In this e-learning module you will develop your knowledge and understanding of the work and role of the House of Lords.
This module is intended to be an introduction. You can further your learning using the teaching ideas and additional reading links at the bottom of the page. To receive your Certificate of Participation please complete the short feedback survey at the end of the module.
What is the House of Lords?
The House of Lords is the appointed House and an essential part of UK Parliament.
Independent of the elected House of Commons, the House of Lords has three main functions within UK Parliament:
- to question and challenge the work of the government
- to scrutinise and shape laws
- to investigate issues and press for action through committees and debates.
What does the House of Lords do?
Making and shaping laws
Members spend over 50% of their time in the House considering bills (draft laws). The House of Lords checks the detail of bills, working to address potential problems and closing any loopholes to ensure laws are effective and workable. Its amendments may or may not be agreed. However, the Lords play a crucial role in asking the Government and the Commons to think again and in some cases provide alternative amendments in response.
Learn more about the work of the House of Lords.
Lords Select Committees
There are two types of committees in the House of Lords. ‘Permanent’ committees cover broad subject areas such as science and technology, the constitution, the environment and economic affairs. Special inquiry committees are also set up to investigate a specific current issue, such as sports policy, youth unemployment or the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Members’ expertise enables these committees to examine issues in details and make recommendations to government.
Learn more about House of Lords Select Committees.
Membership of the House of Lords
Members of the House of Lords come from all walks of life. They have different social, political and professional backgrounds and bring their specialist knowledge and independent experience from their careers outside of the House.
- Life Peers
The majority (about 700) of members are appointed for their lifetime. Many members have a political background, while others have worked, for example, as doctors, business people, nurses, scientists, writers, judges, lawyers or served in the armed forces. Many members are also involved with charitable, voluntary and civil society organisations.
- Archbishops and bishops
26 Church of England archbishops and bishops sit in the House. When they retire as bishops their membership of the House ends and is passed on to the next most senior bishop.
- Elected hereditary members
The House of Lords Act 1999 removed the right of most hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House. Ninety-two remain and are elected from among their own number, to remain until further reform is proposed.
Learn more about how members are appointed.
Independence of thought
The House of Lords is characterised by ‘independence of thought’. This is partly because a significant proportion of members are non-party political.
Crossbenchers do not support any political party. Many are appointed principally because of their experience outside of the House. Their participation allows voices that might not otherwise be heard in the political process to contribute to discussion of draft laws and in-depth consideration of government policy.
Explore members profiles.
Key roles in the House of Lords
The Lord Speaker is elected by the House and is politically impartial. They preside over business in the chamber. The House of Lords is self-regulating so, unlike the Commons’ Speaker, the Lords Speaker does not call the House to order or choose who will speak next.
Leader of the House of Lords
The Leader of the House of Lords is the most senior government representative in the House and a member of the cabinet. They are responsible for the government’s business in the Lords and lead a team of about 25 ministers and whips.
Clerk of the Parliaments
The Clerk of the Parliaments in the most senior official in the Lords and is responsible for the management, administration and finances, alongside responsibilities in the chamber during business as the chief procedural advisor to the House.
Black Rod is responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House and has important ceremonial duties.
Learn more about Black Rod’s ceremonial duties at the State Opening of Parliament.
Find teaching ideas and resources for the classroom here.
Take it further
Find further reading on the work and role of the House of Lords here.