"The House of Lords is a political anachronism in a land of democracy."
The House of Lords is the oldest second chamber in the world. It has been in continuous existence in one form or another for more than a thousand years. It grew out of the Great Council which was the successor of the Saxon Witan. In 1295, when Edward I called his Model Parliament, all the different classes of people summoned to attend met in one single assembly. But afterwards they split up into three groups -Nobles, Clergy and Commons. Later on the greater clergy found its interests in common with the nobles and they associated together into one body which came to be called House of Lords.
Composition of the House of Lords
The membership of the House of Lords is not fixed. At present the House of Lords consists of over 1100 members. These members fall into seven distinct categories:
(i) Princes of the royal blood;
(ii) Hereditary peers;
(iii) Representative peers of Scotland;
(iv) Representative peers of Ireland;
(v) Lords of Appeal;
(vi) Lords Spiritual;
(vii) Life peers.
(i) Princes of the royal blood: In this category are included all such male members of the royal family who have attained maturity and are within specified degrees of relationship and are conferred the title of Duke. The eldest son is Duke of Cornwall and second son Duke of
York If another son is born he will be entitled as Duke and made a member of House of Lords. Such members are rarely two or three at a given time. Their membership has little practical importance because the princes do not attend the sittings of the House of Lords except on rare occasions.
(ii) Hereditary peers: This category consists of the largest number of members. About nine-tenths of the members belong to this category. A great majority of people hold their seats in the Lords because they per chance happen to be the eldest grandsons of an ancestor who was first created a peer. They are the "accident of an accident," as Bage hot has called them. There is no limit to the number in this category. The power of the Crown to create peers is unlimited and as many people can be created peers as the sovereign likes. There is no limit upon the number that may be created. Certain classes of persons are, however, ineligible for peerage. These are: (1) persons under eighteen years of age, (2) aliens, (3) bankrupts,1 (4) persons serving a sentence on conviction of felony or treason, and (5) women. However since 1963 peeresses have been given the right to sit in the House of Lords. If a peer dies leaving no son the eldest daughter will inherit the peerage and a seat in the House of Lords.
(iii) Representative peers of Scotland: Their number was sixteen and were elected by the Scottish peers in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Union, 1707, until 1963. The Peerage Act of 1963 has done away with the election and all Scottish peers have been admitted lo the House on hereditary basis.
(iv) Representative peers of Ireland: A fourth group was of the Irish representative peers. By the Act of Union of the Great Britain and Ireland of 1801, the Irish peers were entitled to elect 28 representatives, but since 1922 when Ireland was declared a free state no new peers have been created. Consequently the number of Irish representatives has been dwindled and now not a single Irish peer remains the member of the Lords.
(v) Lords of Appeal in ordinary (Law Lords): In this category there were nine law lords but since 1990 there are 21 law lords, who are appointed by the Crown under the provisions of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, to assist the House in the performance of its judicial functions. They hold their seats for life. They are chosen from among distinguished jurists.
(vi) Lords Spiritual: They are twenty-six in number. Two are archbishops of York and Canterbury and twenty-four are senior bishops
of the Church of England. Out of 24 Bishops of London, Durhem and Winchester are positively there according to seniority. When a sitting bishop dies or resigns, the one next on the list, in the order of seniority, becomes the member.
(vii) Life peers: They are created under the provisions of the Life Peerages Act, 1958. They are the persons who have held high offices in the state and have since retired, e.g., ministers, speakers etc. Their successors are not ipso facto entitled to the membership of the Lords. Over 200 peers have been so created. Most of them are active participants in the business of the House. 4 are women peers since 19582.
In the composition of the House of Lords it may be noted that it is partly hereditary and partly democratic in composition. Till 1957 the membership of the House of Lords was entirely male. But since 1958 women were allowed admission to the House if they were created life peeresses. Its composition prompted Munro to call the House as "Westminster Abbey of living celebrities?"
Lord Chancellor: The Lord Chancellor is the presiding officer of the House of Lords who sits on a large couch or diwan known as the woolsack. He is a member of the cabinet. He is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister and holds office during the pleasure of the crown which means the Prime Minister. His powers as presiding officer are insignificant as compared with those of the Speaker. He does not even enjoy the powers commonly enjoyed by the chairmen of the Standing Committees. He does not even have the power to recognise members who wish to speak. If two or more members rise simultaneously to speak, the House and not the Lord Chancellor decides who shall have the floor. He does not have even the common disciplinary powers. The proceedings of the House are orderly but if order in the House is to be enforced, it is done by the House itself. The members do not address the chair but "My Lords." The Lord Chancellor does not even have a casting vote, though as a peer he may speak and vote. In a word, his role as presiding officer is almost entirely formal.
But the Lord Chancellor is also the chairman of the Judicial Committee and the legal adviser to the crown. As such he enjoys the following powers:
(a) The judges of the High Courts are appointed by the Crown on his recommendation.
(b) He appoints the judges of the County Courts and also has the responsibility for the appointment of Justice of Peace.
(c) He can remove the judges of the County Courts and Justice of Peace.
(d) He holds the great seal of the Realm which he affixes on behalf of the Crown on all agreements, declarations and treaties.
(e) He presides over the House when it sits as the Highest Court of Appeal.
(f) He is the Chairman of the Council.
(g) He controls and supervises the organisation of judiciary under the Act of 1925.
(h) He reads over the address of the crown before the House.
The lord chancellor gets £ 10,000 a year as his salary and on retirement gets a pension of £ 5,000 per annum.3
Committee System: The Committee System in the House of Lords is broadly similar to that found in the House of Commons, and hence need not be described in detail. Besides the Committee of the whole, large use is made of sessional and selected committees; and there is a standing committee for textual revision made up at the beginning of each session, to which every bill, after passing through the committee of the whole, is referred, unless the House otherwise directs. The most important sessional committees are: (1) the Committee of Privileges; (2) the Appeal Committee; (3) the Standing Orders Committee; and (4) the Committee of Selection.
Powers and Functions of the House of Lords
Before the passage of the Parliament Act of 1911 the House of Lords was in all respects co-ordinate in powers with the House of Commons. In legislation the Lords were on a footing of perfect equality with the Commons. Any bill could originate in either of the two Houses and no bill could become a law unless passed by both the Houses in the same form. In financial matters there was a well established convention that the money bill could not originate in the House of Lords but it could reject or amend such a bill. In judicial matters the House of Lords had both appellate and original jurisdiction. It acted as the highest court of appeal for the United Kingdom and besides that it had the power to try the case of its own members if they refused to be tried by the ordinary courts. Finally, it had the power to hear impeachment brought by the House of Commons against the high officials of the State. It may, however, be noted that trial of Lords and impeachment of officers has fallen into disuse.
The Parliament Act of 1911
After the passage of Parliament Act of 1911 the position underwent a change and the House of Lords was reduced to a mere shadow of its
former self. This Act sealed the victory of the House of Commons statutorily. In order to understand properly the Act of 1911, we would briefly trace the history of the relations between the Commons and the Lords and the necessity of the Act. Before 1832 the relations between the two chambers were quite cordial because the predominant elements in both the Houses were conservative and many members of the House of Commons were personal defendants of the House of Lords. But a great change came with the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867 and 1884 whereby the House of Commons became democratic. Now it began to appear that a conflict between the two Houses was inevitable, sooner or later. So long as the conservatives were in power there was harmony but when the liberals obtained majority in the Commons they had to reckon an entirely hostile House of Lords. During the Liberal administration of 1892-1905 the House of Lords rejected Gladstone's second Home Rule Bill and defeated or mutilated several other measures. Gladstone said that the differences between the two Houses were fundamental. The Liberals declared that the House of Lords must be mended or ended.
The climax came in 1909 when the House of Lords rejected the Finance Bill of that year. Lloyd George had introduced a budget which proposed certain taxes particularly affecting adversely the landed aristocrats. The Liberal Party popularised it as the people's budget. Upon its rejection an uproar was raised in the House of Commons that this action of the House of Lords was unconstitutional. In fact, a resolution was passed to the effect by the Commons but the Lords did not yield. Then the Liberal Party appealed to the country and was returned to the House of Commons with a still greater majority. In April, 1910 the Liberal Government introduced the bill to curtail the powers of the Lords. It was very unlikely that the House of Lords would pass the suicidal bill. The government threatened that in case of rejection they could use the old procedure of swamping the House of Lords by creation of a sufficient number of new peers. The House of Lords dared not reject the Bill but delayed it. Again a general election took place over the same issue and again the liberals came victorious in it. The Bill was reintroduced and the Lords gave way under the threat of being swamped. Thus, the Bill, after a long battle, won the victory and became the famous Parliamentary Act of 1911.
The main provisions of the Act are the following:
(1) If a money bill having been passed by the House of Commons, and sent up to the House of Lords at least one month before the end of the session, is not passed by the House of Lords without amendment within one month after it is sent up to that House, the Bill shall, unless the House of Commons directs to the contrary, be presented to His Majesty and become an Act of Parliament on the Royal assent being signified, notwithstanding that the House of Lords have not assented to the Bill.
(2) If any Public Bill (other than a Money Bill or a Bill to extend the maximum duration of parliament) is passed by the House of Commons in three successive sessions (whether of the same Parliament or not) and having been sent up to the House at least one month before the end of the session, is rejected by the House of Lords in each of these sessions, the bill shall on its rejection for the third time by the House of Lords, unless the House of Commons directs to the contrary, be presented to His Majesty and become an Act of Parliament on the Royal assent being signified thereto, notwithstanding that the House of Lords have not consented to the Bill: provided that this provision shall not take effect unless two years have elapsed between the date of the second reading in the first of these sessions of the Bill in the House of Commons and date on which it passes in the House of Commons in the third of these sessions.
The general effect of the Parliament Act of 1911 was to terminate the co-ordinate and independent authority which the House of Lords had enjoyed before. Under this act, a money bill can be presented to the King for his assent even if the Lords do not assent to it provided it was sent to the House of Lords one month before the end of its session. In the case of non-money bills, if a non-money bill is passed three times by the Commons in successive sessions and each time it is rejected by the Lords, it may be presented to the King for his assent provided two years have passed between the initial proceeding of the Bill and its final passing in that House in the third session. It may also be mentioned that the Act reduced the life of Parliament from seven to five years.
Act of 1949
Though the Parliament Act of 1911 greatly curtailed the authority of the House of Lords, yet to further curtail its authority an Amending Act was passed in 1949, which reduced the period of two years to one year and the number of sessions from three to two. Now the position is that a bill may become an Act despite its having been rejected by the House of Lords if it has been passed by the House of Commons in two successive sessions (instead of three as provided in the Act of 1911), and if one year (instead of two) has elapsed between the date of the second reading in the first session in the House of Commons and the final date on which the bill is passed by the House of Commons for the second time.
After having studied the Parliament Act of 1911 as amended in 1949 we may briefly enumerate the present powers of the House of Lords:
(i) Legislative Powers: Legislative powers can be discussed in two phases - control over money bills and non-money bills. As regards control over financial bills the House of Lords is practically ineffective. If the House of Lords with holds their assent to a money bill for more than a month it would be presented to the King and become a law on receiving the Royal assent despite the fact that the Lords did not concur with it The money bills cannot be introduced in the Lords. Thus it does not control the purse.
So far as non-money bills are concerned the same may be introduced in the Lords but usually ninety per cent bills are introduced in the Commons. A non-money bill passed by the House of Commons in two successive sessions with an interval of at least one year between its first reading in the first session and its last reading in the second session will become a law after having received the Royal assent irrespective of its having been rejected by the Lords. Thus in both the financial and non-financial fields the final authority rests with the Commons and the House of Lords has now lost all its effectiveness in these fields.
(ii) Executive Powers: The Lords have the power to ask questions from the government and have a full right to debate its policies. It enjoys a share in the cabinet membership. Some Lords are included in the cabinet. It may be noted that the Lords have no power to pass a censure against the ministry. The cabinet is not responsible to the House of Lords. The latter can only cross-examine the ministers.
(iii) Judicial Powers: The House of Lords enjoys original powers to try peers in case they are involved in any treason or felony against national interest. It is also authorized to hear impeachments sent to it by the House of Commons. But now a days this original jurisdiction has lost all its importance.
The House of Lords also acts as the highest court of appeal in Great Britain. So far as theory is concerned, the ordinary members have the right to attend the meetings of the House at the time of trial and can decide the judgment by a division of vote but actually they never do so. At present only the Law Lords hear appeals. The whole House never meets as a Court of Appeal.
From the above accounts of the present powers of the House of Lords it is evident that it has become a shadow of its former self. What it was already in practice it has also become in theory and law. It is now not only a second chamber but for all intents and purposes it is a secondary chamber. Even all possible allowance being made, it is nowadays possible both actually and legally for legislation of every description to be enacted without the assent of the House of Lords. It has been reduced to a mere glamorous upper chamber. Hence, Dr. Munro described the House of Lords as "Westminster Abbey of living celebrities." The top ranking politicians, sagacious statesmen having no interest in active politics find place in this House of Lords. Hence the remarks of Dr. Munro.
Reforming the House of Lords
The House of Lords as presently constituted has been the subject of severe criticism. The criticism runs chiefly on three lines; (i) its predominantly hereditary character; (ii) its association with certain groups and interests; and (iii) its having become wedded to the principles and policies of the Conservative Party. Briefly considered, these criticisms run as follows:
(i) Political Anachronism: The House of Lords has been called a "political anachronism" in a land of democracy. The House cannot be called popular in any sense of the term. While during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the House of Commons underwent the process of democratization, the House of Lords stood still. It remained inherently a hereditary body representing mainly the interests of landed property and the established order. It identified itself with all those forces that tended to perpetuate aristocracy. By standing still while other institutions became progressively democraticized, the House of Lords became more and more an assembly of men who are law-makers by mere accident of birth. The peers are responsible to nobody except themselves. Webbs has aptly remarked, "Its (House of Lords) decisions are vitiated by its composition."
(ii) Fortress of Wealth: Secondly, the House of Lords represents the interests only of the landed aristocracy. In the words of Ramsay Muir it is the "fortress of wealth." In fact, property is the basis of the House of Lords. "Over one-third of them are directors (some multiple) of the staple industries of the nation. One-third of them also run very large estates. Many of them are related by marriage, birth and business connections with the conservative members of the House of Commons."5 Naturally therefore, it looks to the interests only of the higher classes. Hence Webbs calls it "the worst representative assembly ever created." Another writer has called it "the directory of Directors." According to Laski, there is no large industry where capitalist leaders do not have representation in this House. Lord Acton wrote to Gladstone's daughter in 1881 when the Lord opposed the Irish Land Bill, "But a Corporation according to a profound saying has neither body to kick nor soul to save. The principle of self-interest is sure to tell upon it. The House of Lords feels a stronger duty towards its eldest sons than towards the masses of ignorant, vulgar and greedy people. Therefore, except under very perceptible pressure, it always resists measures aimed at doing good to the poor. It has almost always been in the wrong-sometimes from the prejudice and fear and miscalculation, still oftener from instinct and self-preservation."
(iii) Bipartisan: Thirdly, the House of Lords has converted itself into a bipartisan body composed of men of a single political party. After 1886 the House of Lords has remained overwhelmingly conservative. Thus the Conservative party remains in unchallenged mastery of the House of Lords. No Bill promoted by a Conservative Government has been rejected by the House of Lords since 1832 and "for the last fifty years at least, no Conservative Bill has been amended against firm Government opposition." According to Laski, "It is not an impartial useful institution which goes by public opinion. It has always supported the interest of only one party. The conservative party may be in power or not, but in the House of Lords it has always been in majority."
(iv) Irregular Attendance: Fourthly, the thin attendance in the House of Lords has also given a cause of complaint to its critics. Normally, only eighty or ninety peers participate in decisions of the House of Lords. Some peers seldom show their faces in the House. One-half of its members have never spoken at all and about one hundred peers have not taken the Oath as yet. Some peers are not even recognised by the Servants of the House. The quorum for conduct of ordinary business is only three. In the words of Lord Samuel, the House of Lords is "the only institution in the world which was kept efficient by the consistence of the absenteeism of the great majority of its members."
(v) Obstructionist: Lastly, as one critic writes, "A study of its records reveals that the House of Lords, by its very nature, has placed great obstacles in the way of legislative programmes of those governments only that were liberal or non-conservative; that it has frequently accepted legislation from the Conservative Government which it has rejected from Liberals; that instead of being an independent house, it acts as one wing of the Conservative party - looking after the interests of Conservatives when out of power, as one of its members put if and that in the course of years, it has worked out an effective technique of legislative obstruction by which it has been able always to delay and often to destroy the legislation of governments it did not like, wearing them down by a process of attrition, so that they lost their popularity and were replaced at the polls by governments it did not like, when it could relapse once more into a state of dignified and secure quiescence." Dr. Finer also is of the view that the House of Lords "retarded the forces of progress" hence its existence was an anomaly - a gross anomaly "without justification in this era."
On the basis of the above criticism of the House of Lords some thinkers have suggested that it should be abolished. The House of Lords, they say, is so utterly out of keeping with democratic government that it ought to be suppressed root and branch. A resolution moved in the House of Commons by the Labour group in 1907 reads: "That the Upper House, being an irresponsible part of the legislature and of necessity representative only of interests opposed to the general well-being, is a hindrance to national progress, and ought to be abolished."
Utility of the House of Lords
Despite scathing criticism the House still exists. It is due to its utility which can be hardly minimized. The following are the main points of its usefulness:
(1) A historical institution: Though the utility of the House of Lords has been seriously questioned, nevertheless, the general body of British opinion is undoubtedly favourable to a second chamber. In addition to the usual uses of a second chamber, British opinion finds something more in the House of Lords which it does not like to forego. It is a historic institution which represents the British way of life. It has worked well. "The very irrationality of composition of the House of Lords and its quaintness," says Herbert Morrison, "are safeguards for our modern British democracy." Had the House of Lords been made democratic in composition and equal in powers with the House of Commons, the results would have been undemocratic. It is not the British temperament to abolish root and branch what has been preserved for centuries. They have not even abolished monarchy, in this age of democracy, and why should they, when its retention does not make them the least democratic than the people of non-monarchical nations. Similar is the case with the House of Lords.
(2) Commons' time saved: The Lords save the time of the House of Commons by initiating non-controversial Private Bills.
(3) Public opinion crystallized: Inter-position of delay is made possible. That enables the public to express its opinion. Accordingly the Bill is amended.
(4) Bicameralism—a universality: Bicameralism is the order of the day and England like other countries cannot do away with its second chamber.
(5) Full and free discussion: The House of Lords, as at present constituted, has its own advantages. When radicalism of the House of Commons is injected with conservatism of the House of Lords law becomes reason. The debates in the House of Lords are full and free which "can, and at times do stir public opinion, or they may ventilate true public grievance." "Indeed," as Ogg observes, "on the ground that Britain has none of the safeguards offered by a rigid constitution, by referendum procedure like that of Switzerland, or by judicial review like that in the United States, it is sometimes contended that she, beyond most other States, has need of a second chamber with full deliberative and revisory powers."
(6) Able membership: Although the attendance in the Lords is thin, yet it hardly means that its members are of ordinary calibre. Its members belong to the aristocratic section of the society. They are either rich people or retired Prime Ministers, Judges, Speakers, Ambassadors, Governors-General, Ministers, etc. They are men of fame. Lord Salisbury, Lousdonne, Asquith, Reading, Tennyson, Brickon head, Bryce, Curzon have been its members. They have helped in maintaining the high standard of its debates. As Ogg remarks, "It is doubtful whether by and large, the actual working of the House of Lords is surpassed in its resource of intelligence, integrity and public spirit by the House of Commons...." The country is served from the red leather benches by men who have built up its prosperity, administered its great dependencies, risen to its highest positions in law, diplomacy, war, state-craft and learning."
(7) Highest court of appeal: The House of Lords has well performed its judicial functions. Another Supreme Court would have to be established in case the House of Lords is abolished. No other second chamber has performed so important judicial function as admirably as the House of Lords.
(8) Revisory chamber: It usefully does the examination and the revision of the Bills after they have been passed through all stages in the House of Commons. Thus defects and technical flaws of the Bill are removed in the House of Lords.
(9) Revolution unlikely: The House of Lords symbolises the fact that there is no likelihood of a revolution in Great Britain. So long as it possesses any power, England will not face a revolution. It acts as a saucer where the passions are cooled.
Thus the House of Lords has established itself firmly on the British soil. It has become an essential part of British culture. It has gone a long way in the national life of the country. Its complete abolition may invite trouble. Its impotence does not prove its futility. In the opinion of Munro it appears to be doing its job well. It "examines and revises non-financial measures. It insists, when the occasion rises, that ample time be given for a public discussion of such bills before they become parts of the law of the land. It compels sober second thought and gives opportunity for passions to subside." Ogg writes, "No student of English History needs to be told that upon a good many occasion the Upper House has interpreted the will of the nation, or the actualities of a political situation, more correctly than the lower, and that more than once it has saved the country from hasty and ill-considered legislation. It is not altogether the sort of a second chamber that Englishmen would construct today if they were confronted with necessity of creating one de novo. But since it exists, and is so deeply woven into the texture of the national life, the proper procedure would be to simply reconstruct it on lines of the best twentieth century thought."
Proposals for Reform
With the passage of the Act of 1949, the question of abolishing the House of Lords root and branch has been now finally decided for all times to come. The Labour Party has reconciled itself to its existence. The question now is in what way to reform the House of Lords in respect of its composition and function. In fact since the passage of the Parliament Act of 1911, a number of schemes for reforming the House of Lords have been proposed.
A brief reference to these schemes is as under:
Bryce Proposals, 1918
The Parliamentary Act of 1911, announced the intention of its authors to "substitute for the House of Lords, as it at present exists, a second chamber constituted on a popular instead of an hereditary basis." In pursuance to this announcement a conference on the Reform of the Second Chamber was appointed in August, 1917, with Lord Bryce as its Chairman. This conference consisted of 30 persons representing all shades of opinion. It submitted that "in so far as possible, continuity ought to be preserved between the historic House of Lords and future Second Chamber, which obviously would mean that a certain portion of the existing peerage should be included in the "new body." The Committee made the following proposals:
(a) The membership of the House of Lords should consist of 327. Out of this three-fourth, i.e., 246 members, should be elected by the House of Commons by means of proportional representation. For this purpose the House of Commons should be grouped into thirteen divisions. The remaining one-fourth members should be elected from among the peers by a joint Standing Committee of the two houses.
(b) The members of the Upper House are to be elected for twelve years, one-third retiring after every four years.
(c) The House was to have no power over money bills. The question whether a measure is a money bill or not should be decided by a joint committee of 7 members from each House.
(d) Disagreement over ordinary bills should be referred to a joint conference of 30 members from each House.
The Bryce proposals were not accepted either by the conservatives or the progressives. In 1922, the coalition government of Lloyd George submitted five resolutions embodying several features of the Bryce Plan, with one or two notable additions. These are known as Cabinet Committee Proposals.
Cabinet Committee Proposals
(i) The membership of the House of Lords should be about 350.
(ii) In addition to the peers of royal blood, Lords spiritual and law-lords the House should contain: (a) members elected directly or indirectly, (b) hereditary peers elected by their own order from outside their own ranks, and (c) members nominated by the Crown. The number of each element was to be fixed by law as also their term.
(iii) The House of Lords should not amend or reject money bills,
(iv) The provisions of the Act of 1911 should not apply to any bill changing the constitution or power of the House of Lords as reconstituted.
Nothing came out of these resolutions as the coalition government which had formulated them had to resign shortly afterwards.
Clarendon's Scheme of 1929
In December, 1929 Lord Clarendon introduced a scheme in the House of Lords to establish greater co-operation between the two Houses. The scheme was that
(i) 150 peers should be chosen by the body of peers;
(ii) another 150 peers were to be nominated by the Crown for the duration of each parliament;
(iii) a few life peers were to be created.
But this scheme did not receive the support of the House and failed.
Salisbury Reform Plan of 1933
In December, 1933, Lord Salisbury introduced a bill in the Lords for its reform whose main provisions were as under:
(i) the House of Lords should consist of 320 members;
(ii) out of this, the peers were to elect 150 members from among themselves;
(iii) another 150 members were to be elected from outside, the method of election to be decided by the resolution of both Houses;
(iv) the rest of the members were to include the royal peers, law lords and a few ecclesiastics;
(v) the money bills were to be interpreted by a joint committee of both the Houses under the chairmanship of the Speaker. This Bill was passed by the House of Lords in both its first and second readings. But Baldwin brought about the discontinuance of the discussion.
Reform by the Labour Government
In July 1934, the Labour Party openly proclaimed in a pamphlet 'For socialism and few other Labour Party's programme of action' that it would abolish the House of Lords if it continued to wreck the essential measures of the commons.
The Labour Party came in power in 1946 and in 1947, introduced a Bill amending the Parliament Act of 1911. When the Bill was being discussed by the House of Commons, it was decided by the Labour Government to convene an all party round Table Conference to consider the relationship of the composition of a second chamber to its powers. The conference proposed the following general principles:
(i) The second chamber should be complementary to and not rival to the Lower House, and reform should be based on a modification of the House of Lords, existing constitution as opposed to the establishment of a second chamber of a completely new type based on some system of election,
(ii) The revised constitution should secure that a permanent majority is not assured for any one party.
(iii) The present right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission,
(iv) Members should be styled "Lords of Parliament" and would be appointed on grounds of personal distinction or public service,
(v) Women should be capable of being appointed Lords of Parliament in the same way as men.
The conference, however, failed. The Government proceeded with its bill of reform against the will of the Lords. On June 9,1948 the Lords rejected the Bill. It was introduced for the second time on September 20, 1948 and was carried through under the Parliament Act of 1949.
Life Peerage Act, 1958 and Peerage Act, 1963
The Life Peerage Act, 1958 empowered Her Majesty to appoint Lords of Appeal in ordinary and confer on any person a peerage for life. The Act made women eligible for life peerage. The Act of 1963 enables any hereditary peer to disclaim his peerage and thereby become eligible for election to the House of Commons.
In 1967 the Labour Government proposed changes in the composition of House of Lords and also reduction in its powers but nothing came out of it.
Future of the House of Lords
Thus from time to time several plans have been proposed to reform the House of Lords; but none of the above mentioned plans was accepted. The House of Lords continues to be a hereditary chamber of over 1100 members, of course, with power curtailed by the Parliament Act of 1911. It may be noted that none of the proposals referred advocates the abolition of the House of Lords. They suggest certain reforms in respect of its composition and functions. These proposals agreed on three things: (i) that the membership of the Lords should be reduced to about 300, (ii) that some elective element should be introduced in the composition of the House, and (iii) the powers of the House of Lords and its relations with the House of Commons should be more or less fixed by the Parliament Act of 1911. In fact, the dilemma is that no proper substitute has yet been found out for the House of Lords. As we have already pointed out, none of the parties wants its abolition. What the Labour Party wants is a second chamber strong enough for revision and weak enough to be rival to the Commons. Herbert Morrison writes, "While willing to respect the House of Lords for the value and standard of its debates, and for its capacity as a chamber of legislative revision, we would not tolerate from such an institution any undue interference with the will of the House of Commons or of the people."14 In February,
1958 Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote to Attlee that the question of the House of Lords might be taken up at an inter-party conference. To this suggestion, Attlee replied that "in view of the fundamental cleavage of opinion in 1948 on what is the proper part to be played by the House of Lords as second chamber under the constitution, we have come to the conclusion that no useful purpose would be served by our entering into such a discussion."15
The question of reform of the House of Lords, therefore, is still perplexing. What powers should a second chamber have and how should it be composed?- are debatable questions to which no satisfactory answer is possible and "given the difficulty of finding an answer is not the present House of Lords, with its powers reduced as in 1949, destined to serve for many decades?"
Since the passage of the Act of 1949, no vociferous demands for its reform have been made. Laski remarks, "The House of Lords is quite safe from rough destruction but it is not safe against inward decay. Its danger is not in assassination but atrophy, not abolition but decline."