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The Changing Role of the House of Lords

2004 - ongoing

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.

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.

Online Resources:
  • 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.


Constitution Unit Briefings:
Journal Articles:
Book Chapters:
Conference Papers:
Commissioned Reports:
Lectures and Other Public Events:
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
Book Reviews:
  • 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.

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Read more Unit News here >


Is David Cameron actually seeking to destroy the Lords?

Fri, 28 Aug 2015 12:00:58 +0000

Yesterday’s new peerage appointments attracted almost universal criticism for further adding to the inexorable growth in size of the House of Lords under David Cameron. But could the gradual erosion of the Lords’ reputation actually benefit the government by weakening parliament? Might it even be a deliberate plan? And – given that the Prime Minister […]


The Constitutional Standards of the House of Lords’ Constitution Committee: A valuable tool for enhancing scrutiny

Tue, 25 Aug 2015 11:00:47 +0000

To mark the launch of the second edition of The Constitutional Standards of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, Jack Simson Caird considers the role that a set of constitutional standards could play in the current government. Drawing on the example of English votes for English laws, he argues that such a code would increase […]


The truth about House of Lords appointments

Wed, 29 Jul 2015 12:30:54 +0000

Yesterday Prime Minister David Cameron, seemingly undeterred by the already negative media coverage about the Lord Sewel affair, gave strong indications that he intends to make yet more appointments to the Lords. In doing so, he appeared to invoke a convention that does not exist: that of bringing Lords membership into line with Commons seats. […]




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