The Significance of the Commons & Lords

The Significance of the Commons & Lords


The Commons has supreme legislative power- the chamber proposes and passes laws, and can stop bills from being passed into law. The Lords cannot do this- it can only delay bills. The Commons also has ‘confidence and supply’ powers- the government only exists as long as it has the confidence of the Commons, and if defeated on a motion of confidence the government would step down, prompting a general election. ‘Supply’ refers to the Commons granting the government money through supporting legislation involving the supply of taxation, for example.


The Lords can delay bills passed by the Commons by up to one year, but there are exceptions to this. They cannot delay ‘money bills’ (bills with a significant financial aspect) or bills which were specifically outlined in the governing party’s manifesto- this second type of bill is protected under the Salisbury Convention. The Lords also has some veto powers, for example if the government tried to extend the life of a Parliament (so delaying a general election), this could be blocked by the Lords.


The Commons can be argued to be more powerful than the Lords because:

  • Lords can only delay bills, and suggest amendments, which can then be overturned by the Commons (for example, in 2017 the Lords attempted to add amendments onto the passing of the Article 50 bill to trigger the exit from the EU which guaranteed EU citizens’ rights for those already living in the UK. This was swiftly overturned by the Commons)
  • Commons can actually vote down legislation, unlike the Lords
  • Commons has vote of no confidence option, unlike the Lords
  • MPs are more independently-minded than in the past, so are less likely to toe the party line- this makes the Commons more assertive against the government
  • Commons is democratically legitimate- they have more of a right to challenge government
  • Committees and PMQs are used to scrutinise government- the Prime Minister does not appear before the Lords to be challenged

The Lords can be argued to be powerful at challenging the government because:

  • Party control is much weaker as Lords don’t need to be re-elected, so the government can’t rely even on their own party peers backing them
  • More political balance in the Lords- no one party dominates
  • More expertise/specialist knowledge- this means bills are potentially more carefully and effectively scrutinised
  • Peers are from a range of backgrounds, so represent different groups and interests in society- this gives them some legitimacy
  • Measures in the Commons such as PMQs are ineffective at properly challenging the government
  • Government tends to dominate Commons, usually having a majority, meaning bills can be passed fairly easily

Parliament Interaction with the Executive


Backbenchers can be argued to have a significant role in Parliament, because:

  • They can introduce Private Members’ Bills which may become laws
  • ‘Ten Minute Rule Bills’ are an opportunity for backbenchers to voice an opinion on a subject or aspect of existing legislation. MPs make speeches of no more than ten minutes outlining their position, which another Member may oppose in a similar short statement. This can raise the profile of a particular issue
  • They can carry out detailed scrutiny of government bills and policy, through working on public bill and select committees
  • They can pose questions to government ministers during Question Time
  • They can examine government actions through debates in the Commons
  • They can write questions to ministers, who must provide a response
  • They can raise concerns of their constituents and bring them to the government’s attention
  • They can use parliamentary privilege- this grants legal immunities for MPs and peers to allow them to perform their duties without interference from outside of the House

Backbenchers can be argued to not have a significant role in Parliament, because:

  • Private Member’s Bills very rarely become law, so most of a backbencher’s time is spent considering government bills
  • When it comes to scrutiny, government whips limit role of their backbenchers, limiting their independence and significance
  • When debating, there is a limited time available to discuss issues in detail, and debates often have little direct impact on legislation
  • MPs could represent the people better- they are often elected with less than 50% of the vote in their constituencies, and the views of women and minority groups could be argued to be not properly represented
  • Question Time is often weak and ineffective