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To introduce students to the work of the House of Lords and the principle of a two-chamber (‘bicameral’) system in a parliamentary democracy.
One hour maximum
► 10 minutes
Ask if students know what the House of Lords is. Write responses on the board, some answers to look out for are as follows.
Students may well have seen the House of Commons and MPs on television but there are two parts – ‘Houses’ – that make up Parliament: the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
Many countries have two Houses that make up their legislature because two parts of a parliament complement each other by checking and revising each other’s work. An essential role of a second chamber, the House of Lords in the UK, is to ‘double check’ draft laws (Bills) sent from the House of Commons.
► 5 minutes
Ask students why they feel it would be important to double check things. Encourage them to give examples in their personal lives of when they needed to double check something:
Well that’s why we have two Houses, but what is the difference between the House of Commons and the House of Lords?
The House of Commons: 650 elected representatives known as MPs (Members of Parliament) sit in the House of Commons. Each MP is elected from a different area of the country known as a constituency.
The House of Lords: About 800 Members, most are appointed for their lifetime (titles are not passed on to their family). They come from many walks of life and represent a wide range of professional backgrounds in science, business, the arts, sports, academia, health, politics, international affairs and public service.
Generally the decisions made in one House have to be approved by the other, creating a system of checks and balances. Because the membership of the House of Lords includes experts in many fields it can often provide a deeper insight into issues. However, if the Commons strongly disagrees with the House of Lords it has the ultimate authority – through the Parliament Acts – to make a new law and is therefore the stronger of the two.
Ask the students who they would ask if they needed an essay checked for spelling mistakes, or help fixing a computer, and so on? Whose advice do they think would be useful if the government had introduced a draft law to the House of Commons on the way hospitals are run and it needed to be checked to make sure it would be workable as a law?
► 15 minutes
Tell students to imagine that they have been given the task of choosing 650 people to become Members (life Peers) of the House of Lords – for example 40 scientists, five farmers, 10 young people, 20 teachers and so on. Ask students to work in pairs to complete the task. To aid students, provide suggestions for the type of people to include and list some issues the House of Lords might work on.