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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:

  • 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.

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 >


The Speaker election row tells us two important things about parliament

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On 26 March, its final sitting day, the House of Commons rejected government proposals to reform how the Speaker is elected at the start of the new parliament. Here Meg Russell reflects on what this teaches us about parliament, suggesting it holds two lessons. First, that the 2010 House of Commons was more resistant than […]


Farewell to the Commons: Reflections on parliamentary change over 40 years

Tue, 24 Mar 2015 11:00:47 +0000

On 4 March Jack Straw and Sir George Young spoke at a Constitution Unit valedictory event where they considered how parliament has changed since the 1970s. Sam Sharp offers an overview of the discussion. Jack Straw and Sir George Young have 77 years of parliamentary experience between them – Straw was first elected in 1979, […]


Implementing the recommendations of the Digital Democracy Commission: Where to now?

Mon, 16 Mar 2015 11:00:36 +0000

Last week saw a Westminster Hall debate to discuss the report of the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy. Andy Williamson argues that while concrete steps are being taken to implement some of the recommendations, greater drive will be needed to create a coherent long-term programme for the digital modernisation of Parliament. The Speaker’s Commission on […]

Meg Russell's new book, The Contemporary House of Lords:
Lords book cover - png file



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