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The Parliament Acts

The powers of the House of Lords are limited by a combination of law and convention.

The Parliament Acts, although rarely used, provide a way of solving disagreement between the Commons and the Lords.

Parliament Acts: background

Until the early years of the 20th century, the House of Lords had the power to veto (stop) legislation.

However, this arrangement was put under pressure when the House of Lords refused to pass David Lloyd-George's 'people's budget' of 1909. Eventually, the budget was passed after a general election in 1910; a second general election was then fought on the issue of reform of the House of Lords.

Parliament Act 1911

The result was the Parliament Act 1911, which removed from the House of Lords the power to veto a Bill, except one to extend the lifetime of a Parliament. Instead, the Lords could delay a Bill by up to two years. The Act also reduced the maximum lifespan of a Parliament from seven years to five years.

Parliament Act 1949

The Parliament Act 1949 further reduced the Lords' delaying powers to one year.

The Parliament Acts define the powers of the Lords in relation to Public Bills as follows.

Money Bills

Money Bills (Bills designed to raise money through taxes or spend public money) start in the Commons and must receive Royal Assent no later than a month after being introduced in the Lords, even if the Lords has not passed them. The Lords cannot amend Money Bills.

Other Commons Bills

Most other Commons Bills can be held up by the Lords if they disagree with them for about a year but ultimately the elected House of Commons can reintroduce them in the following session and pass them without the consent of the Lords.

Bills not subject to the Parliament Acts

  • Bills prolonging the length of a Parliament beyond five years

  • Private Bills

  • Bills sent up to the Lords less than a month before the end of a session

  • Bills which start in the Lords

Bills subject to the Parliament Acts

Only seven Bills have become Acts under this procedure:

Government of Ireland Act 1914
Welsh Church Act 1914
Parliament Act 1949
War Crimes Act 1991
European Parliament Elections Act 1999
Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000
Hunting Act 2004

In addition, three Bills have been introduced in a second session with a view to invoking the Parliament Act procedure but all were eventually agreed by the Lords in the second session:

Temperance (Scotland) Bill 1913
Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill 1975-76
Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill 1976-77

The Salisbury Convention

The Salisbury Convention ensures that Government Bills can get through the Lords when the Government of the day has no majority in the Lords.

In practice, it means that the Lords do not vote down a Government Bill mentioned in an election manifesto.

House of Commons Library briefings

The House of Commons Library produces briefing papers to inform MPs of key issues. The papers contain factual information and a range of opinions on each subject, and aim to be politically impartial. The Library has published briefing papers on the Parliament Acts and conventions on the relationship between the House of Commons and House of Lords.

Commons Library standard note: The Parliament Acts

Commons Library standard note: Conventions on the relationship between the House of Commons and House of Lords