Conventions on the relationship between the House of Commons and House of Lords

Published Wednesday, November 4, 2015

This House of Commons Library briefing paper sets out the conventions on the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament and their origins. On 4 November 2015 the Leader of the House of Lords announced the terms of reference of the Government's review into how to secure the decisive role of the elected House of Commons in the passage of legislation. This briefing paper also sets out the background to the review.

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There are a number of conventions and statutes which together, enshrine the primacy of the elected chamber, the House of Commons, over the House of Lords. The nature of conventions, however, is that they are not necessarily closely defined and they change over time. The force of convention also relies on a common understanding of the nature of the conventions and for those involved to observe them.

What are the main conventions?

The main conventions which relate to the relationship between the two chambers are considered to be:

  • The Salisbury Convention (regarding bills implementing manifesto commitments);
  • The convention that the Lords does not usually object to secondary legislation;
  • The financial privilege of the House of Commons;
  • The convention that governments should get their business “in reasonable time”.

In addition, the Parliament Act 1911 as amended provides legislative constraints on the House of Lords.

These conventions were all subject to consideration by the Joint Committee on Conventions in 2006.  The Committee looked into “the practicality of codifying the conventions on the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament which affect the consideration of legislation”. The Committee report favoured passing resolutions on the conventions rather than codifying them, but their formulation of the resolutions were not put to either House.

Tax credits defeats and Lord Strathclyde’s “rapid review”

On 26 October 2015 the House of Lords twice amended a motion so as to decline to consider a statutory instrument that would have implemented the Government’s policy on tax credits. The incident drew attention to these conventions and how they operate when the Government lacks a majority of members in the House of Lords.

As a result, the Government has launched a “rapid review” of the relationship between the two houses of parliament which will be chaired by a former Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde. The review panel has been asked to report by the end of the year.

Commons Briefing papers SN05996

Author: Lucinda Maer

Topics: Constitution, House of Commons, House of Lords, Parliament

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