The Constitution Unit


Meg Russell on Radio 4's Westminster Hour discussing the relationship between the Conservative government and the Lords

23 May 2016

House of Lords

On 22 May Constitution Unit Director Professor Meg Russell appeared on Radio 4's Westminster Hour discussing the relationship between the 2015 Conservative government and the House of Lords during the government's first parliamentary session 2015-16. As documented on our research pages, the government suffered 60 defeats in the Lords in the 2015-16 session. Professor Russell put this in context, explaining that 60 defeats is not out of line with the behaviour of the House of Lords towards previous governments - for example in the 2002-03 session there were 88 defeats (for a full breakdown of defeats by session see here). The difference to the past is that it is a Conservative government facing opposition from the Lords for the first time - prior to 1999, when they were last in power, the Conservatives were stronger in the Lords. Historically it has therefore been Labour governments that have faced such challenges (for a discussion of this key shift in 2015 see here).

Other interviewees on the programme included Baroness Stowell, the Conservative Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Wallace, the Liberal Democrat leader in the chamber, and Crossbencher Lord Lisvane, who was previously the most senior clerk in the House of Commons. Baroness Stowell suggested that the level of recent House of Lords' resistance was unjustified, and demonstrated a greater 'politicisation' of the chamber, but other speakers disagreed. Professor Russell suggested that the basic problem is the lack of agreement about the principles governing the size and party balance of the chamber, as well as the chamber's use of its powers. As recently emphasised by the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, both of these issues need resolving if there is to be a stable settlement.