The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Great Britain’s House of Lords

Category: Politics

Each session of Parliament is usually opened in the House of Lords by the Queen (King), who is attended by heralds, officers of the Court and,mempbers of the Diplomatic Corps. The Commons are “summbned’’ to the Chamber by Black Rod (the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, whose title derives from the black staff with gold fittings’ Which he carries on formal occasions). The peers sit comfortably on their red leather benches as the MPs stand awkwardly huddled together below the bar while the Queen reads the throne speech which outlines the Government’s programme of legislation for the coming session.

Before the throne in the House of Lords, and dividing the benches, is the woolsack upon which the Lord Chancellor sits as Speaker of the House. By tradition, the woolsack was introduced in the reign of Edward III and it is recorded in the House of Lords muniments “that the judges shall sit upon woolsacks’’. The woolsack is now stuffed with wool from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and from the Commonwealth countries.

Members of the Government and their supporters sitting to the right of the throne, and those of the Opposition to the left. The bishops always sit on the Government side of the House. Cross-benches, set near the bar of the House, are tor the use of peers who sit as Independents.

The House of Lords consists of the Lords “Spiritual and Temporal’’. The Lords Spiritual are the two archbishops (Canterbury and York) and twenty-four bishops of the Church of England. The Lords Temporal include peers by hereditary right, peers by virtue of their office (the Law Lords), and Life peers created under the Life Peerages Act, 1958. Peerages are created by the Sovereign; about, hall have been created since 1920. Peerages can also be renounced’ for life under the Peerages Act, 1963. In the full House of Lords there are some 1,000 potential members, though the actual numbers are cut to under 700 working members by a voluntary process of “leave of absence’’.

When Cromwell’s troopers crushed the King’s men the House of Lords, which had backed the King in his dictatorship, was abolished — only to be restored when Charles II was restored to the throne. Over the past two centuries of more modern times, there has been pressure for the House of Lords to be abolished or reformed.

The Liberals, faced with a Lords veto of a Budget, had to pass the Parliament Act of 1912 restricting the House of Lords delaying powers on laws to two years. In 1949 this power to delay was reduced to one year. The Lords do not possess the power to reject a money bill.

Thus the House of Lords — a hangover from a past age, with the principle of hereditary rule as its basis, stands for all that is backward and undemocratic in present-day society.

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