The House of Lords in a Contemporary UK Poliitics

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INTRODUCTION Britain is a vigorous, creative and dynamic country. Its people are inventive, talented and diligent. They deserve a framework for their country which reflects the unique character of the place and the people. Parliament is where the will of Britain's people is expressed: where the temper, direction and course of our country is set. Parliament is the core of political accountability in Britain, where the decision of the electorate to support a published programme of policies is transformed into legislation, into consideration of the opportunities and difficulties facing the nation, and into leadership in government. But for Parliament to carry out these functions, it must rest on the assent of the people of Britain. To sustain that, it must carry out its work with

authority, and with integrity. In recent years, both the authority and integrity of Parliament have been questioned, and its representativeness subject to ever-closer scrutiny. Parliament itself has taken steps to respond to this challenge to its role and performance, by improving its standards and examining its practices. The Government believes that Britain, like other large mature democracies, needs a two-chamber legislature. While other major democracies show a wide range of variation in how they form their second chambers, a second chamber is a feature of almost all of them. But the second chamber must have a distinctive role and must neither usurp, nor threaten, the supremacy of the first chamber. Ensuring that the principal democratic mechanism of Britain ¬ the House

of Commons ¬ works in the best possible way is important. The ability of the elected Government to fulfil its electoral contract with the British people and deliver what they have asked it to do primarily depends on the proper performance of the House of Commons, but it rests too on an effective and balanced second chamber ¬ the House of Lords. While the House of Commons clearly reflects the wishes of the people, and so is the source of both legitimacy and power of the elected Government, the House of Lords has an important role as a significant element in the legislative process. The House of Lords cannot be immune from change. The House of Lords needs to adapt and modernise. The House of Lords has a number of functions within Parliament ¬ considering and amending

legislation, questioning the Government through debates and questions to Ministers, debating matters of public interest and carrying out specialist investigations through select committees of the House. These are all important jobs for a second chamber, and the increasing volume and complexity of Government work and Government legislation means that both the workload of the House of Lords is increasing and its contribution to the legislative process is greater. The most distinctive and important role of the present House of Lords is the specialist expertise and independent perspective it can bring to the scrutiny of legislation. But the House of Lords and the work it carries out suffer from its lack of legitimacy, because the presence of the hereditary peers creates a permanent,

inbuilt majority for a single party. For its functions to be properly performed, the House of Lords needs a degree of legitimacy which it does not now enjoy. This limits the extent to which it can make a proper contribution as a second Parliamentary chamber. Reforming the House of Lords is a key element of the Government’s legislative plans, and proposals for further reform go beyond that. I am convinced that many of the key institutions of Britain are amongst the best in the world. They have developed ¬ many of them over centuries ¬ in ways which catch the character of Britain and the British people: a character rooted in fairness, in decency and in democracy. They have changed throughout their history: they will continue to change, now and in the future. All