Members of the House of Lords come to Parliament from many walks of life, with backgrounds and successful careers in business, culture, science, sports, the academic world, politics and public service. Members work for and on behalf of the people of the UK, contributing their judgment and past experience to the work of the House of Lords.
The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament, and its work complements that of the House of Commons, sharing responsibility for new legislation and scrutinising the actions of government. As it sets its own timetable the House of Lords generally has more debating time than the House of Commons, so it can examine legislation in much more detail. The House of Lords has no power to veto legislation but has the ability to delay and ask the government and the House of Commons to think again.
Membership of the Lords
Currently there are around 780 Members of the House of Lords, mostly ‘life peers’ who are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. Members that are nominated by political parties are vetted by the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which is an independent public body, before they are accepted into the House of Lords. The Commission also puts forward recommendations for non-political nominees.
As well as life peers there are 92 hereditary peers, although their place in the Lords is no longer an automatic birthright following the House of Lords Act 1999. There are also 26 bishops and archbishops of the Church of England, who are known as the Lords Spiritual.
Members of the House of Lords work on behalf of the UK as a whole, rather than for any particular constituency, unlike MPs who represent a geographical area. Many Members remain active in their field of expertise, whether it be political campaigning, science, medicine, the arts, or a whole range of other areas.
The main job of the Lords is to initiate, revise and scrutinise legislation. The process is similar in both Houses but with important differences. For example, when a bill is being debated in the chamber of the House of Commons, only selected amendments are discussed, as chosen by the Speaker. In the House of Lords any member can suggest that an amendment be discussed and voted upon.
For more information on how this works, visit: The Passage of a Bill
Committees in the House of Lords perform a different function to those in the Commons, with each Lords committee responsible for a broad subject area rather than scrutinising a specific government department. This broad remit allows Lords committees to be flexible in their investigation of policy issues and governmental actions and decisions. Several committees exist to ensure constant scrutiny of public policy, politicians and other public figures – the Economic Affairs Committee for example requests regular evidence from the Governor of the Bank of England.
Select committees gather written and oral evidence from various sources such as independent experts, politicians and the public, before compiling a report and recommendations for further action, directed at the government. Committee work is designed to be open and accessible. Evidence is almost always given in public and anyone can attend. All hearings are webcast and a weekly bulletin of committee work is published. The House of Lords is able to devote a lot of time to committee work, and its less partisan nature facilitates highly deliberative and detailed scrutiny of government activities.
Here are a few links to give you more information about Parliament and the House of Lords…
For more information about the role, function and history of the House of Lords visit:
Visit Parliament’s Education Service for information and games aimed at under 18’s
Parliament TV – Live and archived video and audio of Parliament
The House of Lords playlist on the UK Parliament YouTube channel
The House of Lords Appointments Commission
The Independent Crossbenchers, news and archive
Bishops in the House of Lords
BBC Democracy Live – Live and archived video from the House of Lords and other political institutions
Virtual Tours of Parliament
Parliamentary Business – what’s happening now?