The Changing Role of the House of Lords
2004 - Ongoing
Meg Russell, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit discusses her latest book about the House of Lords, The Contemporary House of Lords: Westminster Bicameralism Revived
The House of Lords has been the subject of long-term research at the Constitution Unit. Meg Russell has led two three-year ESRC-funded projects since 2004, analysing the changing House of Lords and cataloguing the ongoing process of its reform:
- A More Legitimate & Powerful Upper House? The Semi-reformed House of Lords ran from August 2004 to October 2007, led by Dr Meg Russell with Maria Sciara as Research Assistant.
- The Changing House of Lords ran from October 2008 to September 2011, as one strand of a three-year ESRC fellowship. The project was led by Dr Meg Russell and supported by Dr Meghan Benton.
At present, research into the House of Lords is supported by private donors.
When the House of Lords is discussed, the discussion is almost inevitably in connection with its reform, which is seen as incomplete following the removal of most hereditary peers from the chamber in 1999. But the House of Lords is perpetually seen as “unreformed", with proposals for change having been made for over a century. This means the opportunity has often been missed to study the chamber as it is, and its impact on the policy process. Given that the next stage of reform may, like previous ones, be long delayed, such study is important. This project therefore focuses on the contemporary House, and particularly on how it has changed since the 1999 reform.
Publications in the first phase of the project (2004-2007) asked questions about the strength and confidence of the House of Lords, perceptions of its "legitimacy", and the real policy impact of government defeats. Research methods included study of parliamentary records, questionnaire surveys and interviews with peers, and public opinion surveys. A complete record of all members and all "divisions" (votes) in the chamber since November 1999 has been compiled in database form. The second phase of the project (2008-2011) continued the collection of some of this data, and generated new publications. These included broader analyses of the impact of Lords reform in 1999 on the British parliament, and its lessons for bicameralism in a comparative sense, as well as discussing the new policies pursued by the coalition government formed in 2010.
Readers interested in the House of Lords should also check the pages for our past project on lessons from overseas and our Lords reform commentaries.
- Lords defeats: We have compiled a detailed record of all government defeats in the House of Lords from 1999 to the present day.
- Votes on Lords reform, March 2007: We also provide a breakdown of votes in the 2007 House of Lords on Lords reform by party, with lists of members voting each way.
- This research is led by Prof Meg Russell, and supported by Tom Semlyen.
- If you would like to receive occasional (roughly quarterly) updates on our new publications and events about the House of Lords, please email Meg Russell.
- The Contemporary House of Lords: Westminster Bicameralism Revived, published by OUP
Constitution Unit Briefings:
- Enough is Enough: Regulating Prime Ministerial Appointments to the Lords February 2015
- Also see our report on Commons financial privilege on Lords amendments here.
- House Full: Time to Get a Grip on Lords Appointments Meg Russell, supported by Lord Adonis, Graham Allen MP, Baroness Boothroyd, Lord Butler of Brockwell, Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, Lord Dholakia, Baroness D’Souza, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Robert Hazell, Baroness Jay of Paddington, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Lord Norton of Louth, Donald Shell, Lord Steel of Aikwood, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, Baroness Williams of Crosby, Lord Woolf, and Tony Wright (April 2011). See here for details of the report and its impact in the media.
- Peers’ and Public Attitudes to the Contemporary House of Lords Briefing for a seminar in the House of Lords, December 2007
- The House of Lords in 2006: Negotiating a Stronger Second Chamber January 2007
- The House of Lords in 2005: A more Representative and Assertive Chamber February 2006
- Views from Peers, MPs and the Public on the Legitimacy and Powers of the House of Lords December 2005
- Parliamentary party cohesion: Some explanations from psychology (using data from the House of Lords), August 2014
- Rethinking Bicameral Strength: A Three-Dimensional Approach in Journal of Legislative Studies, April 2013
- Elected Second Chambers and their Powers: an International Survey in Political Quarterly, February 2012
- A Stronger Second Chamber? Assessing the Impact of House of Lords Reform in 1999, and the Lessons for Bicameralism in Political Studies December 2010
- House of Lords Reform: Are We Nearly There Yet? in Political Quarterly March 2009 (available online without subscription)
- Independent Parliamentarians En Masse: The Changing Nature and Role of the 'Crossbenchers' in the House of Lords in Parliamentary Affairs January 2009
- The Policy Impact of Defeats in the House of Lords in British Journal of Politics and International Relations October 2008
- Why does the Government get defeated in the House of Lords? in British Politics July 2007
- Judging the White Paper against International Practice of Bicameralism, in The End of the Peer Show? Responses to the Draft Bill on Lords Reform, published by the Constitution Society in July 2011
- Reform of the British House of Lords: A Test of Lijphart and Tsebelis ECPR Conference Paper 2007
- Bicameral Parliamentary Scrutiny of Government Bills: A Case Study of the Identity Cards Bill PSA Conference Paper 2007
- Legitimacy and Bicameral Strength: A Case Study of the House of Lords PSA Research Group Paper 2006
- Other Outputs
- Analysis of existing data on the breadth of expertise and experience in the House of Lords Meg Russell and Meghan Benton's report to the House of Lords Appointments Commission on the diversity of professional background in the House of Lords, March 2010
Lectures and Other Public Events:
- Lords Reform: Principles and Prospects Meg Russell's lecture at the invitation of the Leader of the House of Lords, 13 November 2007
- Are we Seeing a New Golden Age of Parliament? Meg Russell speaking at a British Academy Discussion Evening, Thursday 5 July 2007
- Reforming an Unelected Upper House: The Strange Rebirth of the House of Lords Paper to Conference on Transforming Canadian Governance Through Senate Reform University of British Columbia, 19-20 April 2007
- Reforming the British House of Lords: How a Little Reform Can go a Long Way Meg Russell speaking at the Australian Senate, 8 December, 2006
Oral and Written Evidence:
- Meg Russell’s oral evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, 27 June 2013
- Meg Russell's written evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, March 2013
- Meg Russell’s oral evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill, 27 October 2011
- Meg Russell's written evidence to the Leaders' Group on Retirement from the House of Lords, 5 October 2010
- Meg Russell's written evidence to the House of Lords Information Committee, 27 April 2009
- Meg Russell’s oral evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, 25 October 2007
- Meg Russell's oral evidence to the Canadian Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, 22 March 2007, for their inquiry on Senate reform (starts approximately half way through the sitting)
- Meg Russell's oral evidence to the UK Parliament's Joint Committee on Conventions, 18 July 2006
- Meg Russell's letter to The Times on the importance of a clearer picture of second chambers internationally, 29 June 2011
- NEW: Meg Russell's review of "The House of Lords 1911–2011: A Century of Non-Reform", by Chris Ballinger (2012), for the journal Political Quarterly (p.103-4).
- Meg Russell's review of "House of Lords Reform Since 1911: Must the Lords Go?", by Peter Dorey and Alexandra Kelso (2011), for the journal West European Politics.
- Meg Russell was interviewed about the accelerating pace of Lords reform for the ESRC's annual magazine, Britain in 2012.
Since the start of the 2005-06 parliamentary session we have collected a record of all government defeats in the House of Lords. You can see the number of votes the government was beaten by, and download a .pdf document with a breakdown of votes for each defeat.
Summary tables and voting records have been made available for every session since 2005-06 in our record of government defeats in the House of Lords.