Principal's Lecture: The Work and Role of the House of Lords

London A48

Baroness Perry, who entered the House of Lords in 1991 after a very active career in Education, provided MPW students, most them studying Politics for A level, with a very extensive introduction to the Upper House. She was interested in students’ views and, when she touched upon various controversial issues, she encouraged the audience to contribute.

Baroness Perry started by giving an overview of the House of Lords: its composition and functions and the ways in which it differs from the House of Commons. She pointed out that when the House of Lords debates new laws proposed by MPs and makes suggestions about changes to those laws, it can act quite forcefully. She gave the example of the Hunting Act of 2004, where the Lords raised some very strong objections to the proposed legislation and delayed its passage through Parliament.

Lady Perry gave examples of her own particular role as a member of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. She explained that when a Bill is going through the legislative process at the Committee stage in the Lords, this scrutiny committee will check to see that any power that is being delegated to another body is appropriate. This procedure dates from the time of King Henry VIII, who took away some of the power vested in Parliament.

Various reforms which had taken place over the last few years were discussed. For instance, the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015 was designed to help fast-track female bishops into the House of Lords over the next decade. Lady Perry pointed out that, only last year, Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester, became the first woman to sit as a Lord Spiritual in the upper house. This reform, as well as the House of Lords Reform Act of 2014, addressed some of the concerns that people hold about the Lords, especially about peers who rarely attend sittings and the lack of balance between men and women in the House.

The question of whether the House should be elected was put to the students and arguments for and against emerged. The Baroness also encouraged the audience to discuss current criticisms of the House of Lords – particularly that it was a kind of club for elderly men, who claimed generous expenses.  She was able to counter this by quoting some of the older members who proved themselves time and time again to have extensive experience, for instance in business or in the law. She argued too that, though some members of the House rarely spoke in the Chamber, most did sterling work in committees. She agreed that there were some matters that caused concern, but concluded that the Upper Chamber had a valuable role in the legislative process and that replacing it with an elected chamber would not necessarily make it function more efficiently or appropriately. 

Artem Semakin and Patricia Ward