The Rwanda Bill is being debated in The House of Lords and Jenny Jones' speech makes clear that The Lords could stop the bill if Labour were prepared to, but doesn't make explicit, as everyone she is talking to understands the issues, what the various mechanisms are, when the general power of the Lords is to make amendments.

So, a question in three parts.

  1. What are the powers/mechanisms the Lords could use to stop The Rwanda Bill.

  2. What is the Salisbury convention being referred to in the speech, that does/does not prevent part 1.

  3. Why (publicly) are Labour not prepared to do whatever part 1 is?

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    I always thought the House of Lords can only delay, not veto anything the House of Commons agrees to in the UK. Have you for example checked the Wikipedia entry about the UK political system? The powers of the House of Lords might be described well there. Mar 4 at 20:58

1 Answer 1


If the Lords reject or amend a bill it is returned to the House of Commons, for the Commons to consider the Lords' amendments. Under the Parliament Act, if a bill is returned to the Commons a second time, then the Commons can send it directly to the King for royal assent without the approval of the Lords. This means that the Lords can delay a bill, but not block it indefinitely. The Lords have no veto.

The Lords could vote to reject or amend the Rwanda Bill, but those amendments could be reverted by the Commons. The Lords do not have the power to stop the Bill, only delay it. The maximum time they can delay a bill is one year.

The Salisbury Convention is that the Lords do not use their power to delay legislation that is in the Government's manifesto. That is, if the Government has been elected on a manifesto that (for example) promises to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, then the Lords, following the convention, do not reject the bill. This is a Constitutional convention, there is no law that enforces this convention.

However the only mention of asylum seekers in the Conservative manifesto of 2019 was:

We will continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution, with the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so.

Nothing there about Rwanda!

Now why could the Lords potentially "stop" the Bill? Well, a delay of a year would probably put the bill onto the other side of a General Election, and so a potential change of government.

So this is the issue, should the unelected Lords attempt to prevent a bill that has the support of a democratically elected government becoming law? Is it the role of the Lords to use their powers to the full extent granted by the Westminster Acts, or should they be cautious, and only offer amendments and suggestions to reconsider the details of a bill?

Labour is also split. They know that there are substantial sections of traditional Labour support that favour a bill of this type. Everyone now is looking to the General Election, and the calculus is "What will win votes? What will win seats? What will win the Election?"

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    Very nice answer. How does sending a bill twice back amount to a maximum delay of a year. Does the House of Lords has up to six months time for considerations each time? Mar 4 at 22:22
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    That is specified by (I think) the 1949 Westminster Act.
    – James K
    Mar 4 at 22:24
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    Parliament Acts 1911 & 1949, not Westminster Acts: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliament_Acts_1911_and_1949 Mar 5 at 9:14
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    "should the unelected Lords attempt to prevent a bill that has the support of a democratically elected government becoming law?" Yes, no question - that is exactly what they are there for. Please note that just because a particular government is valid doesn't mean that it is supported by the majority of voters. In any case, if the proposed law is unjust, the Lords are _ supposed _ to be there to deal with that to the best of their ability.
    – MikeB
    Mar 5 at 13:05
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    @MikeB True. A government can't claim a mandate for just any policy, especially when there wasn't anything like it in their manifesto. Mar 5 at 14:28

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