How much power does Britain's House of Lords actually have?

What do they do? Do they have the authority to kill an Act passed by the House of Commons, the way the U.S. Senate can killa bill from the Hous of Rep.? Who’s in the House of Lords? What do they do at their meetings? Do have authority of any kind? Why or why not?

See if the House of Lords Page is any help.

They are more like a watered down Supreme Court than a Senate. They can no longer do anything about legislation, besides debate it. But, if i remember right, certain judicial appeals go to them.

The recent changes to the Lords’ composition have not altered its powers. The Lords can reject a bill (with some exceptions) but the Commons can (with some other exceptions)reintroduce the bill and overrule the Lords. In practice, this amounts to a right to delay a bill for one year. There is also an unofficial convention that the Lords do not use this power over legislation which was promised by the Government during the previous election campaign. The Lords can also propose detailed amendments to most bills, although the Commons have a similar power to overrule them. In other words, the Lords’s powers amount to the right to ask the Commons to think again. Skillful use of that power can some times extract concessions from the Government.

The Lords also have same powers as the Commons to set up investigative committees, call for witnesses, ask questions to ministers etc.

Their judicial powers as the highest court of appeal (within England) are now exercised by the Law Lords, a sub-committee of senior judges. They have some similarities to the U.S. Supreme Court, but, without a written constitution to interpret, they cannot strike down legislation.

With respect to the Lords’ appellate power, it’s important to bear in mind that the Law Lords, as APB notes, are senior judges who are appointed to the Lords solely to exercise the House of Lords’ judicial powers - they are not politicians. With the exception of the Lord Chancellor, they do not change with a change in government. Nor do they participate in the political debates in the House of Lords in its legislative function. Similarly, the non-legal members of the House of Lords are ineligible, by custom, to participate or vote in the handling of appeals.

APB - I thought that the Lords do exercise appellate capacity over Scotland in civil matters, although not over Scots criminal appeals - wasn’t *Donoghue v. Stevenson,*one of the leading cases on negligence, on appeal from Scotland?

To further muddle the issue, there is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which handles appeals from Crown colonies and some Commonwealth countries. Although technically this is a different body, in practice the Law Lords are also appointed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, so the two bodies have essentially the same membership.

jti - I was in fact aware of all your points but, for the present purposes, it seemed to make sense to keep the answer as simple as possible.

The Lords’ appellate jurisdiction over civil cases from the Scottish courts is, as you have indicated, rather complicated and, in the context of the OP, something of a side issue. The only reason I specified that the Lords were the highest court of appeal ‘within England’ was to avoid having to explain the role of the European courts. The difference between the Law Lords and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was the subject of a thread some time ago.

it was? and I missed it! how often do you get to talk about the difference between the Law Lords and the Privy Council?

you’re right about the detail level - but I just thought I’d toss it in anyway. :slight_smile:

I hoped never to see the words Donoghue v. Stevenson again :wink: BTW, it is the case that established civil negligence.

Just to underscore for the non-hard core Brit Constitutionalists:

The House of Lords has two primary functions (that often get confused).

One: As the second chamber of Parliament.

Two: Senior judges (Law Lords) who are necessarily members of the House of Lords (Parliament) also constitute the supreme appellate court, confusingly called the House of Lords. There are usually no more than 7 Law Lords (IIRC). Although these 7 are members of the second chamber they don’t have any party political allegiance - I’m no longer sure if they vote on legislative matters but I’d be surprised if they did.

At the moment the HOL certainly does play second fiddle to the elected House of Commons in legislative issues but it does play a very important role in closely scrutinising proposed legislation, researching implications and sending the proposed legislation back to the House of Commons amended. The HOC doesn’t, ultimately, have to accept the amendments.

I agree with APB on its general role my only caveat being his one-year rule. I rather think the timing depends on the general pressure of other proposed legislataion, one year might well be the maximum delay but I don’t know if that is established by an Act or precedent.

One year must have elapsed between the second reading of the bill in the House of Commons in the first session and its passing in the Commons in the second session. This means that the minimum delay in bills (other than money bills) being passed under the Parliament Acts is one year.