The UK House of Lords

In a federation the common justification for a second chamber is that the interests of members of the federation should be protected from the federal level of government. This argument does not apply in the UK. However there are other considerations that justify a second chamber in the UK, in particular the need for ‘sober second thoughts’ and consideration of constitutional and other wider issues that arise in the legislative process.

The UK does not have a codified entrenched constitution and thus – unlike many liberal democracies – the UK does not have a supreme court with power to strike down or declare unconstitutional laws that are contrary to the constitution, human rights and so on. Instead the system relies heavily on intra-parliamentary mechanisms for upholding constitutional principles and human rights. In this respect it is not unique: the UK resembles Finland. Until recently there was no judicial constitutional review in Finland. Instead the highly respected, expert Committee for Constitutional Law in the unicameral parliament scrutinises bills for constitutionality.

Such intra-parliamentary mechanisms do not, and cannot, operate in the UK House of Commons because it is highly partisan and party political. The Commons are for the most part not interested in the technicalities of the legislative process but in the rough and tumble of party politics and nursing their constituencies – a side effect of the single member constituency system.

Intra-parliamentary scrutiny does however operate very effectively in the UK, in the less partisan, expert House of Lords. This is because of the differences in composition of the two chambers: the second chamber does not normally have a majority from the government party or parties, so it is never a ‘rubber stamp’. Nor does the opposition have a majority in the Lords ...

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