The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. It is independent from, and complements the work of, the elected House of Commons. The Lords shares the task of making and shaping laws and checking and challenging the work of the government.
The Lords has three main roles:
Members spend almost half of the time in the House considering bills (draft laws). All bills have to be considered by both Houses of Parliament before they can become law. During several stages, members examine each bill, line-by-line, before it becomes an Act of Parliament (actual law). Many of these bills affect our everyday lives, covering areas such as welfare, health and education.
In-depth consideration of public policy
Members use their extensive individual experience to investigate public policy. Much of this work is done in select committees - small groups appointed to consider specific policy areas. In the 2012-13 session, House of Lords select committees produced 36 reports on subjects including economic affairs, European Union powers and advances in science. Many select committee meetings involve questioning expert witnesses working in the field which is the subject of the inquiry. These meetings are open to the public.
Holding government to account
Members scrutinise the work of the government during question time and debates in the chamber, where government ministers must respond. In the 2012-13 session, members held the government to account with 7,324 oral and written questions and 193 debates on issues ranging from child poverty to immigration. The public is welcome to visit and sit in the galleries overlooking the chamber during business.
What has the Lords changed?
In recent years, the House of Lords has persuaded the government to make policy changes on a diverse range of issues. These include:
- streamlining public bodies and quangos
- ensuring children with special needs and disabilities have access to mainstream education
- protecting the right to legal aid in welfare cases
- insisting on parity of NHS treatment for physical and mental illness
- making sure the UK has leading stem cell research facilities.
Image: House of Lords 2013/Roger Harris