The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster.
The House of Lords is independent from, and complements the work of, the House of Commons – they share responsibility for making laws and checking government action. Bills can be introduced into either the House of Lords or the House of Commons and members of the Lords may also take on roles as Government Ministers.
Unlike the House of Commons, most new members of the House of Lords are appointed. Membership of the House of Lords is made up of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal. There are currently 26 Lords Spiritual, who sit in the Lords by virtue of their ecclesiastical role in the established Church of England. The Lords Temporal make up the rest of the membership; of these, the majority are life peers who are appointed by the Monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, or on the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
Membership was once a right of birth to hereditary peers but, following a series of reforms, only 92 members (as of 1 July 2011 ) sitting by virtue of a hereditary peerage remain. The number of members is not fixed; as of 1 April 2012 the House of Lords has 786 members (plus 21 who are on leave of absence or otherwise disqualified from sitting), as against the fixed 650-seat membership of the House of Commons.
The role of the House of Lords is primarily to act as a body of specialist knowledge that scrutinizes in greater detail bills that have been approved by the House of Commons. It regularly reviews and amends bills from the Commons. While the House of Lords is unable unilaterally to prevent bills passing into law (except in certain limited circumstances), its members can severely delay bills that they believe to be misguided and thereby force the government, the Commons, and the general public to reconsider their decisions. In this capacity, the Lords acts as constitutional safeguard that is independent from the electoral process and that can challenge the will of the people when the majority’s desires threaten key constitutional principles, human rights or rules of law. In other countries this role would often be performed by a Constitutional Court or a Supreme Court, but the UK system's emphasis on parliamentary sovereignty – rather than judicial review – means that this function cannot be properly accomplished by the British court system as all judicial rulings can be overruled by parliament. (More...)