The Comparative Powers of the Commons and Lords

The comparative powers of the Commons and Lords

The Comparative Powers of the Commons and Lords, figure 1


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.

Comparative Powers

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

  1. 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)
  2. Commons can actually vote down legislation, unlike the Lords
  3. Commons has vote of no confidence option, unlike the Lords
  4. 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
  5. Commons is democratically legitimate- they have more of a right to challenge government
  6. 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:

  1. 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
  2. More political balance in the Lords- no one party dominates
  3. More expertise/specialist knowledge- this means bills are potentially more carefully and effectively scrutinised
  4. Peers are from a range of backgrounds, so represent different groups and interests in society- this gives them some legitimacy
  5. Measures in the Commons such as PMQs are ineffective at properly challenging the government
  6. Government tends to dominate Commons, usually having a majority, meaning bills can be passed fairly easily
Evaluate the extent to which the House of Lords can scrutinise the government more effectively than the Commons. (30 marks - provide an introduction, then 2-3 arguments for, 2-3 against, finishing with a conclusion)
Your answer should include: Party Control / Dominance / Specialist / Knowledge / Legitimacy / Delaying / Legislation / Independence