English on the Internet - English Magazine

Greetings my Czech friends!

December 5, 1999

In this weeks article I'm going to attempt to explain the "House of Lords" and the changes that are taking place within it.

The British parliament is divided into two sections: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. After a general election, the elected MPs (Members of Parliament) go to sit in the House of Commons. This is where the government works and where the PM (Prime Minister) sits. The members of the house of lords are not elected by the people. There are several groups that make up the House of Lords. Firstly there are religious leaders: bishops (Protestant and Catholic), Rabbis, etc. Secondly there are the so called "Life peers". "Peer" is a general term to refer to dukes, marquis, earls, viscounts and barons. Every year the PM will sent a letter of recommendation to the Queen listing people that he would like to see make a "life peer". These people, once appointed, sit in the House of Lords for life. The last major group are the "Hereditary peers". A Hereditary peer is similar to a life peer, but when (s)he dies, the successors to his/her title also have the right to sit in the House of Lords. Finally there is the "eldest sons". If a hereditary peer has an eldest son, then he has the right to sit on the steps of the throne in the House of Lords and listen to, but not take part in, the debates. Irish peers also have this right.

Now, when the government of the day wishes to pass a law, or a change to a law, there will be three "readings of the Bill" in the House of Commons. A "reading" is a debate and a "Bill" is a law. Eventually, if the Bill is passed (voted in), then it will be sent to the House or Lords. The Lords do not call the House of Commons by its name, but refer to it as "another place". The Lords also debate the Bill. If they pass it, then it goes to the Queen to sign, at which point, it becomes law. If the Lords reject the Bill, it goes back to the House of Commons. Bills can go back and forth several times in this manner, but as the House of Commons is the elected body, it can force the Lords to accept the bill. This situation usually causes a constitutional crisis!

Every Autumn, parliament re-opens. The government of the day will present the Queen with a programme of Bills that it plans to introduce. The Queen will then go to the House of Lords to read out the list in a prepared speech. The Lords always wear traditional dress for the Queen's speech. Once the Queen has entered the room, the Lords representative, a person called "Black Rod" will march to the House of Commons and will hammer loudly three times on the door. He then summons the MPs to the House of Lords to hear the speech.

Now, there are big changes happening in the House of Lords at the moment. History is being made. The government is not happy with the concept of Hereditary peers and so has passed a Bill (approved by the House of Lords!!!!) to remove the Hereditary peers because they are the least democratically accountable of the groups in the Lords. So, the 500 or so Hereditary peers, who have sat in the House of Lords for about 700 years, will soon leave to be replaced by other groups (as yet undecided). History is being made. Britain, the world's oldest democracy, is becoming more democratic.

by Duncan - Great Britain, enjoys writing to penpals from all over the world

If you'd like me to write a particular topic, then email me at dareid@btinternet.com 

© December 1999 English on the Internet www.aj.cz