The Role of the House of Lords in terms of Parliamentary Scrutiny of Legislation

JUSTICE annual lecture 2002 given by Lord Williams of Mostyn (then Leader of te House of Lords) on 9 Octover 2002 at the Law Society in London.

“The House of Lords is a faithful old hound, toothless, arthritic, sometimes testy, asleep in front of the fire, an object of affection for what he once was, but of little present practical utility or continuing value – snoozing most of the time, waking periodically to scratch at persistent and irritating fleas.”

So began the 2002 annual lecture, on reform of the House of Lords, by its leader, Lord Williams of Mostyn. But it quickly emerged that this was a provocative piece of devil’s advocacy by Lord Williams. He is a passionate believer in the importance of a second chamber to revise, scrutinise and check elected governments, arguing that “Law making is too important to be left entirely to the Commons …“. Further, he noted that since the departure of the majority of hereditary peers, the Lords is “increasingly flexing its muscles and feels more legitimate”.

He defined the essential prerequisites of an efficient second chamber as:

  • clear and transparent standards of conduct
  • properly resourced and equipped opposition
  • working practices fit for the purposes of a modern age

and noted that significant progress had been made on all three fronts. He presented striking figures to illustrate his contention that the workload and work rate of the Lords had both risen considerably in the recent past.

Lord Williams went on to argue that the Lords is particularly suited to its task as a revising chamber, citing: its composition – of experienced members, freed from the shackles of constituency and whips; its debate style – less adversarial than among MPs; its timetable – more leisurely than the Commons; and its procedure – where there is no timetabling or selection of amendments, and all members can participate in all stages.


The Role of the House of Lords in terms of Parliamentary Scrutiny of Legislation