Talking to the Guardians: The Constitutional Role of the House of Lords


This research paper focuses on the constitutional role of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom. The paper builds on existing academic research suggesting that the House of Lords performs a specific ‘constitutional guardianship’ role. Based on interviews conducted with fifteen selected members of the House of Lords, the paper explores the constitutional role of the House of Lords. It then looks at the work undertaken in the second chamber from the perspective of the Peers themselves.

It seeks to uncover who is engaged in the exercise of this constitutional guardianship function, how they go about doing so, and what they hope to achieve. More specifically, it tests the hypothesis that there is a self-aware sub-group of Peers within the House of Lords performing the constitutional role of the House of Lords on behalf of the House as a whole.

The research reveals a multitude of formal and informal mechanisms utilised by a wide range of members of the House. Although respondents referred to the significance of the permanent and ad hoc select committees and formal debating system in constitutional oversight, they also alluded to more amorphous means and forums through which Peers involve themselves in constitutional matters. The profile of Peers who in some way contribute to carrying out a constitutional role of the House of Lords is extremely diverse. This is partly the result of the multitude of different entry points and personal motivations into constitutionally-relevant debates, and it is even possible for Peers to unconsciously engage in constitutional issues – for example, involvement in human rights discussions.

This paper stresses the importance of the informal networks utilised by a variety of Peers. Furthermore, it examines the significance of individual peers undertaking a constitutional guardianship role in regards to constitutional oversight. The paper concludes with some suggestions for further avenues of research.

Related publications:

Professor Dawn Oliver’s earlier paper on Constitutional Guardians: The House of Lords.

This publication presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject.