UNITED KINGDOM : THE HOUSE OF LORDS
I - COMPOSITION
707 members :
- 590 Life Peers.
- 26 archbishops and bishops.
- 91 Hereditary Peers.
Hereditary Peers - approximately 750 - were abolished by the November 1999 reform. However, 92 of them continue to sit provisionally (chosen by their colleagues and the groups of the House of Lords).
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 provides for the separating of the judiciary (legal system) from the legislature (Parliament) and the executive (Government) .The constitutional charges include :
- Reforming the office of Lord Chancellor (transferring his judicial functions to the Lord Chief Justice) ;
- The establishment of a new Supreme Court separate from the House of Lords and the removal of the law lords from the legislature (the new Supreme Court is expected to come into operation on october 2008).
Since 2006, the Lord speaker is elected by and among peers for five years.
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A Royal Committee report was published on January 20th 2000. It proposed a House of approximately 550 members of which the majority would be nominated by an Independent Committee for a term of 15 years. Some members of the House would also be elected for a term of 15 years.
The draft bill announced by the Government on November 7th 2001 abolishes the right for hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords. It also limits the number of its members to 600, of which 30 % should be women ; 120 members would be elected by proportional voting ; 120 members would be nominated by a committee appointed by the House itself ; and 332 members would be directly designated by political parties.
A joint committee for both Houses, established in July 2002, is notably in charge of presenting the possible options for the composition of the House of Lords (assembly that is entirely appointed or entirely elected, and intermediary systems).
In February 2006, a report elaborated by an association from the civil society was published about the institutional reform in the United Kingdom . Among the 30 proposals is the strengthening of the Parliament, with the election of 70% of the members of the House of Lords.
II - NOMINATION SYSTEM
Minimum age : 21.
A - LIFE PEERS
The Queen creates life peerages which include the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords.
The Law Lords (the House of Lords is the final court of appeal on points of law for the whole of the United Kingdom in civil cases and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in criminal cases) are nominated for life, but they give up their legal functions at the age of 75 (20 of them are retired). There are 12 of them (see above).
B - ANGLICAN BISHOPS
The archbishops of Canterbury and York and the bishops of London, Durham and Winchester are members by right as are the 21 longest-serving bishops of the other dioceses.
III - SESSIONS SYSTEM
One annual session, with an official opening at the beginning of November with a speech by the Queen who is the only person entitled to convene a new session and close the previous one.
In practice, the House of Lords general adjourns several times.
On average, the House sits for 35 weeks a year, approximately 140 days.
The working days are from Monday to Wednesday from 2:30 p.m. and Thursdays from 3:00 p.m. The House can also sit on Fridays from 11:00 am.
IV - RELATIONSHIP WITH THE OTHER CHAMBER AND THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH
A - LEGISLATIVE POWER
1) Legislative initiative
Yes, except for budgetary affairs.
2) Right to amendment
Yes, except for budgetary affairs.
3) Legislative procedure
a) Money Bills
If a money bill, previously adopted by the House of Commons and transmitted to the House of Lords before the end of the session, is not voted without amendments by the House of Lords in the month following its transmission, the bill is (unless the Commons decides otherwise) presented to the Queen for approval and becomes an Act of Parliament.
b) Public Bills
If a Public Bill is adopted by the House of Commons in two consecutive sessions and transmitted to the House of Lords during each of these sessions at least one month before the end of the session and it is dismissed by the House of Lords during each session, it can be presented to the Queen for approval after it has been rejected for the second time by the House of Lords (unless the Commons decides otherwise). It becomes an Act of Parliament as long as at least one year has passed between the second reading of the bill by the House of Commons during the first of these sessions and the date at which the bill was passed by the House of Commons during the second session.
A bill is considered as having been dismissed by the House of Lords unless it is adopted either without amendments or with amendments accepted by both Chambers.
A bill is considered as being the same bill as a previous bill transmitted to the House of Lords during the previous session if it is identical or contains only those modifications deemed necessary by the Speaker of the House of Commons due to the time passed since the bill was considered, or that represent amendments by the House of Lords.
However, the House of Commons may, when examining such a bill during the second session, propose amendments without including these in the bill. Any amendments proposed in this way will be examined by the House of Lords and, if there is agreement, will be considered as a House of Lords amendment accepted by the House of Commons.
Amendments proposed to the House of Lords are examined by the House's Select Committees.
B - CONTROLLING POWER
1) Organisation of Open Debates
In addition, one Wednesday per month, two short debates of two and a half hours maximum are organised.
The Government can make statements on important or urgent issues followed by questioning of the minister concerned for a set length of time.
3)Written and Oral Questions:
a) Four oral questions can be asked at the start of each day's session for ½ hour when there are a large number of members present.
b) 4,000 written questions are posed annually.
c) Mini-debates can also be organised. They last between one hour and one and a half hours and a member of the Government speaks at the end of them.
4) Examination of decrees implementing Acts
V - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENTS
A - THE HIGHEST COURT OF APPEAL IN THE COUNTRY
The House of Lords is the highest court of appeal in the country.
Represented by an Appellate Committee consisting of five Law Lords and the Lord Chancellor, the House of Lords is the highest court of appeal for the whole of the United Kingdom in civil cases, and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in criminal cases.
B - POWER OF EXPERTISE
1) The House of Lords exercises its power of expertise through its Select Committees, principally in two areas:
- European issues,
- Science and technology.
2) In 2001, the House of Lords created in its own institution a committee of the Constitution. It notably aims at examining the constitutional consequences of any draft bill it is submitted to. Its reports deal with texts concerning issues of principle.