Former Leader of the House of Lords emphasises the importance of the second chamber under a new Government

1 Jul 2024, 11:25

By Baroness Natalie Evans, Rud Pedersen Senior Adviser

On Thursday, millions of people will vote to decide who runs the country for the next five years. Reporting of opinion polls has dominated much of the media coverage of the campaign, and this will be the moment when their accuracy is determined.

Members of the House of Lords are barred from voting in general elections. But paradoxically for any incoming government – particularly one that may have a large majority if the polls are right – the Second Chamber might prove to be the voice in Parliament they need to listen more to than they expect.

To illustrate this simply look at the last election. A Conservative government was elected on a majority of 80 to break the Brexit logjam. Scores of new MPs arrived lacking experience of how Parliament worked, unfamiliar with how decisions are made in Whitehall and with no real understanding of how to get the projects they’d pledged to deliver actually get made. When legislation came forward, those MPs – in the early days at least - backed the government largely unquestioningly. Without the Whips’ tools of guillotines or time-limits on debates, the hard yards of scrutiny of legislation and policy often fell to the House of Lords.

This time the challenges will be multiplied. Not only will there once again be many newbie MPs but if Labour was to win then hardly any of its Cabinet or ministers will have held office before – including the Leader of the Opposition (and running the CPS is nothing like the demands a Prime Minister faces). They will face a steep learning curve to simply to navigate Whitehall processes – let alone turn manifesto pledges into policy and legislation.

In contrast, the House of Lords has experienced members ready to provide scrutiny and challenge from day one. Currently Conservatives have 275 peers, Labour has 171, crossbenchers 180, and Liberal Democrats 79 with 40 non-affiliated peers, bishops and others making up the rest.

They are knowledgeable, and independent minded - unlike newly elected MPs keen to impress whips and the leadership – and take pride in carrying out their role as a revising chamber. Those numbers will no doubt change under a new Government but the role the Lords plays will not. Woe betide any Government that thinks adding to their benches will dilute the challenge to them – from experience I can say it won’t!

So for those of us in the Lords, the new Parliament gives us the chance to once again show our value – use our expertise and knowledge to interrogate the new Government’s plans, use our experience and forensic eye to stress test the legislation in front of us, and give a voice to the many organisations – business and charities – that are looking to have their concerns and ideas aired.

Clement Attlee compared the House of Lords to a glass of champagne that has stood for five days. After the corks of election night have long-since popped, the role of the House of Lords may bring challenges the new government didn’t expect.