Parliamentary Affairs 75th Anniversary special collection on House of Lords reform

7 Dec 2022
The House of Lords Chamber, UK Houses of Parliament. ©UK House of Lords
The House of Lords Chamber, UK Houses of Parliament. ©UK House of Lords

To mark the Parliamentary Affairs 75th Anniversary Lecture, delivered by the Speaker of the House of Lords on the topic of reform of the Upper House, we have curated a special collection of articles from the journal archives, exploring Lords reform from unique perspectives and different historical contexts since the journal's inaugural issue in December 1947.

Established in 1947, Parliamentary Affairs is a leading, peer-reviewed journal with a distinguished record of linking the theory and conduct of Parliament and politics.

The journal offers rigorous and readable examinations of a wide range of parliaments and political processes, by authors from across the globe, on subjects which are of academic and practitioner interest, and relevant to current policy debates. The journal is published in partnership with Oxford University Press and is edited by Dr Alistair Clark and Dr Louise Thompson.

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Peter Dorey (October 2006) Read online | Download PDF

Extract: Throughout its one hundred year history, the Labour Party has never been able to agree on how the House of Lords should be reformed. On those occasions when Labour parliamentarians have sought to devise a package of reforms, most notably in 1949, 1969 and since 1999, they have discovered that each potential measure to change the composition or power of the House of Lords raises other potential problems… Keep reading →

Meg Russell, Maria Sciara (October 2008) Read online | Download PDF

Extract: The House of Lords is recognised as unusual among modern party-dominated parliaments for its method of composition—comprising appointees, hereditary peers and Bishops of the Church of England. However, equally interesting but less often noted is the presence in the chamber of around 200 members who do not take a party whip. Drawn from various walks of life, including the law, civil service, academia, science and the voluntary sector, these ‘Crossbenchers’ have their own group organisation and ethos… Keep reading →

Meg Russell (July 2001) Download PDF

Extract: Bicameralism is a common model of parliamentary design. In May 2001, the Inter-Parliamentary Union recognised 178 parliamentary democracies, of which 63 (a third) had two chambers. However, second chambers remain relatively little-studied institutions. Most single country and comparative texts on parliamentary behaviour or procedure focus on the first chamber. Despite a number of recent publications about second chambers’ institutional design, and some theoretical treatments of bicameralism, there remains little detailed analysis of the relative benefits of the unicameral or bicameral model. This is somewhat curious, given that the division of the world’s parliaments into these two families represents one of the fundamentals of constitutional design and potentially has a profound impact on a country’s style of government… Keep reading →

Donald Shell (October 2004) Download PDF

Extract: Labour's second term has seen a sharp deterioration in the relationship between the Blair government and the House of Lords. The government suffered defeat in the division lobbies more regularly and ping-pong between the two Houses on some bills became unusually prolonged. Many commentators suggested that the partially reformed House had become bolder and more assertive because it no longer felt inhibited by an overwhelming sense of its own illegitimacy. But others suggested it was the government’s insistence on reversing Lords amendments that contributed as much to the growing confrontation… Keep reading →

Donald Shell (October 1994) Download PDF

Extract: The handful of peers who have sat in the House of Lords throughout the last fifty years have witnessed many changes in their part of Parliament. Their House has been leavened with life peers, graced by women and invaded by television cameras. The Chamber itself is much better attended than it was in their youth, and the House as a whole works far harder than it did then. Many folk, not least peers themselves, would argue that the Lords appears to have become more important in the whole business of government than it was a half century ago… Keep reading →

Donald Shell (January 1985) Download PDF

Extract: There seems something paradoxical in a Conservative government experiencing real difficulties with the House of Lords. After all, hereditary peers out-number created peers by almost two to one, and the Conservative Party remains far and away the largest single party in the House. Yet by Summer 1984 it was apparent that Mrs Thatcher's legislation was more at risk in the Lords than in the Commons. In particular, the defeat the peers inflicted on the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill with the abolition of the Greater London Council. If this was the most prominent embarrassment suffered by the government, it was by no means the only one… Keep reading →

Damien Welfare (April 1992) Download PDF

Extract: The House of Lords is an anachronism which has become relevant. In the 1990s, a reformed and strengthened second chamber is once again on the political agenda, following a reversal in the position of the Labour Party which has come about because the Lords have demonstrated in practice the role of a counterweight to an over-mighty Executive. In the 1980s, they became the real focus of opposition to Mrs Thatcher. Only fifteen years separate the two quotations at the head of this article; yet by the end of the Thatcher era the role and credibility of the Lords—and of a second chamber in Britain—had been transformed… Keep reading →

Donald Shell (April 2000) Download PDF

Extract: It has not been unusual in British politics for parties when in opposition to develop an interest in constitutional reform. In an important sense, this is a natural subject for an opposition party. The mere fact of being out of power creates an incentive for it to look critically at the arrangements under which power is exercised, though once back in office such concerns can rapidly fade. When the Conservatives were last in opposition in the 1970s, Lord Hailsham voiced great concern about elective dictatorship, but his fears evaporated once his party had been returned to office. Elective dictatorship was fine so long as the right party was doing the dictating… Keep reading →

Hugh Bochel, Andrew Defty (January 2010) Read online | Download PDF

Extract: The expertise of its members is often cited as one of the distinctive features of the House of Lords. It is frequently argued that, in particular, because of its composition, and in particular the existence of the Crossbench Peers, debates in the Lords are more informed than in the Commons. Peers, it has been claimed, bring professional experience and expertise to the scrutiny of legislation, and have the time to maintain their expertise, in contrast to the Commons, where MPs, because of the demands of re-election and constituency business, are sometimes seen as being required to know a little about a wide range of subjects… Keep reading →

Andrew Adonis (1988) Download PDF

Extract: "Ten years ago", the former Northern Ireland premier Lord O'Neill told the Lords recently, "if you had hailed a taxi and said "House of Lords, please", as likely as not you would be taken to the House of Commons. Now that very seldom happens. What is more, I find that taxi drivers are very interested in what is going on in your Lordships' House. The status and position of your Lordships' House has improved out of all recognition, and television is merely the latest example of your Lordships' enhanced situation."' It is not only taxi drivers who have discovered the House of Lords of late. They have been joined by politicians, journalists and political scientists… Keep reading →

Alexandra Kelso (October 2006) Read online | Download PDF

Extract: Several schemes for reforming the House of Lords have been proposed since 1997, and each have made various claims about how they will contribute to a chamber that is more representative, more democratic and more legitimate. There has, however, been little analysis of how different actors have understood these terms, and of the conceptual confusion that has peppered their various reports. This article seeks to address this gap, and to explore the nature of the conceptual problems that have characterised the reform debate in recent years… Keep reading →

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