great Britain in 1707, it was provided that the Scottish hereditary peers would only be able to elect 16 representative peers to sit in the House of Lords; the term of a representative was to extend until the next general election. A similar provision was enacted when Ireland merged with Great Britain in 1801 to form the United Kingdom; the Irish peers were allowed to elect 28 representatives, who were to retain office for life. Elections for Irish representatives ended in 1922, when most of Ireland became an independent state; elections for Scottish representatives ended with the passage of the Peerage Act 1963, under which all Scottish peers obtained seats in the Upper House.
In 1999, the Labour government brought forward the House of Lords Act removing the right of several hundred hereditary peers to sit in the House. The Act provided, as a measure intended to be temporary, that 92 people would continue to sit in the Lords by virtue of hereditary peerages, and this is still in effect.
Of the 92, two remain in the House of Lords because they hold royal offices connected with Parliament: the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain. Of the , 15 are elected by the whole House and 75 are chosen by fellow hereditary peers in the House of Lords, grouped by party. (If a hereditary peerage holder is given a life peerage, he or she becomes a member of the House of Lords without a need for a by-election.) The exclusion of other hereditary peers removed Charles, Prince of Wales (who is also Earl of Chester) and all other Royal Peers, including Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex; Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester; and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent.
The number of hereditary peers to be chosen by a political group reflects the proportion of hereditary peers that belonged to that group (see current composition below) in 1999. When an elected hereditary peer dies, a by-election is held, with a variant of the Alternative Vote system being used. If the recently deceased hereditary peer had been elected by the whole House, then so is his or her replacement; a hereditary peer elected by a specific political group (including the non-aligned crossbenchers) is replaced by a vote of the hereditary peers already elected to the Lords belonging to that political group (whether elected by that group or by the whole house).
Until 2009, the Lords Temporal also included the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, more commonly known as Law Lords, a group of individuals appointed to the House of Lords so that they could exercise its judicial functions. Lords of Appeal in Ordinary were first appointed under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876. They were selected by the Prime Minister of the day, but were formally appointed by the Sovereign. A Lord of Appeal in Ordinary had to retire at the age of 70, or, if his or her term was extended by the government, at the age of 75; after reaching such an age, the Law Lord could not hear any further cases in the House of Lords.
The number of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (excluding those who were no longer able to hear cases because of age restrictions) was limited to twelve, but could be changed by statutory instrument. By a convention of the House, Lords of Appeal in Ordinary did not take part in debates on new legislation, so as to maintain judicial independence. Lords of Appeal in Ordinary held their seats in the House of Lords for life, remaining as members even after reaching the judicial retirement age of 70 or 75. Former Lord Chancellors and holders of other high judicial office could also sit as Law Lords under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, although in practice this right was only rarely exercised.
Under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary when the Act came into effect in 2009 became judges of the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and were then barred from sitting or voting in the House of Lords until they had retired as judges. One of the main justifications for the new Supreme Court was to establish a separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature. It is therefore unlikely that future appointees to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will be made Lords of Appeal in Ordinary.
The largest group of Lords Temporal, and indeed of the whole House, are life peers. As of December 2020, there are 682 life peers eligible to vote in the House. Life peerages rank only as barons or baronesses, and are created under the Life Peerages Act 1958. Like all other peers, life peers are created by the Sovereign, who acts on the advice of the Prime Minister or the House of Lords Appointments Commission. By convention, however, the Prime Minister allows leaders of other parties to nominate some life peers, so as to maintain a political balance in the House of Lords. Moreover, some non-party life peers (the number being determined by the Prime Minister) are nominated by the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission.
In 2000 the government announced that it would set up an Independent Appointments Commission, under Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, to select fifteen so-called "people's peers" for life peerages. However, when the choices were announced in April 2001, from a list of 3,000 applicants, the choices were treated with criticism in the media, as all were distinguished in their field, and none were "ordinary people" as some had originally hoped.
Several different qualifications apply for membership of the House of Lords. No person may sit in the House of Lords if under the age of 21. Furthermore, only United Kingdom, Irish and Commonwealth citizens may sit in the House of Lords. The nationality restrictions were previously more stringent: under the Act of Settlement 1701, and prior to the British Nationality Act 1948, only natural-born subjects qualified.
Additionally, some bankruptcy-related restrictions apply to members of the Upper House. A person may not sit in the House of Lords if he or she is the subject of a Bankruptcy Restrictions Order (applicable in England and Wales only), if he or she is adjudged bankrupt (in Northern Ireland), or if his or her estate is sequestered (in Scotland). A final restriction bars an individual convicted of high treason from sitting in the House of Lords until completing his or her full term of imprisonment. An exception applies, however, if the individual convicted of high treason receives a full pardon. Note that an individual serving a prison sentence for an offence other than high treason is not automatically disqualified.
Women were excluded from the House of Lords until the Life Peerages Act 1958, passed to address the declining number of active members, made possible the creation of peerages for life. Women were immediately eligible and four were among the first life peers appointed. However, hereditary peeresses continued to be excluded until the passage of the Peerage Act 1963. Since the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999, hereditary peeresses remain eligible for election to the Upper House; until her resignation on 1 May 2020, there was one (Margaret of Mar, 31st Countess of Mar) among the 90 hereditary peers who continue to sit.
The Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 made it illegal for a peerage, or other honour, to be bought or sold. Nonetheless, there have been repeated allegations that life peerages (and thus membership of the House of Lords) have been made available to major political donors in exchange for donations. The most prominent case, the 2006 Cash for Honours scandal, saw a police investigation, with no charges being brought. A 2015 study found that of 303 people nominated for peerages in the period 2005–14, a total of 211 were former senior figures within politics (including former MPs), or were non-political appointments. Of the remaining 92 political appointments from outside public life, 27 had made significant donations to political parties. The authors concluded firstly that nominees from outside public life were much more likely to have made large gifts than peers nominated after prior political or public service. They also found that significant donors to parties were far more likely to be nominated for peerages than other party members.
Traditionally there was no mechanism by which members could resign or be removed from the House of Lords (compare the situation as regards resignation from the House of Commons). The Peerage Act 1963 permitted a person to disclaim their newly inherited peerage (within certain time limits); this meant that such a person could effectively renounce their membership of the Lords. This might be done in order to remain or become qualified to sit in the House of Commons, as in the case of Tony Benn (formerly the second Viscount Stansgate), who had campaigned for such a change.
The House of Lords Reform Act 2014 made provision for members' resignation from the House, removal for non-attendance, and automatic expulsion upon conviction for a serious criminal offence (if resulting in a jail sentence of at least one year). In June 2015, under the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015, the House's Standing Orders may provide for the expulsion or suspension of a member upon a resolution of the House.
In November 2020, Lord Ahmed retired from the House of Lords, having seen a Lords Conduct Committee report recommending he be expelled. In December the same year, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass was suspended from the House for 18 months.
Traditionally the House of Lords did not elect its own speaker, unlike the House of Commons; rather, the ex officio presiding officer was the Lord Chancellor. With the passage of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the post of Lord Speaker was created, a position to which a peer is elected by the House and subsequently appointed by the Crown. The first Lord Speaker, elected on 4 May 2006, was Baroness Hayman, a former Labour peer. As the Speaker is expected to be an impartial presiding officer, Hayman resigned from the Labour Party. In 2011, Baroness D'Souza was elected as the second Lord Speaker, replacing Hayman in September 2011. D'Souza was in turn succeeded by Lord Fowler in September 2016, the incumbent Lord Speaker.
This reform of the post of Lord Chancellor was made due to the perceived constitutional anomalies inherent in the role. The Lord Chancellor was not only the Speaker of the House of Lords, but also a member of the Cabinet; his or her department, formerly the Lord Chancellor's Department, is now called the Ministry of Justice. The Lord Chancellor is no longer the head of the judiciary of England and Wales. Hitherto, the Lord Chancellor was part of all three branches of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial.
The overlap of the legislative and executive roles is a characteristic of the Westminster system, as the entire cabinet consists of members of the House of Commons or the House of Lords; however, in June 2003, the Blair Government announced its intention to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor because of the office's mixed executive and judicial responsibilities. The abolition of the office was rejected by the House of Lords, and the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 was thus amended to preserve the office of Lord Chancellor. The Act no longer guarantees that the office holder of Lord Chancellor is the presiding officer of the House of Lords, and therefore allows the House of Lords to elect a speaker of their own.
The Lord Speaker may be replaced as presiding officer by one of his or her deputies. The Chairman of Committees, the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, and several Chairmen are all deputies to the Lord Speaker, and are all appointed by the House of Lords itself at the beginning of each session. By custom, the Crown appoints each Chairman, Principal Deputy Chairman and Deputy Chairman to the additional office of Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords. There was previously no legal requirement that the Lord Chancellor or a Deputy Speaker be a member of the House of Lords (though the same has long been customary).
Whilst presiding over the House of Lords, the Lord Chancellor traditionally wore ceremonial black and gold robes. Robes of black and gold are now worn by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in the House of Commons, on ceremonial occasions. This is no longer a requirement for the Lord Speaker except for State occasions outside of the chamber. The Speaker or Deputy Speaker sits on the Woolsack, a large red seat stuffed with wool, at the front of the Lords Chamber.
When the House of Lords resolves itself into committee (see below), the Chairman of Committees or a Deputy Chairman of Committees presides, not from the Woolsack, but from a chair at the Table of the House. The presiding officer has little power compared to the Speaker of the House of Commons. He or she only acts as the mouthpiece of the House, performing duties such as announcing the results of votes. This is because, unlike in the House of Commons where all statements are directed to "Mr/Madam Speaker", in the House of Lords they are directed to "My Lords"; i.e., the entire body of the House.
The Lord Speaker or Deputy Speaker cannot determine which members may speak, or discipline members for violating the rules of the House; these measures may be taken only by the House itself. Unlike the politically neutral Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chancellor and Deputy Speakers originally remained members of their respective parties, and were permitted to participate in debate; however, this is no longer true of the new role of Lord Speaker.
Another officer of the body is the Leader of the House of Lords, a peer selected by the Prime Minister. The Leader of the House is responsible for steering Government bills through the House of Lords, and is a member of the Cabinet. The Leader also advises the House on proper procedure when necessary, but such advice is merely informal, rather than official and binding. A Deputy Leader is also appointed by the Prime Minister, and takes the place of an absent or unavailable leader.
The Clerk of the Parliaments is the chief clerk and officer of the House of Lords (but is not a member of the House itself). The Clerk, who is appointed by the Crown, advises the presiding officer on the rules of the House, signs orders and official communications, endorses bills, and is the keeper of the official records of both Houses of Parliament. Moreover, the Clerk of the Parliaments is responsible for arranging by-elections of hereditary peers when necessary. The deputies of the Clerk of the Parliaments (the Clerk Assistant and the Reading Clerk) are appointed by the Lord Speaker, subject to the House's approval.
The Gentleman or Lady Usher of the Black Rod is also an officer of the House; they take their title from the symbol of his office, a black rod. Black Rod (as the Gentleman/Lady Usher is normally known) is responsible for ceremonial arrangements, is in charge of the House's doorkeepers, and may (upon the order of the House) take action to end disorder or disturbance in the Chamber. Black Rod also holds the office of Serjeant-at-Arms of the House of Lords, and in this capacity attends upon the Lord Speaker. The Gentleman or Lady Usher of the Black Rod's duties may be delegated to the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod or to the Assistant Serjeant-at-Arms.
The House of Lords and the House of Commons assemble in the Palace of Westminster. The Lords Chamber is lavishly decorated, in contrast with the more modestly furnished Commons Chamber. Benches in the Lords Chamber are coloured red. The Woolsack is at the front of the Chamber; the Government sit on benches on the right of the Woolsack, while members of the Opposition sit on the left. Crossbenchers, sit on the benches immediately opposite the Woolsack.
The Lords Chamber is the site of many formal ceremonies, the most famous of which is the State Opening of Parliament, held at the beginning of each new parliamentary session. During the State Opening, the Sovereign, seated on the Throne in the Lords Chamber and in the presence of both Houses of Parliament, delivers a speech outlining the Government's agenda for the upcoming parliamentary session.
In the House of Lords, members need not seek the recognition of the presiding officer before speaking, as is done in the House of Commons. If two or more Lords simultaneously rise to speak, the House decides which one is to be heard by acclamation, or, if necessary, by voting on a motion. Often, however, the Leader of the House will suggest an order, which is thereafter generally followed. Speeches in the House of Lords are addressed to the House as a whole ("My Lords") rather than to the presiding officer alone (as is the custom in the Lower House). Members may not refer to each other in the second person (as "you"), but rather use third person forms such as "the noble Duke", "the noble Earl", "the noble Lord", "my noble friend", "The most Reverend Primate", etc.
Each member may make no more than one speech on a motion, except that the mover of the motion may make one speech at the beginning of the debate and another at the end. Speeches are not subject to any time limits in the House; however, the House may put an end to a speech by approving a motion "that the noble Lord be no longer heard". It is also possible for the House to end the debate entirely, by approving a motion "that the Question be now put". This procedure is known as Closure, and is extremely rare. Six closure motions were passed on 4 April 2019 to significant media attention as part of consideration of a private member's bill concerning the .
Once all speeches on a motion have concluded, or Closure invoked, the motion may be put to a vote. The House first votes by voice vote; the Lord Speaker or Deputy Speaker puts the question, and the Lords respond either "content" (in favour of the motion) or "not content" (against the motion). The presiding officer then announces the result of the voice vote, but if his assessment is challenged by any Lord, a recorded vote known as a division follows.
Members of the House enter one of two lobbies (the content lobby or the not-content lobby) on either side of the Chamber, where their names are recorded by clerks. At each lobby are two Tellers (themselves members of the House) who count the votes of the Lords. The Lord Speaker may not take part in the vote. Once the division concludes, the Tellers provide the results thereof to the presiding officer, who then announces them to the House.
If there is an equality of votes, the motion is decided according to the following principles: legislation may proceed in its present form, unless there is a majority in favour of amending or rejecting it; any other motions are rejected, unless there is a majority in favour of approving it. The quorum of the House of Lords is just three members for a general or procedural vote, and 30 members for a vote on legislation. If fewer than three or 30 members (as appropriate) are present, the division is invalid.
By contrast with the House of Commons, the House of Lords has not until recently had an established procedure for imposing sanctions on its members. When a cash for influence scandal was referred to the Committee of Privileges in January 2009, the Leader of the House of Lords also asked the Privileges Committee to report on what sanctions the House had against its members. After seeking advice from the Attorney General for England and Wales and the former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the committee decided that the House "possessed an inherent power" to suspend errant members, although not to withhold a writ of summons nor to expel a member permanently. When the House subsequently suspended Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor of Blackburn for their role in the scandal, they were the first to meet this fate since 1642.
Recent changes have expanded the disciplinary powers of the House. Section 3 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 now provides that any member of the House of Lords convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment for more than one year loses their seat. The House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015 allows the House to set up procedures to suspend, and to expel, its members.
There are two motions which have grown up through custom and practice and which govern questionable conduct within the House. They are brought into play by a member standing up, possibly intervening on another member, and moving the motion without notice. When the debate is getting excessively heated, it is open to a member to move "that the Standing Order on Asperity of Speech be read by the Clerk". The motion can be debated, but if agreed by the House, the Clerk of the Parliaments will read Standing Order 33 which provides "That all personal, sharp, or taxing speeches be forborn". The Journals of the House of Lords record only four instances on which the House has ordered the Standing Order to be read since the procedure was invented in 1871.
For more serious problems with an individual Lord, the option is available to move "That the noble Lord be no longer heard". This motion also is debatable, and the debate which ensues has sometimes offered a chance for the member whose conduct has brought it about to come to order so that the motion can be withdrawn. If the motion is passed, its effect is to prevent the member from continuing their speech on the motion then under debate. The Journals identify eleven occasions on which this motion has been moved since 1884; four were eventually withdrawn, one was voted down, and six were passed.
In 1958, to counter criticism that some peers only appeared at major decisions in the House and thereby particular votes were swayed, the Standing Orders of the House of Lords were enhanced. Peers who did not wish to attend meetings regularly or were prevented by ill health, age or further reasons, were now able to request Leave of Absence. During the granted time a peer is expected not to visit the House's meetings until either its expiration or termination, announced at least a month prior to their return.
Via a new financial support system introduced in 2010, members of the House of Lords can opt to receive an attendance allowance per sitting day of currently £313 (as of 2019; initially it was £300 in 2010), plus limited travel expenses. Peers can choose to receive a reduced attendance allowance of £157 per day instead, or none at all. Prior to 2010, peers from outside London could claim an overnight allowance of £174.
Unlike in the House of Commons, when the term committee is used to describe a stage of a bill, this committee does not take the form of a public bill committee, but what is described as Committee of the Whole House. It is made up of all Members of the House of Lords allowing any Member to contribute to debates if he or she chooses to do so and allows for more flexible rules of procedure. It is presided over by the Chairman of Committees.
The term committee is also used to describe Grand Committee, where the same rules of procedure apply as in the main chamber, except that no divisions may take place. For this reason, business that is discussed in Grand Committee is usually uncontroversial and likely to be agreed unanimously.
Public bills may also be committed to pre-legislative committees. A pre-legislative Committee is specifically constituted for a particular bill. These committees are established in advance of the bill being laid before either the House of Lords or the House of Commons and can take evidence from the public. Such committees are rare and do not replace any of the usual stages of a bill, including committee stage.
The House of Lords also has 15 Select committees. Typically, these are sessional committees, meaning that their members are appointed by the House at the beginning of each session, and continue to serve until the next parliamentary session begins. In practice, these are often permanent committees, which are re-established during every session. These committees are typically empowered to make reports to the House "from time to time", that is, whenever they wish. Other committees are ad-hoc committees, which are set up to investigate a specific issue. When they are set up by a motion in the House, the motion will set a deadline by which the Committee must report. After this date, the Committee will cease to exist unless it is granted an extension. One example of this is the Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change. The House of Lords may appoint a chairman for a committee; if it does not do so, the Chairman of Committees or a Deputy Chairman of Committees may preside instead. Most of the Select Committees are also granted the power to co-opt members, such as the European Union Committee. The primary function of Select Committees is to scrutinise and investigate Government activities; to fulfil these aims, they are permitted to hold hearings and collect evidence. Bills may be referred to Select Committees, but are more often sent to the Committee of the Whole House and Grand Committees.
The committee system of the House of Lords also includes several Domestic Committees, which supervise or consider the House's procedures and administration. One of the Domestic Committees is the Committee of Selection, which is responsible for assigning members to many of the House's other committees.
There are currently 790 sitting members of the House of Lords, of which 682 are life peers (as of 8 December 2020). An additional 34 Lords are ineligible from participation, including eight peers who are constitutionally disqualified as members of the Judiciary.
The House of Lords Act 1999 allocated 75 of the 92 hereditary peers to the parties based on the proportion of hereditary peers that belonged to that party in 1999:
Fifteen hereditary peers are elected by the whole House, and the remaining hereditary peers are the two royal office-holders, the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain, both of whom are currently on leave of absence.
A report in 2007 stated that many members of the Lords (particularly the life peers) do not attend regularly; the average daily attendance was around 408.
While the number of hereditary peers is limited to 92, and that of Lords spiritual to 26, there is no maximum limit to the number of life peers who may be members of the House of Lords at any time.