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  The House of Lords
Updated 26 November 2008, 09.51
House of Lords

Citizenship 11-14/KS3/Levels E&F
Central government

Why do we have a second chamber and what does it do?

Students decide who they think should sit in the House of Lords.

Learning aims

  • Why we have two houses of parliament
  • The role of the House of Lords
  • The members of the House of Lords
1) Icebreaker

Double checking
Advocates of a two chamber parliament say the ability to double check and refine legislation is one of the advantages. Introduce the concept of double checking with a structured question and answer exercise.

Why is it sometimes a good idea to double check things?
Have students ever asked for someone to check their work, or something they have made?

Who would students go to if they wanted the following things 'double checked' ?

  • To make sure your mountain bike was safe.
  • If you weren't sure the cough medicine you had was the right one.
  • Whether you had spelt a word right in your science homework.
  • If you were tall enough to go on a theme park ride.
  • If the game you were buying would work on your console.
Knowledge, expertise, experience
The sort of people who can give advice on these questions all do different jobs - but what is it they have in common?

Taking time to check carefully
You want someone to have a look at the brakes on your bike. There are two bike shops on your high street. The one near the station is very busy all day.

The shop further along the road is a quieter. Who will you use to double check your brakes and why?

So what makes a good double-checker?

2) Main activity

The role of the House of Lords
Explain that in an election everyone gets to vote for an MP. They sit in the Commons and they decide upon new laws for Britain.

The House of Lords does the job of double checking and fine tuning the laws that the House of Commons make. They have the time and the expertise to look at things very carefully.

Who do students think should sit in the House of Lords?
Imagine there are 600 places in the Lords to be given away. What sort of people should get the jobs? How many of each type of person would you need? (120 doctors, 20 teachers, 25 schoolchildren, 10 footballers etc). To help students think about this here are some possible dilemmas that the House of Lords might look at.

Possible workload for the Lords
[1] A law about what lessons should be taught in schools.

[2] New rules for asylum seekers.

[3] Changes to the way hospitals are run.

[4] Grants to help farmers grow things that people want to buy.

[5] How much money should be given to different types of sports.

[6] If fox-hunting should be banned in England and Wales.

[7] Should the law allow someone dying a slow painful death from a disease to be helped to commit suicide.

[8] Whether women should be allowed to become priests.

[9] Checking if a new law breaks any of the laws that have already been made.

[10] Checking that a new law will do what it is supposed to

Print this list as

Who are the real members of the House of Lords?
Members of the House of Lords are known as peers. They are not elected. Explain that there are three types of peers.

Life peers
These are people who were chosen to be Lords because they are experts or have worked very hard and been successful in their jobs. (558 peers).

Hereditary peers
These people have a place in the House of Lords that is passed down through their family. Throughout history very important people have been given these 'Hereditary peerages' . Half of these peerages were awarded over 100 years ago, some are 700 years old. (92 peers).

The 26 most senior Bishops in the Church of England are given a seat in the house. (26 peers).

3) Extension activity
Most of the members of the House of Lords have been chosen by Prime Ministers (Tony Blair and people who had the job before him). Can students design a new system for choosing peers?

They must explain in detail how it would work and the stages a candidate must pass through (eg Pop Idol style votes, written tests, interviews by the public)

4) Plenary
The Queen grants peerages, she is advised by the Prime Minister. What sort of people might a politician like Tony Blair recommend? What problems can this cause for double checking Laws?

Soon the Government might get rid of the last 92 hereditary peers (until recently there were 750). What reasons do students think the government would give for this change? Do they agree with it?

Teachers' Background

This lesson emphasises the role of the House of Lords in the law making process. This is only one of four main functions. The other three are:

  • Examining the Governments work.

  • Debating current affairs.

  • Highest court of appeal in the land.

The Lords is referred to as the upper chamber.
  • The government have announced their intention to undertake a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative'.

  • The House of Lords act 1999 removed the entitlement of most of the 750 hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords.

  • The next stage of reform was a white paper. The consultation period on this is over. A firm proposal for reform will come forward in the next Queen's speech (Nov 2002)

  • The House of Lords is directly descended from the medieval kings council. This was composed of the highest ranking noblemen and churchmen in the land.

  • Women could not sit in the House of Lords until 1958.

  • In the USA members of the upper house, called the Senate, are directly elected.

For all links and resources click at top right.

More InfoBORDER=0
Parliament guide
TeachersWorksheet: The House of Lords


Web Links
Parliamentary education unit
Explore Parliament
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NORTHERN IRELAND curriculum relevance
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