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Cover Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, and Human Rights

6. The House of Lords  

This chapter examines whether the House of Lords plays an effective anti-majoritarian legislative role. The chapter begins by discussing the changing nature of the relationship between the Commons and the Lords in the post-revolutionary era, focusing in particular on the emergence in the early nineteenth century of a political presumption that the Lords was becoming the inferior partner within Parliament and on the passage of the Parliament Act 1911 in which legal force was given to that political presumption. The chapter also addresses the various proposals put forward in the modern era to reform both the composition and the powers of the House of Lords, and suggests that most reform plans present a paradox. The more we ask a second chamber to perform functions complementary to those of the Commons, the more we demand of its members that they be (as individuals and as a body) ‘expert’, ‘experienced’, and ‘nonpartisan’, and so the more we reveal the crushing dominance of party politics in the lower house, and the incapacity and/or unwillingness of backbench MPs to exert a restraining influence on government activities. This suggests that the key division within the legislative process is now not Lords versus Commons, nor Labour versus Conservative, but party versus national interest. The final part of the chapter explores a more obviously ‘legal’ question; namely the implications of the Parliament Act 1911 for traditional understandings of the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty.