The Constitution Unit


The Changing Role of the House of Lords

The House of Lords empty chamber

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:

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.

This research is led by Prof Meg Russell. If you would like to receive occasional (roughly quarterly) updates on our new publications and events about the House of Lords, please email Meg at meg.russell@ucl.ac.uk.

Government Defeats in the Lords

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 a breakdown of votes for each defeat. 

List of Project Outputs

View a complete list of the publications, briefing papers, journal articles, commissioned reports oral and written evidence, lectures and public events, media and book reviews produced as part of our past and present projects on the House of Lords 

Major Outputs:


Enough is Enough: Regulating Appointments to the House of Lords

This report, published in 2015, considered potential appointments formulae and their impact on the size and composition of the Lords. It called for immediate moves to regulate prime ministerial appointments, and was influential in shaping parliamentary debates.

The Contemporary House of Lords: Westminster Bicameralism Revived

This book, published in 2013, is the result of a long-term study of the Lords undertaken by Meg Russell. It is the most complete published work about the Lords, its history, membership, current role in the policy process, and options for reform.