Curbing the power of the Lords

Parliamentary reform and the power of the Lords is a common theme is Unit 2 questions; it is also frequently poorly answered by students who can easily identity the weaknesses of Lords holding power in a democracy but are less good at identifying the strengths.

Following some fairly major defeats of the current government by the Lords, they have come up with a plan to prevent it happening again – curb the powers of the Lords. The Government are suggesting a bill whereby the Lords will lose their veto over secondary legislation. Should the Lords object to this, the Government plans to force it through using the Parliament Act.

This is fascinating for many reasons. Firstly it suggests that the Government is genuinely threatened by the Lords – the only reason to go on such an all-out offensive would be because the Lords have caused them actual problems. This could be used to show the actual  power of the Lords or to show the weakness of a Government with a small majority.

It is equally useful for any essay on the UK Constitution – this change would essentially constitute a change to our constitution (as it would move where power lies, and centralise it further in the Commons). It is also useful for how important the constitution, whilst uncodified, is – the Parliament Act is one of the key pieces of legislation that underpins our constitution.

Finally, according to the BBC, “Labour said the reform was a “massive over-reaction” to the government defeat.”. Therefore for the government to be able to pass this they would require almost absolute unity from the Conservative Party and, if possible, some other party support too. Perhaps they will manage this in the light of what went on with the Syria debate but they must be absolutely certain because if they are defeated by the Lords in this matter it would not only be ironic but would also be a huge blow to the power of a Government with a tiny majority.