Talking to the Guardians: The Constitutional Role of the House of Lords

The Constitution Society Research Paper, ‘Talking to the Guardians: The Constitutional Role of the House of Lords’, by Research Fellow Lucy Atkinson, is available online. 

This paper builds on existing academic research suggesting that the House of Lords performs a specific ‘constitutional guardianship’ role. Based on interviews conducted with fifteen selected members of the House of Lords, it explores the constitutional work undertaken in the second chamber from the perspective of the Peers themselves. It seeks to uncover who is engaged in the exercise of this constitutional function, how they go about doing so, and what they hope to achieve. More specifically, it tests the hypothesis that there is a self-aware sub-group of Peers within the House of Lords performing the constitutional functions of the Lords on behalf of the House as a whole. The research reveals a multitude of formal and informal mechanisms utilised by a wide range of members of the House. Although respondents referred to the significance of the permanent and ad hoc select committees and formal debating system in constitutional oversight, they also alluded to more amorphous means and forums through which Peers involve themselves in constitutional matters. This paper stresses the importance of the informal networks utilised by a variety of Peers. The paper concludes with some suggestions for further avenues of research.

19th July 2016

New Research Paper by Lucy Atkinson: ‘Talking to the Guardians: The Constitutional Role of the House of Lords’

New Constitution Society Research Paper: ‘Talking to the Guardians: The Constitutional Role of the House of Lords’, by Research Fellow Lucy Atkinson, is available online. 

This paper builds on existing academic research suggesting that the House of Lords performs a specific ‘constitutional guardianship’ role. Based on interviews conducted with fifteen selected members of the House of Lords, it explores the constitutional work undertaken in the second chamber from the perspective of the Peers themselves. It seeks to uncover who is engaged in the exercise of this constitutional function, how they go about doing so, and what they hope to achieve. More specifically, it tests the hypothesis that there is a self-aware sub-group of Peers within the House of Lords performing the constitutional functions of the Lords on behalf of the House as a whole. The research reveals a multitude of formal and informal mechanisms utilised by a wide range of members of the House. Although respondents referred to the significance of the permanent and ad hoc select committees and formal debating system in constitutional oversight, they also alluded to more amorphous means and forums through which Peers involve themselves in constitutional matters. This paper stresses the importance of the informal networks utilised by a variety of Peers. The paper concludes with some suggestions for further avenues of research.

19th July 2016

New paper by Sir Malcolm Jack and Richard Reid: ‘Financial Privilege: The Undoubted and Sole Right of the Commons?’

The Constitution Society Paper, ‘Financial Privilege: The Undoubted and Sole Right of the Commons?’, by Sir Malcolm Jack and Richard Reid, is available online.

Since ancient times the House of Commons has claimed privilege in respect of financial legislation, whether over bills dealing with taxation or the granting of money to the Executive. Conventions governing the way restrictions apply to the House of Lords in handling such bills have grown up over a long period and are regulated by the Parliament Acts, 1911 & 1949. In 2015 the Lords delayed the draft Tax Credits Regulations, a statutory instrument dealing with fiscal legislation that had passed the Commons. The Government claimed that Commons’ financial privilege had been infringed and subsequently set up the Strathclyde Review to examine the ‘constitutional crisis’ that had arisen and to make recommendations. Since then a number of parliamentary committees have made critical reports of the Review.

In this paper the authors examine the historical origin of the Commons’ privilege, consider the provisions of the Parliament Acts and how they apply to the passage of financial bills between the Houses before turning to the subject of statutory instruments and the Executive’s increasing reliance on them as a means of legislating. They conclude by examining the issues brought out by the Strathclyde Review and endorse the position of the parliamentary committees in recommending that a Joint Committee of both Houses be established to inquire into the whole area of secondary legislation and financial privilege. They stress that this is a matter for Parliament and it should act before Government takes any further steps.

This pamphlet presents the personal views of the authors and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject.

 

13th June 2016

Financial Privilege: The Undoubted and Sole Right of the Commons?

The Constitution Society Paper, ‘Financial Privilege: The Undoubted and Sole Right of the Commons?’, by Sir Malcolm Jack and Richard Reid, is available online.

Since ancient times the House of Commons has claimed privilege in respect of financial legislation, whether over bills dealing with taxation or the granting of money to the Executive. Conventions governing the way restrictions apply to the House of Lords in handling such bills have grown up over a long period and are regulated by the Parliament Acts, 1911 & 1949. In 2015 the Lords delayed the draft Tax Credits Regulations, a statutory instrument dealing with fiscal legislation that had passed the Commons. The Government claimed that Commons’ financial privilege had been infringed and subsequently set up the Strathclyde Review to examine the ‘constitutional crisis’ that had arisen and to make recommendations. Since then a number of parliamentary committees have made critical reports of the Review.

In this paper the authors examine the historical origin of the Commons’ privilege, consider the provisions of the Parliament Acts and how they apply to the passage of financial bills between the Houses before turning to the subject of statutory instruments and the Executive’s increasing reliance on them as a means of legislating. They conclude by examining the issues brought out by the Strathclyde Review and endorse the position of the parliamentary committees in recommending that a Joint Committee of both Houses be established to inquire into the whole area of secondary legislation and financial privilege. They stress that this is a matter for Parliament and it should act before Government takes any further steps.

by Sir Malcolm Jack and Richard Reid. This pamphlet presents the personal views of the authors and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject.

 

13th June 2016

New paper by Professor Dawn Oliver: ‘Constitutional Guardians’

The Constitution Society paper,‘Constitutional Guardians: The House of Lords’ by Professor Dawn Oliver, is available online.

This pamphlet explores the arrangements for guardianship of the UK constitution and its values and the role of the House of Lords in particular.

Effective constitutional guardianship is important in any liberal democracy. In most democracies the courts have important roles in deciding whether laws breach the constitution and striking them down if so. This is not a role that the courts are able to perform in respect of legislation passed by the UK Parliament, since it possesses legislative supremacy. Protection of constitutional values in the UK is therefore essentially a matter for parliamentarians, and particularly a responsibility of the second chamber and its committees: party political partisanship is less strong there than in the Commons, the government does not have a majority in the House of Lords, and an independent and professional element in the membership of the Lords enables that chamber to carry out its guardianship roles authoritatively and fairly. However the composition of that chamber presents political problems for the guardianship role which need to be overcome.

(This pamphlet presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject). 

19th December 2015

Evidence from The Constitution Society published by House of Lords select committee inquiry into ‘The Union and Devolution’

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has recently published evidence submitted by The Constitution Society, as part of its inquiry into ‘The Union and Devolution.’

The published evidence can be viewed online here.

A full list of evidence published by the select committee as part of this inquiry can be viewed here. 

17th October 2015

‘The Reality of the British Constitution’ paper by David R. Howarth and Shona Wilson Stark

A paper by David R. Howarth (University of Cambridge) and Shona Wilson Stark (Christ’s College, Cambridge) is available online. It breaks new ground in its assessment of the British constitution.

Using interviews with senior UK officials about their views of the rules of recognition, change and adjudication, it concludes that there may be in effect three different constitutions operational in this country.

An abstract follows. The full paper is available on the SSRN website here.

  Read more ›

15th August 2014

‘Unconstitutional Democracy?’ discussion paper by Nat le Roux available

A paper by the founding Director of The Constitution Society, Nat le Roux, is published online today, discussing the background and underlying constitutional tendencies against which the Society was formed in 2009.

The paper expresses the personal views of the author, but provides an insight into the decision to establish the organisation and the problems it was intended to address.

Download a copy of the paper here. 

30th July 2014

Lords Reform: the Steel Bill and beyond

Lord Steel’s bill allowing retirements and expulsion from the House of Lords has its second reading in the Lords on 28 March. While the core content of the bill has been widely welcomed, some concerns have been raised about a potential “loophole” which could allow the Lords to become a launchpad for future MPs.

The Constitution Society is delighted to be hosting a closed event in Parliament with the Constitution Unit to look at the implications of the Steel Bill on the House of Lords and the wider British constitution.

Chaired by Ruth Fox from the Hansard Society, Meg Russell and Lord Steel will talk about the latest attempt to reform the Lords.

This piece by Meg Russell sets out her concerns, explaining the risk of a “loophole”.

The discussion will be held in a closed meeting but shall be written up for the website later this week.

31st March 2014

The Coalition’s mid-term constitutional plans

It’s been a furiously busy two years of constitutional news: from the AV referendum and failed Lords reform to elected Police Commissioners and fixed-term parliaments. But now with the Coalition reaching mid-point in this parliament what constitutional issues will be raised in the run-up to 2015?

The downgrading of Chloe Smith’s role from that of her predecessor’s indicates that the Coalition will be placing less priority on parliamentary and constitutional reform, but there still remain huge constitutional matters that will be addressed before the end of this parliament.

Read more ›

11th January 2013

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