The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom's national legislature. The Lords currently possess no governmental power whatsoever except to delay a bill passed by the Commons. The House of Lords, like the House of Commons, assembles in the Palace of Westminster.
Unlike the House of Commons, membership of the House of Lords is not attained by election from the population as a whole, but by inheritance or by appointment, or by virtue of their ecclesiastical role within the established church. The Lords currently has around 740 Members, and there are three different types: life Peers, bishops and elected hereditary Peers. The number of members is not fixed. Unlike MPs, the public do not elect the Lords. The majority are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister or of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
Elected hereditary Peers
Membership was once a right of birth to hereditary peers. The ranks of the peerage are, in descending order of rank, duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron, the female equivalents are duchess, marchioness, countess, viscountess and baroness respectively.
In 1958, the predominantly hereditary nature of the House of Lords was changed by the Life Peerages Act 1958, which authorised the creation of life baronies, with no numerical limits. The number of Life Peers then gradually increased, though not at a constant rate.
The right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords was ended in 1999 by the House of Lords Act. As a part of a compromise, however, it agreed to permit 92 hereditary peers to remain until the reforms were complete. Thus all but 92 hereditary peers were expelled under this Act, making the House of Lords predominantly an appointed house.
Appointed for their lifetime only, these Lords' titles are not passed on to their children. The Queen formally appoints life Peers on the advice and recommendation of the Prime Minister.
Archbishops and bishops
A limited number of 26 Church of England archbishops and bishops sit in the House, passing their membership on to the next most senior bishop when they retire.
The Lord Speaker is the speaker of the House of Lords. The office is analogous to the Speaker of the House of Commons: the Lord Speaker is "appointed" by the members of the House of Lords and is expected to be politically impartial. It was announced on 4 July 2006 that Baroness Hayman had won the first election for the position. Until July 2006, the role of presiding officer in the House of Lords was undertaken by the Lord Chancellor.
The Lords work in Parliament's second Chamber - the House of Lords - and complement and operate alongside the business of the House of Commons. It is one of the busiest second chambers in the world. The expertise of its Members and flexibility to scrutinise an issue in depth means the Lords makes a significant contribution to Parliament's work.
Making laws takes up the bulk of the House of Lords time, and Members are involved throughout the process of proposing, revising and amending legislation. Some Bills introduced by the Government begin in the Lords to spread the workload between the two Houses.
Checking the work of Government
Lords check the work of the Government by questioning and debating decisions made by Ministers and Government Departments.