History of the House of Lords

History of the House of Lords

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Kings in the Middle Ages would often consult their tenants-in-chief before making important decisions. These men were usually called to appear before the king during religious festivals (Christmas, Easter, Whitsun). Some of the men who attended these meetings were given specific jobs to perform for the king, for example, to act as treasurer. Some kings tended to ignore the advice of the barons. When this led to bad decisions the barons became angry. This is one of the reasons why the barons rebelled against King John and made him sign the Magna Carta.

Henry II was another king who tended to ignore the advice of his barons. Under the leadership of Simon de Montfort, the barons rebelled. After the Battle of Lewes in 1264, Simon de Montfort took control of the council which had now become known as Parliament (parler was Norman French for talk). The following year Simon de Montfort expanded Parliament by inviting representatives from the shires and towns to attend the meetings.

In 1275 Edward I called a meeting of Parliament. As well as his tenants-in-chief, Edward, like Simon de Montfort before him, invited representatives from every shire and town in England. As well as his tenants-in-chief, Edward invited representatives from every shire and town in England. These men were elected as representatives by the people living in the locality. When the representatives arrived they met in five different groups: (1) the prelates (bishops and abbots); (2) the magnates (earls and barons); (3) the inferior clergy; (4) the knights from the shires; (5) the citizens from the towns.

At these meetings Edward I explained about his need for money. Eventually the representatives agreed that people should pay the king a tax that amounted to a fifteenth of all their movable property. It was also agreed that a custom duty of 6s. 8d. should be paid on every sack of wool exported. As soon as agreement was reached about taxes, groups 3, 4 and 5 (the commons) were sent home. The representatives then had the job of persuading the people in their area to pay these taxes. The king then discussed issues such as new laws with his bishops, abbots, earls and barons (the lords).

After this date, whenever the king needed money, he called another Parliament. Henry VIII enhanced the importance of Parliament by his use of it during the English Reformation. In 1547 the king gave permission for members of the commons to meet at St. Stephen's Chapel, in the Palace of Westminster. In the 15th century the House of Lords was the Upper House and the House of Commons the Lower House. Membership of the House of Lords was made up of the Lords Spiritual (two Archbishops, 24 Diocesan Bishops) and the Lords Temporal which were divided into three groups: hereditary peers, peers granted peerages by the sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister, and the Law Lords, who are recruited from the ranks of Britain's High Court Judges.

In 1834 the chapel and most of the Old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire. The new Palace of Westminster was designed by Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin. The House of Lords is slightly smaller than the House of Commons and only seats 250 members. However, Barry and Pugin made the interior more impressive than the commons with the seats upholstered in red leather. The chamber is dominated by an ornate royal throne where the sovereign sits during the opening of Parliament.

Tom Paine stated in his book, The Rights of Man (1791): "What is government more than the management of the affairs of a Nation? It is not, and from its nature cannot be, the property of any particular man or family, but the whole community. The romantic and barbarous distinction of men into Kings and subjects, though it may suit the condition of courtiers, cannot that of citizens." The abolition of the House of Lords has been advocated by the left ever since Paine wrote his book over 220 years ago.

This became a major issue in 1884 when the un-elected chamber blocked moves by William Gladstone and his Liberal government to give the vote to all adult males. After lengthy negotiations Gladstone eventually accepted changes and the 1884 Reform Act was passed by the lords. However, this legislation meant that all women and 40% of adult men were still without the vote.

All the early left-wing organizations, the Social Democratic Federation, the Fabian Society, and the Independent Labour Party, argued for an elected second-chamber. On 27th February 1900, representatives of all the socialist groups in Britain formed the Labour Party under the leadership of Keir Hardie. Until he died fifteen years later, Hardie argued for the removal of an institution that he saw as a "betrayal of the core democratic principle that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those who must obey those laws".

The Liberal Party also became hostile to the House of Lords after it attempted to block reforms initiated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George. This included the People's Budget, which imposed higher taxes on unearned income, and the Old Age Pensions Act. Lloyd George reacted by touring the country making speeches in working-class areas on behalf of the budget and portraying the nobility as men who were using their privileged position to stop the poor from receiving their old age pensions. After a long struggle with the Lords the government finally got his budget through parliament.

With the House of Lords extremely unpopular with the British people, the Liberal government decided to take action to reduce its powers. The 1911 Parliament Act drastically cut the powers of the Lords. They were no longer allowed to prevent the passage of "money bills" and it also restricted their ability to delay other legislation to three sessions of parliament.

The Labour Party has always said it wants to abolish the Lords but never acted upon it. Martin Pugh, the author of Speak for Britain: A New History of the Labour Party (2011) points out: "In 1922 the party had almost no representation in the House of Lords and was officially committed to abolishing the hereditary peerage." Arthur Ponsonby introduced a bill to abolish hereditary titles altogether but there were already signs of compromise.

"While Tory propaganda strove to depict Labour as subversive and anti-Establishment, leading politicians were busy defusing the charge." Leading Labour politicians such as Ramsay MacDonald, John R. Clynes, George Barnes, Jimmy Thomas, Philip Snowden and Arthur Henderson attended royal weddings and Buckingham Palace garden parties. The idea of abolishing the House of Lords was quietly dropped and after the 1929 General Election MacDonald appointed a member of the upper chamber, Earl De La Warr, to his government, even though he admitted he was not a party member.

Attempts were made to reintroduce this policy. At the 1933 Labour Party Conference Stafford Cripps advocated that the next Labour government would immediately abolish the House of Lords, and pass an Emergency Act "to take over or regulate the financial machine, and put into force any measure that the situation may require for the immediate control or socialisation of industry and for safeguarding the supply of food and other necessaries." Cripps pointed out that it was completely unacceptable to continue a system that allows the rich to veto laws that they do not like. However, this important motion was never voted on.

Clement Attlee became the new leader of the Labour Party in 1935 and showed no interest in abolishing the House of Lords. Harold Laski continued to denounce it as "an indefensible anarchronism" and that its existence was not "compatible with the objective of Socialism". Attlee was unimpressed with this argument and when he became prime minister following the 1945 General Election he created no fewer than eighty-two hereditary peerages. He symbolised Labour's new stance by accepting an earldom when he retired in 1955.

In the 1977 Labour Party Conference decided by 6,248,000 votes to 91,000 to include the abolition of the House of Lords in Labour's election manifesto. Constitutionally any conference resolution that received two-thirds of the vote had to be included in the manifesto. James Callaghan, ignored the constitution and the abolition of the Lords did not go into the 1979 manifesto. On his retirement in 1987, he was elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Callaghan.

In March, 1994, Tony Blair was introduced to Michael Levy at a dinner party at the Israeli embassy in London by diplomat Gideon Meir. Levy was a retired businessman who now spent his time raising money for Jewish pressure-groups. Levy has been described by The Jerusalem Post as "undoubtedly the notional leader of British Jewry".

After this meeting, Levy acquired a new job, raising money for Blair. According to Robin Ramsay, the author of The Rise of New Labour, Levy raised over £7 million for Blair. In an article by John Lloyd published in the New Statesman on 27th February, 1998, the main suppliers of this money included Sir Emmanuel Kaye, a millionaire British industrialist and former funder of the Conservative Party, Sir Trevor Chin (Lex Garages and RAC), Maurice Hatter (IMO Precision Group) Alexander Bernstein (Granada Group) and Robert Gavron (Octopus Publishing).

In April, 1994, John Smith died and Blair won the leadership contest. With Levy’s money, Blair appointed Jonathan Powell as his Chief of Staff. A retired diplomat, Powell was not a member of the Labour Party. In fact, his brother, Charles Powell, was a leading advisor to Margaret Thatcher when she was in government. Alastair Campbell was the other man brought into his private office with Levy’s money. Powell and Campbell were later to become key figures in the later invasion of Iraq. It is of course a pure coincidence that this decision reflected the thinking of Israel’s government.

The Labour Party, when elected to power in 1997, promised to introduce legislation that would make the House of Lords an elected second chamber. However, Tony Blair, the prime minister changed his mind and instead called for a fully appointed House of Lords. During his first term of office, Blair created 203 life peers. Many of these were people who had provided funds for Blair. This included his chief fundraiser, Baron Levy, of Mill Hill. He made his maiden speech on 3rd December 1997, but since then he has not spoken in a debate at the House of Lords.

Blair was accused in 1999 by William Hague, the Leader of the Conservative Party and the Leader of the Opposition, of replacing the House of Lords with a "house of cronies." However, it was not until 2005 that Blair's appointments gave the Labour Party a majority in the House of Lords. It is claimed that by the time he resigned in 2007, Blair's Labour Party received over £100 million from Lord Levy and his friends.

The House of Lords is a venerable old place, indeed; but how mean, how incoherent, and how strained are the several avenues to it, and rooms about it? The matted gallery, the lobby, the back ways the king goes to it, how short are they all of the dignity of the place, and the glory of a King of Great Britain with the Lords and Commons, that so often meet there?

The tapestry of the old House of Lords is used to decorate the present, and is set off with large frames of brown stained wood. The old canopy of state is placed at the upper end of the room, with the addition of the arms of the United Kingdom, painted upon silk.

What is government more than the management of the affairs of a Nation? It is not, and from its nature cannot be, the property of any particular man or family, but the whole community. The romantic and barbarous distinction of men into Kings and subjects, though it may suit the condition of courtiers, cannot that of citizens.

We have heard The Rights of Man called a levelling system; but the only system to which the word levelling is truly applicable is the hereditary monarchical system. It is a system of mental levelling. It indiscriminately admits every species of character to the same authority. Vice and virtue, ignorance and wisdom, in short, every quality, good or bad, is put on the same level. Kings succeed each other, not as rationals, but as animals. In reverses the wholesome order of nature. It occasionally puts children over men, and the conceits of nonage over wisdom and experience. In short we cannot conceive a more ridiculous figure of government, than hereditary succession.

It is inhuman to talk of a million sterling a year, paid out of the public taxes of any country, for the support of any individual, while thousands who are forced to contribute thereto, are pining with want, and struggling with misery. What is called the splendour of a throne is no other than the corruption of the state. It is made up of a band of parasites, living in luxurious indolence, out of the public taxes.

I am very much committed that the House should seize what is a unique and historic opportunity to make clear its preference. If we are serious about reform, then we should have a largely or wholly elected second chamber. In the modern world, legitimacy is conferred by democracy. If we want the public to trust politicians, then we must trust the people who elect politicians.

Those who argue the case for an appointed second chamber normally concede that it will lack the legitimacy of an elected one. I find it extraordinary that at the start of the 21st century we should be contemplating the creation of a political structure which, by its very act of creation, will lack the political legitimacy required to give it either authority or indeed survival.

Surely there is something wrong when the Prime Minister won't even support his own manifesto.

There is much to be said for the Blair plan for an entirely appointed House of Lords. Unfortunately all of it is bad. Oligarchy has its charms - but since the days of Cromwell those charms have eluded all but the oligarchs, where in the Lords gerontocracy masquerades as experience, bishops with empty pews represent an empty shell of faith and yesteryear's politicians are pensioned into a golden dotage. No surprise then that the old turkeys on the red benches did not vote for winter festival but for their own perpetuity without the inconvenience of a trip to the hustings where most could be guaranteed a roasting.

Hybridity, they clucked, would be a very bad thing and they are right about that: there would be a strange divide between the legitimate and the illegitimate peers in any future House, part-elected and part-appointed. One hundred per cent democracy was the only possible outcome. How extraordinary it seems in the 21st century that, as we are about to go to war, yet again we are trumpeting for the democratic rights of far-away people, and still find it necessary to quote Winston Churchill: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time". How can Labour have let itself be out-reformed by Iain Duncan Smith - even if he commanded as little obedience as Blair.

This progressive reform has waited a century: now the House of Lords will remain the laughing stock of the western world. Now the chance of reform has collapsed, all due to a moment of madness in which a prime minister already accused of anti-democratic instincts has done himself needless harm. Was it the insouciance of a mind floating somewhere between Washington and Baghdad?

The House of Lords is composed of two major groups: the Lords Spiritual (who in modern times are the archbishops and some of the bishops of the Church of England) and the Lords Temporal (who are the peers who are members of the House of Lords). Although the basic distinction has existed since the origin of the House, the composition of both groups has changed over the centuries.

Formerly, a second way of dividing members of the House of Lords was geographical. Before the Acts of Union 1707 unified England and Scotland (abolishing the unicameral Scottish Parliament), the Lords Temporal were all members of the Peerage of England (which for this purpose included Wales). All holders of those titles (who were not disqualified for some reason) continued to have seats until the reforms of composition after 1997. For the representation of other geographical peerages see below.

From the Reformation until 1801 the Lords Spiritual were all members of the Church of England, the Anglican church which operated in England and Wales in that period. For the changes in the geographical areas covered by the Lords Spiritual see below.

Removal of the abbots and priors, 1539-40 Edit

Powell and Wallis in The House of Lords in the Middle Ages discuss the disappearance of the abbots and priors, who had been amongst the Lords Spiritual previously summoned to Parliament, when a new Parliament met on 28 April 1539.

Six of the abbeys whose heads were on the standard list of summonses to parliament – Abingdon, Battle, Hyde, St Augustine's Canterbury, Shrewsbury and Bardney – had voluntarily surrendered to the vicar-general, Cromwell, in the course of 1538, Coventry had followed in January 1539, and Tavistock on 3 March, two days after the issue of the parliamentary writs. The abbot of Burton, whose house was not surrendered until November, does not appear on the journal lists but he had also been omitted from all but the first six days of the preceding parliament. The prior of the Hospital is also omitted from the journal lists of attendances for this parliament though his house and order were not dissolved until May 1540.

. Parliament proceeded to confirm the title of the king and his heirs to the possession of recently dissolved monastic houses, by an act stating that "divers and sundry abbots, priors, abbesses, prioresses . of their own free and voluntary minds, good wills and assents" have surrendered their foundations. Six months later the last three abbots to resist the king's will – Reading, Glastonbury and Colchester – were hanged. When the parliament resumed after prorogation in April 1540, the abbots were all gone, the last, Robert Fuller of Waltham, having surrendered the previous month and retired on a pension of £200 a year.

Removal of the Lords Spiritual, 1642 Edit

The right of the Lords Spiritual to sit in the House of Lords was removed during the Long Parliament under the Clergy Act 1640 (passed in 1642). [1] As this legislation had passed both Houses and received royal assent, the Royalists accepted it was a valid law. After the restoration of the monarch in 1660 the Lords Spiritual were readmitted to membership of the House of Lords when the Clergy Act 1661 [2] was passed.

Abolition of the House of Lords, 1649 Edit

On 19 March 1649 the House of Commons abolished the House of Lords. This revolutionary action did not obtain the consent of either Lords or the King and so it was not recognised as a valid law after the restoration of the King.

The first part of the abolishing Act was as follows. [3]

The Commons of England assembled in Parliament, finding by too long experience that the House of Lords is useless and dangerous to the people of England to be continued, have thought fit to ordain and enact, and be it ordained and enacted by this present Parliament, and by the authority of the same, that from henceforth the House of Lords in Parliament shall be and is hereby wholly abolished and taken away and that the Lords shall not from henceforth meet or sit in the said House called the Lords' House, or in any other house or place whatsoever .

Re-establishment of the House of Lords, 1660 Edit

The Lords Temporal resumed meeting as the House of Lords, in the Convention Parliament which restored the monarchy. [4]

Re-admission of the Lords Spiritual, 1661 Edit

The Clergy Act 1661 permitted the prelates of the Church of England to resume sitting as members of the House of Lords.

Representation of the peerages of Scotland and Great Britain from 1707 Edit

Under the Treaty of Union and subsequent legislation, the Kingdoms of England and Scotland were merged into the United Kingdom of Great Britain. From 1707 no further Peers of England or of Scotland were created. New titles were created in the Peerage of Great Britain and these conferred seats in the House of Lords.

The Peerage of Scotland were not all given seats in the House of Lords. Instead they were allowed to elect representative peers to each parliament. See List of Scottish representative peers.

Article XXII of the Treaty of Union provides:

Of the Peers of Scotland at the time of the Union Sixteen shall be the number to Sit and Vote in the House of Lords . And when Her Majesty Her Heirs or Successors, shall Declare Her or their pleasure for holding the first or any subsequent Parliament of Great Britain until the Parliament of Great Britain shall make further provision therein, A Writ do issue under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom, Directed to the Privy Council of Scotland, Commanding them to Cause Sixteen Peers, who are to sit in the House of Lords to be Summoned to Parliament . in such manner as by a subsequent Act of this present session of the Parliament of Scotland shall be settled .

The Church of Scotland was not given any representation in the House of Lords, so the existing Lords Spiritual were unaffected by the Union.

Representation of the peerages of Ireland and the UK from 1801 Edit

Under the Act of Union 1800 the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland were merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1 January 1801. No further peers of Great Britain were created, although the power to create new Irish peerages in certain circumstances was retained and exercised in the nineteenth century.

New titles created in the Peerage of the United Kingdom conferred a seat in the House of Lords. The Peerage of Ireland was represented in the House of Lords by twenty eight representative peers, elected for life. See List of Irish representative peers.

Representation of the Church of Ireland from 1801 Edit

The Anglican church in Ireland, the Church of Ireland, was the established church of the country at the time of the Union. The Archbishops and Bishops of that church were given representation in the House of Lords.

Under the provisions of the Act of Union 1800, one archbishop and the three bishops chosen by rotation (changing for each session of Parliament) would be Lords Spiritual in the newly united United Kingdom House of Lords in Westminster, joining the two archbishops (Canterbury and York) and the twenty-four bishops from the Church of England.

Exclusion of life peers by prerogative, 1856 Edit

In 1856 an attempt was made to use the royal prerogative to create a life peer. This was a revival of a royal power unused (for male recipients) since the reign of King Richard II of England. In the Wensleydale Peerage Case (see Peerage law) the House of Lords decided that peers created for life were not entitled to a seat in the House.

Removal of the Irish Lords Spiritual, 1871 Edit

Though the religion of a minority of Irish people at the time, the Church of Ireland remained the official, established religion of Ireland, until its disestablishment by the Irish Church Act 1869 came into effect in 1871. The representation of the Church in the House of Lords also ceased.

Admission of the Law Lords, 1876 Edit

Eminent lawyers were appointed as Lords of Appeal in Ordinary from 1876. Originally they held seats in the House of Lords only until they retired as law lords (similarly to the practice for Bishops), but in 1887 the seats were conferred for life. See List of law life peerages.

Removal of the Welsh Lords Spiritual, 1920 Edit

The Church of England was disestablished in Wales with the Welsh Church Act 1914 (with implementation delayed until 1920 due to the war). The bishops of the new Church in Wales ceased to be eligible to become Lords Spiritual in Parliament.

Removal of the representative peers of Ireland, 1922-1961 Edit

Peers in the Peerage of Ireland elected representative peers for life from the Union of 1801 until the Irish Free State became an independent Dominion in 1922. The last Irish representative peer died in 1961.

Admission of life peers by statute, 1958 Edit

From 1958 life peers, in the degree of Baron or Baroness, were created. For the first time women became eligible to sit in the House of Lords. Since 1964 almost all peerages have been created in this category.

Peerage Act 1963 Edit

The Peerage Act 1963 had three significant yet distinct effects on the House of Lords introducing the right of hereditary peers to renounce an inherited title, allowing female hereditary peers to take a seat in Parliament for the first time, and withdrawing the restrictions on the number of Scottish peers that could sit in the House of Lords. [5]

House of Lords Act 1999 Edit

The House of Lords Act 1999 withdrew the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords as the first stage of a planned reform by the Labour government of Tony Blair. [6] However 92 hereditary peers were allowed to remain pending completion of the second stage of the proposed reforms. [7]

House of Lords Reform Act 2014 Edit

The House of Lords Reform Act 2014 allowed members to resign from the House previously there was no mechanism for this. It also allowed for the (non-retrospective) exclusion of any peer convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one year or more.

House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015 Edit

The House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015 authorised the House to expel or suspend members.

Originally the two Houses of Parliament had equal legislative powers. The agreement of both was necessary before a Bill could be submitted to the Monarch for royal assent, which if granted made the Bill an Act of Parliament. After the English Restoration a constitutional convention arose that the House of Lords would defer to the House of Commons on measures to raise and spend money. This did not affect the legal powers of the House of Lords. After the split in the Liberal Party over the First Irish Home Rule Bill in 1886, most Whig aristocrats left the Gladstonian Liberal party and became Liberal Unionists. The effect was to reinforce an already large Conservative majority in the House of Lords.

Liberal governments in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century had difficulty in getting major legislation through the upper house. On issues as central to the politics of the day as Home Rule and as dear to the hearts of radicals as the end of plural voting, the Lords were implacably opposed.

Parliament Act 1911 Edit

When in 1909, the House of Lords rejected the Finance Bill (giving effect to the People's Budget which imposed new taxes on landowners), a constitutional crisis arose when the Liberals ideally wanted to reduce the power of the Lords.

The crisis of the Finance Bill was resolved by the January election of 1910 after which the Lords passed the bill, but it did not end the constitutional crisis. A compromise was not found until after the December election of 1910 when a bill was produced dealing only with the powers, but promising in the preamble to reform the house on a popular basis.

The Parliament Act 1911 divided Bills into three classes.

  1. Money bills, which could be given royal assent without the Lords' approval if they did not consent within one month.
  2. On most other bills the House of Lords was given a suspensory veto. If the Commons passed the same measure in three successive Parliamentary sessions, covering at least two years, then it could become law without the agreement of the Lords.
  3. The remaining class related to bills to extend the maximum term of the House of Commons beyond five years. The House of Lords retained equal legislative power for those Bills.

Parliament Act 1949 Edit

Since 1911 there have been various attempts to reform the Lords, but none tackled the powers of the House except the Parliament Act 1949 which reduced the suspensory veto to two sessions and one year. By the time of the 1997 UK election there was still no consensus about a comprehensive reform of the upper chamber of Parliament.

History of the House of Lords: A Short Introduction (354 KB , PDF)

In so doing, the briefing charts the principal developments affecting the House over the course of its history and highlights the main changes and legislation passed. Since the 19th century a number of Acts of Parliament have had a noteworthy effect on the role, powers and membership of the House of Lords. These include:

  • Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876
  • Parliament Act 1911 and 1949
  • Life Peerages Act 1958
  • Peerage Act 1963
  • House of Lords Act 1999
  • House of Lords Reform Act 2014
  • House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015

This briefing identifies other proposals made that have sought to reform the House, either in regard to its role, powers and/or membership. Significant reform proposals over the last 100 years, including those sponsored by the Government of the day, have included:

  • Bryce Commission 1918
  • Parliament (No 2) Bill 1968&ndash69
  • Wakeham Commission 2000
  • House of Lords Reform Bill 2012&ndash13
  • Strathclyde Review (2015)

This updated briefing also summarises the proposals for reform debated during the 2015&ndash17 parliament.

Acts of Union

Under the Acts of Union between England and Scotland in 1707, the Scottish peers elected for each Parliament 16 of their number. When Ireland joined the union in 1801, its peers were granted the right to elect 28 of their number, but in this case the elections were for life. After most of Ireland became independent in the 1920s, this procedure ceased to operate, and the representative peers of Ireland gradually died out, the last of them, the Earl of Kilmorey, dying in 1961. The Church of Ireland was represented by 4 bishops from 1801 to 1870, after which it was disestablished under the Gladstone government. In 1963, all Scottish peers were granted the right to sit in the House. Another reform in that act was to grant inheritors of peerages the right to disclaim them for life, thus allowing them to sit in the House of Commons instead (if elected).

History of the House of Lords

The House of Lords is the Upper House of UK Parliament and its meeting venue is the Palace of Westminster in London. It is separate from the House of Commons and posesses three important roles. These are forming laws, considering public policy issues and checking the work of the government. House of Lords has a long history starting from 11th century by the formation of a Parliament attended by Royalties and religious Leaders of stature. As time went by, it included members representing couties, cities or boroughs followed by a series of Acts and legislations working their way towards a genuine and accountable democray for United Kingdom.

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11th to 14th Century

A parliamanet was formed in 11th century in the Witans (Anglo-Saxons) with Kings and religious leaders being the members. By the 13th century, the attendance widened to include dignitaries representing couties, cities and boroughs. By the 14th century, these members representing couties or boroughs etc started to gather in House of Commons while the bishops, nobles and other dignitaries started gathering in the House of Lords.

15th century to 17th Century

In 15th century, the nobles (Lords Temporal) started being known as peers and were categorized as duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron. In 1689, a bill was was passed which gave the parliament immense authority, so much so that it bypassed the authority of the King.

18th century and 19th Century

18th Century saw a single parliament for Great Britain, and then United Kingdom was formed by uniting Scotland and Ireland. In the 19th century the number of bishops to attend the House was restircted to 26.

20th Century

1909 saw the emasculation of House of Lords' power to reject a bill passed by the Commons. Another Act of Parliament on 1911 limited the rights of House of Lords' regarding Money Bills. It stated that Money Bills would automatically become laws if not passed by the House of Lords without changes within a month. The Act also stated that House of Lords can not veto any Bill but can only delay a Bill for upto 2 years, or for money Bills, the delay could be upto one month. House of Lords' delaying power of two years for public bills was reduced to one year in 1949. In 1958, Act of Parliament allowed the formation of Peerages for life - hereditary peers were made members of life in 1963 and in 1999, the hereditary Peers lost their power to sit or vote in the House.

21st Century

In 2006, the first election of House of Lord for a Lord Speaker was held and in 2009, the judicial function was transferred to UK Supreme Court.

← i. xxviii | i. 1 → CHAPTER ONE

The Evolution of the House of Lords: The origins to the Restoration

The House of Lords: the roots

We must go to the dawn of English political history to look for the roots of the House of Lords. The early English kings, presumably from the beginning of the seventh century on, ruled with the assistance of witan, the ‘wise men’. This group of ‘wise men’ assembled together in what was called the witenagemot.1 The members of this assembly were the king’s favourites, and therefore could hardly be called representative.

We learn, again from history, that about 695 the witan took a leading part in drafting the Dooms of King Withred of Kent (about 695). And about two hundred years later King Alfred (871–900) approved some of the laws observed by his predecessors, but ‘annulled’ those he did not approve of on ‘the advice of my witan’, ordering these laws ‘to be observed in a different fashion’. But then, Alfred alleges, that ‘I, Alfred, King of the West Saxons, have shown these to all my witan, and they have declared that it met with the approval of all that they should be observed.’

Not all English kings resorted to the advice of the witan. King Edgar (959–75) disregarded them, as did Ethelred II (978–1016). We note witenagemot mentioned seven times during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042–66), but reference is.

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1 This photograph shows the original arrangement of the throne and consorts’ chairs, as it appeared throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1901 King Edward VII ordered a second throne for Queen Alexandra. Its design, in almost all respects a replica of the original, is in the Victoria & Albert Museum. Since then the intended arrangement has not been used again. Today the original throne stands alone and is kept covered, on all except state occasions.

2 The Illustrated London News, 17 April 1847, p. 245.

3 The quarrel was initiated by Pugin’s eldest son, E. W. Pugin, with his book, Who was the Art Architect of the Houses of Parliament? (1867). It was answered by A. Barry, who had just completed a biography of his father, in The Architect of the New Palace at Westminster. A reply to the statements of Mr. E. Pugin (1868), and followed by E. W. Pugin in Notes on the reply of the Rev. Alftrd Barry, D.D., to the ‘infatuated statements’ made by E. W. Pugin on the Houses of Parliament (1868). A final comment was added by E. M. Barry, another son, in a pamphlet printed for private circulation, Correspondence with Mr. J. R. Herbert, R.A., and letters of the late Mr. Pugin (1868). Much information about the construction of the Houses of Parliament which appears in these books is not known from any other source.

4 Sunday Times Magazine, 17 October 1983, p. 62.

5 Crook , J. Mordaunt and Port , M. H. History of the King’s Works , Vi ( 1973 ), 519 - 20 and pi. 35A.Google Scholar

6 The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction, 15 November 1834, p. 338. I am indebted to Clive Wainwright for drawing my attention to this description and for his informative and perceptive ideas on the subject of thrones.

7 The temporary House of Lords, from a drawing by Shepherd , T. H. History of the King’s Works , vi ( 1973 ), pi. 35B .Google Scholar The engraving given in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction, 14 February 1835, p. 97, appears to be inaccurate, with the throne and its canopy looking like a cut-down version of Soane’s design of 1820.

8 I am grateful to Clive Wainwright andjohn Hardy for drawing this object to my attention.

9 The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction, 14 February 1835, p. 98.

10 The Duchess of Devonshire, The House: A Portrait of Chatsworth (1982) p. 138.

12 Ported , M. H. . The Houses of Parliament ( 1976 ), pi. 70 .Google Scholar

13 SRO Ministry of Works MSS Holyrood Abbey. I am indebted to Dr James Macaulay for drawing my attention to these drawings.

14 See this volume Macaulay , James ‘The Architectural Collaboration between Graham , j. Gillespie and Pugin’ , A. W. pp. 406 - 20 .Google Scholar

15 PRO Works 29/13 5 and HLRO Moulton-Barrett volume, p. 335. There is also a tracing by John Gibson of a perspective of the interior of the House of Lords looking towards the throne, in the Victoria & Albert Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, E67—1912.

16 Mostly in the RIBA Drawings Collection, see particularly Sketches vol. 1 Quarto and Ran 2.

17 RIBA , A. W. Pugin Catalogue [ 50 ] 6 - 10 Google Scholar , described in Wedgwood , A. The Pugin Family ( 1977 ), PP 62 - 63 .Google Scholar These newly discovered drawings had remained in the possession of the Barry family. There is also a grey wash design for six paterae, with a water-mark of 1840, unsigned but undoubtedly by A. W. Pugin, in the library of the Society of Antiquaries.

18 RIBA Drawings Collection Sketches , C. Barry vol. 1 , p. 74 and HLRO Moulton-Barrett volume, p. 189 .Google Scholar

19 HLRO Moulton-Barrett volume, p. 312.

21 Port , M. H. ed., op. cit., pi. 66 .Google Scholar

22 Ported , M. H. . op. cit., p. 109 .Google Scholar

24 In the Lord Great Chamberlain’s Records (HLRO) is a ‘Memorandum respecting the place of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in the House of Lords’, dated 4 January 1842, written by J. Pulman, Deputy Black Rod. This summarizes evidence from the sixteenth century onwards for there being a chair by the throne for the Heir 1 am indebted tojohn Sainty, Clerk of the Parliaments, for suggesting this source). An order ofProcession in this year mentions the chair for the Prince of Wales, and an empty chair is shown on the right of the monarch in a painting by Alexander Blaikley of Queen Victoria opening Parliament on 4 February 1845 (Palace of Westminster collection). At Grimsthorpe Castle two consorts’ chairs are preserved as being that of Prince Albert 1840-47 and that of the Prince of Wales 1842—47 (Guidebook to Grimsthorpe Castle).

25 There are reasons for being somewhat suspicious of the date the drawing is pen and ink on tracing paper which has been mounted and the date continues across a tear in the tracing paper on to the mount. The date may represent when the tracing was made from an earlier original.

A Brief History of the House of Lords

This chapter summarises the history of the House of Lords, from the emergence of bicameralism in the 14th century to Labour’s reform in 1999. It describes the chamber’s changing membership, role and powers, and frequent pressures for its reform. It charts various controversies about peerage creations, the chamber’s abolition in the 17th century, its gradual expansion during the 18th and 19th centuries, and tensions during the growth of democracy for the House of Commons (e.g. over the 1832 'Great Reform Act'). The chapter is chronological, devoting gradually more words to recent history. In the 20th century it covers the crisis over the 1909 'people’s budget’, the passage of the 1911 and 1949 Parliament Acts, the 1958 Life Peerages Act and 1999 House of Lords Act. It demonstrates that many contemporary controversies about the Lords are not new, and that while small reforms have often succeeded, larger ones have generally failed.

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History of the House of Lords - History


This note outlines some of the key dates in the evolution of the House of Lords.

11 TH CENTURY: Origins of Parliament in the Witans councils consulted by Saxon Kings and attended by religious leaders, magnates and the King's own ministers.

13 TH CENTURY: Attendance began to include representatives of counties, cities and boroughs.

14 TH CENTURY: Two distinct houses emerged. One composed of shire and borough representatives became known as the Commons the other of religious leaders (Lords Spiritual) and magnates (Lords Temporal) became known as the Upper House.

15 TH CENTURY: Membership of Lords Temporal had by now become almost entirely hereditary and male, members being summoned by writ rather than chosen by the monarch. The Lords Temporal became known as 'peers' i.e. equal among themselves but with five ranks - Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount and Baron.

16 TH CENTURY: Until the suppression of the monasteries in 1539 the Lords Spiritual consisted of bishops, abbots and priors. After 1539, only bishops attended and the Lords Temporal formed the majority for the first time.

17 TH CENTURY: In 1642 during the Civil War bishops were excluded from the House of Lords but returned by the Clergy Act 1661. In 1649 the House itself ceased to exist but resumed separate sittings in 1660. The Commons pre-eminence in financial matters was given an official basis in the passing of resolutions in 1671 and 1678 after attempts by the Lords to breach the convention. The 1689 Bill of Rights, initiated by the Commons, established the authority of Parliament over the King.

18 TH CENTURY: The Acts of Union (1707 with Scotland and 1800 with Ireland) entitled Scottish and Irish peers to elect representatives from among their number to sit in the Lords.

19 TH CENTURY: The Bishopric of Manchester Act 1847 (and later Acts), limited the number of bishops entitled to sit. Most of the Irish and all the Welsh bishops ceased to sit when their respective churches were disestablished in 1869 and 1920. Retired bishops cannot sit or vote in the House. The Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 enabled the sovereign to create Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (Law Lords) to fulfill the judicial function of the House of Lords. Unlike bishops, retired Law Lords can continue to sit and vote. They were, in effect, the first Life Peerages.

20 TH CENTURY: In 1909 the Lords rejected the Liberal Government's budget. The Liberals then introduced a bill to end the Lords' power to reject legislation approved by the Commons, which was passed under the threat of a large creation of Liberal peers. The Parliament Act 1911 provided that:

    Money bills approved by the Commons became law if not passed without amendment by the Lords within one month.

1922 : Elections for Irish representative peers ceased.

The Parliament Act 1949 reduced the delaying power of the 1911 Act in respect of Public Bills other than Money Bills to two sessions and one year respectively.

The Life Peerages Act 1958 permitted the creation of baronies for life, with no limit on numbers, to persons of either sex. At about the same time allowances for peers' out-of-pocket expenses and the system of 'leave of absence' for peers who did not wish or could not attend the House for a long period were introduced.

The Peerage Act 1963 allowed hereditary peeresses to be members of the House, hereditary peerages to be disclaimed for life and for all Scottish peers to sit.

1968 : The Labour Government introduced the Parliament (No.2) Bill, which would have created a two-tier House of created members who could speak and vote and others who could speak but not vote. The Bill was so held up at Committee Stage in the House of Commons by both Labour and Conservative MPs that it had to be abandoned.

1999: The House of Lords Act 1999 removed the right of most hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House. An amendment to the House of Lords Bill, tabled by Lord Weatherill and accepted by the Government, enabled 92 hereditary peers to remain until the House was fully reformed. A Royal Commission, chaired by Lord Wakeham, was set up to consider the role, functions and composition of the second chamber.

House of Lords

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House of Lords, the upper chamber of Great Britain’s bicameral legislature. Originated in the 11th century, when the Anglo-Saxon kings consulted witans (councils) composed of religious leaders and the monarch’s ministers, it emerged as a distinct element of Parliament in the 13th and 14th centuries. It currently comprises the following elements: (1) the Lords Spiritual, including the archbishops of Canterbury and York and the bishops of Durham, London, and Winchester, as well as 21 other bishops holding sees in England (2) from November 1999, 92 hereditary peers (3) from January 1980, all life peers and peeresses created under the Life Peerages Act of 1958. A fourth element, the Law Lords, consisting of the judges of the Supreme Court of Judicature (the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Justice), acted as Britain’s final court of appeal (except for Scottish criminal cases) until 2009, when the Law Lords were abolished and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom came into being. The total number of persons qualified to sit in the House of Lords is in excess of 670.

The powers of the modern House of Lords are extremely limited—necessarily so, since the permanent and substantial majority enjoyed there by the Conservative Party would otherwise be incompatible with the principles of representative government. The House of Lords’ powers are defined in the Parliament Act of 1911 and 1949. Under the 1911 act, all bills specified by the speaker of the House of Commons as money bills (involving taxation or expenditures) become law one month after being sent for consideration to the House of Lords, with or without the consent of that house. Under the 1949 act, all other public bills (except bills to extend the maximum duration of Parliament) not receiving the approval of the House of Lords become law provided that they are passed by two successive parliamentary sessions and that a period of one year has elapsed between the bill’s second reading in the first session and its third reading in the second session. On rare occasions the 1949 act has been used to pass controversial legislation lacking the Lords’ support—including the War Crimes Act of 1991, which enabled Britain to prosecute alleged war criminals who became British citizens or residents of Britain. A principal effect of the act has thus been to discourage the House of Lords from opposing bills strongly supported by the House of Commons. The Salisbury convention of 1945, which prevents the Lords from rejecting a bill at second reading (the principal stage at which parliamentary bills are debated) if it fulfills any pledge in the government’s election manifesto, has further constrained the Lords’ power.

Despite these limitations, the House of Lords plays a significant role in Parliament. Its most useful functions are the revision of bills that the House of Commons has not formulated in sufficient detail and the first hearing of noncontroversial bills that are then able, with a minimum of debate, to pass through the House of Commons. It is further argued by some observers that the House of Lords serves a valuable function by providing a national forum of debate free from the constraints of party discipline. Although the defeat of government legislation by the house has been relatively rare on major legislation, it sometimes does defy the government, especially Labour Party governments. For example, 230 pieces of legislation proposed by the Labour government of 1974–79 were defeated by the House of Lords.

In 1998 the Labour government of Tony Blair introduced legislation to deprive hereditary peers (by then numbering 750) of their 700-year-old right to sit and vote in the upper chamber. A compromise, however, allowed 92 of them—who were elected by their fellow peers—to remain as temporary members. The measure, which went into effect in late 1999, was seen as a prelude to wider reform, and in 2007 members of the House of Commons offered support for two separate proposals, one calling for the House of Lords to be 80-percent elected, the other 100-percent elected. The nonbinding vote was influential in forming the July 2008 White Paper put forward by Justice Secretary Jack Straw that outlined potential reforms. These included the reduction of the total number of lords, the complete severance of ties between the peerage and seats in Parliament, and an either 80- or 100-percent elected chamber consisting of lords serving nonrenewable 12- or 15-year terms. Future votes in both houses were required before any such restructuring of the House of Lords could occur.

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