House of Lords (Themiclesia)

House of Lords
Type
Type
upper house
of the Parliament of Themiclesia
Term limits
hereditary
History
FoundedFebruary 21, 1845 (1845-02-21)
Preceded byCouncil of Peers
Seats457
Elections
appointed by the monarch on the advice of the prime minister
Meeting place
Kaw-men Hall

The Themiclesian House of Lords (徹侯之省, r′jêt-go-tje-srêng′) or House of Peers is the upper house of the bicameral Themiclesian parliament. It was formed in 1845 from the Council of Peers on the model of the Tyrannian House of Lords, to secure Conservative influence and to check Reformist will during franchise reform that created the modern House of Commons. Its powers originally extended over legislative, executive, judicial, and royal family affairs, though the latter three have been restricted subsequently. Currently, it consists of 445 members and primarily exercise an advisory and cautionary role.

The emperor summons and prorogues the House of Lords upon the advice of the prime minister. The House of Lords cannot be dissolved as it is not an elected body, but it is usually prorogued while the Commons is dissolved.

Etymology

The Shinasthana name of the Themiclesian House of Lords was fixed only recently by resolution, before which statutes used a variety of terms to identify the institution. The term r′jêt-go-tje-srêng′ means "chamber of ordinary barons", which stands in contrast with the Commons, literally called the "chamber of bloodlines" (群姓之省).  The terms which had identified the upper house include "chamber beneath the gate" (門下省), "east chamber" (東省), and "chamber of lords-in-waiting" (侍中侯省). While any of these terms still exist in statutes in force today, it is customary in the Anglian language to use the term "House of Lords" to refer to the institution post-1845, though there is no such convention for the modern body's predecessors.

History

Formation

The Great Settlement of 1801 wrested power over legislation and taxation from the throne to an anti-war alliance of peers and other aristocrats. At the time, the Council of Peers, which had been a relatively informal group of hereditary peers that served at court in various roles, took on a new political significance as the forum where all peers legitimized their collective opinions. The council relied on the rule that edicts could not be promulgated until two peers countersigned it.  The rule was originally only a measure of authentication, but after the Great Settlement it enabled the peers to control the legislative process, by refusing to authenticate edicts that seemed disagreeable to them, especially of royal authorship. But in 1809 most of the peers assented that a threshold of two peers was too weak against royal power and vulnerable to defection, so henceforth only half of all peers could pass an edict.

The same process of converting an existing institution to facilitate the expression of political will also occurred on the Council of Protonotaries, whose members are elected by the gentries of the prefectures triennially. This council originally served as a secretariat, which the emperor favoured for converting his political acts into edicts, since royal secretaries were typically more dependent on royal will to obtain promotions. The alliance seized control of the secretariat, further shoring it up against royal power. With control over both councils and with a disgraced monarch, the alliance became known as the Conservative Party and governed Themiclesia without effective opposition between 1800 and 1821. Some describe this as a one-party state, but others believe the party was insufficiently entrenched to constitute a one-party state in the modern sense.

But as Themiclesian gentry became familiar with the ideals of Enlightenment and their apparent influence in Casaterra and Camia, the traditional form of election was esteemed arcane and undemocratic. Political diversity was restored in 1821 with the death of Emperor 'Ei and appointment of Lord Sghjang as Reformist prime minister, but the administration fell rapidly under both scandal and political assault from the Conservatives. Merchants sought to gain influence by bribing electors or sponsoring candidates, but due to their financial security and unaccountability once elected, it rarely was effective. Their discontent and sympathy with Reformist voices within the gentry culminated in the dockyard riots of 1841 and 1844 that compelled the gentry to allow reforms.  

The Lord of Rjai-lang proposed to grant the franchise, after the Tyrannians, to all educated and propertied males. He argued that the expanded franchise would not only settle unrest within the gentry but make it possible to tax them legitimately. The land-owning, aristocratic Conservatives were concerned such a franchise would produce a strong and long-lasting Reformist leaning in the Council. Against this, they too drew inspiration from Casaterran bicameralism to formalize a upper house that retained veto power over bills from the elected house. This chamber was framed as a strengthening reform to the Council of Peers. The matter was hotly debated across the salons of Kien-k'ang and finally passed in 1844, to come into effect the following year.

Stasis

In the first decade of the upper house's existence, party discipline was lax, as the house was comfortably Conservative in leaning. However, the Liberal leader the Lord of Rjai-ljang was also a member of this house. Gar-lang was responsible for a number of key debates in which he sometimes successfully swayed the members of the house to vote against their immediate, personal interests, appealing to future or national ones. Yet due to its natural alignment, the house was frequently at odds with the elected lower house. By the end of Rjar-lang's premiership in 1859, deadlock between the two houses had become the norm. The Liberal Party's programme to reform and invest in the military and eliminate unimportant offices in the civil service were particularly contentious, only passing the Lords by the cheap sale of public lands to peers, which was a thinly-disguised form of bribery. Since 1860, Themiclesian commons and crown lands have been wholly exhausted, leaving the Liberals nothing by which to purchase the support of the Lords. In 1862, the new Liberal leader appealed to rural tenant farmers, accusing the aristocracy of extortion and not earning their prestige and wealth. This was aimed at destabilizing rural communities that most peers relied upon for income, thereby weakening them, and inducing long-term tenants to move to cities, which would further depress labour prices. In response, the peers aligned with and funded workers unions in urban environments, militating them against the capitalist politics and provoking strikes.

Since the opening of the franchise in 1844, the House of Commons had been a Liberal stronghold, largely due to the terms of the franchise; only in the presence of contentious issues or failed Liberal promises have Conservatives ever commanded a majority there. Electors were very likely to be bourgeoisie, since only these individuals would own enough capital equipment or non-agricultural land (taxed at a much lower rate) to be enfranchised. In 1870, the Conservatives proposed to extend the franchise by halving the theshold from ten m′rjing per annum to five, which is projected to quadruple the size of the electorate. The Liberals rejected the Conservative proposal in the Commons, resolving that the franchise should be given to all men of "proven worth", which excluded peers (who did nothing to gain their worth) and the poor (who had too little worth). Thus, neither Liberals nor Conservatives supported universal franchise in this period. Instead, both parties in 1878 agreed to an extension of the franchise that maintained the current balance of power in the Commons. The new strain of Conservatism that sought to maintain the social structure by portraying the upper class as philanthropists, juxtaposed against the unrestrained capitalist, is called New Conservatism, or New Conservative Movement. This is compared to the old movement that believed the role of elected representatives was limited to assent and budget.

Function

Legislative

The primary function of the House of Lords is as a upper house in the legislative process, having the power to propose, debate, amend, and pass bills. The chamber initially enjoyed all the formal authorities that the Commons possessed—including the right to propose, amend, and reject money bills, but this particular right has been curtailed by statute.[1] The Lords in the house or committees have power to summon witnesses to acquire opinions on bills. The house still has the power to refuse passage of a bill passed by the Commons, until a general election has occurred and it is passed again by the Commons. At this point, the support of any two members of the house, a sponsor and a second, will be sufficient to pass the bill, regardless of how the rest of the Lords vote.

The ceremony of royal assent occurs in the upper house. After Tyrannian practice, the emperor visited the quorate chamber, with the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, and President of Tribunes in retinue; the Marshal of Peers chaperoned the emperor and served as first lord in waiting. Another peer, usually the lord speaker pro tempore, reads the title or full text of the bill. The emperor indicated his assent with a nod, at which the Marshal of Peers pronounced, "it is accepted by command" (令曰可, ringh-gwrjat-k′ar). While assent has never been withheld at this stage, the hypothetical phrase indicating this outcome would be "it is commanded to deliberate further" (令復議, ringh-bjegh-ngjarh). The President of Tribunes, would apply the royal seal onto the bill. Emperors Muk, Tjang, and Mjen invariably granted their assent promptly and in person, but Emperor Goi (r. 1886 – 1921) often commanded other courtiers to deliver assent, which alienated the Conservatives, believing the monarch had a formal but indispensible role in politics.

Executive

The power of the Lords over executive actions is directly inherited from the traditional powers of the Councils of Attendants. Any act of the government that requires the assent of the crown must be tabled at the House of Lords, where it is given a pro forma reading and presented to the sovereign for approval. Generally, little debate occurs on these acts. In recent years, Progressives have resented even this degree of scrutiny and sought to abolish this formality, since any speeches made may influence the reputation of the government. The Reductions in Formalities Act of 1975 provides that secondary legislation may be presented to the sovereign directly, without passing the House of Lords; however, both the Liberals and Conservatives have generally sought to follow this custom despite its being non-mandatory.

Judicial

Review of capital sentences

The judicial role of the House of Lords is, again, connected to those of its predecessors. Prior to the abolition of capital punishment in 1853, the Lords retained an absolute veto on its use. After the Exchequer of Appeals and Home Secretary had reviewed the capital sentences meted out during the year, the list of sentences would be read, one-by-one, to the Lords; members would be called by name and declare either "Upon my conscience, this case is satisfactory", indicating that the punishment was justified, or "Upon my conscience, this case is not satisfactory", indicating the punishment was unreasonable.

A simple majority in the chamber was required to validate the sentence. Scholars have asserted that, since the lords were called upon, by name, individually to give their judgment, it resulted in a very restrictive use of capital punishment, as few wanted to be seen as profligate with capital punishment. After abolition, this procedure became obsolete.

Impeachment and attainder

The Lords have power to try impeachments that the Commons pass but not to begin impeachment proceedings, except against the house's own members. When impeachment trial begins, the Commons command the President of Tribunes or one of his subordinates to present its arguments to the Lords. The defendant can be arrested by the Commons, if a commoner, or by the Lords, if not. The Lords may summarily refuse to proceed by not admitting the President of Tribunes. After the defedant has been brought before the house, arguments are heard much as a normal trial. If the defendant was a commoner, he is represented by a peer and not present in person; if no peer sponsors the defendant's case, the Lord Speaker may to appoint a member to do so.

After arguments, the members of the house act as judge of both fact and law; a simple majority is required for conviction. After that, the house passes sentence by a simple majority. Historically, any punishment found in the law may be imposed, including capital punishment, unlimited fines, imprisonment, and punishments that extended to the family of the convicted.

After the establishment of the House of Lords in 1845, this procedure has rarely been used. But after the 1948 and 1950 impeachment trials of Lieutenant-general Kraw and Rear Admiral Tsro, respectively, the question of separation of powers came into public attention and was subject to much criticism. As Kraw was sentenced in absentia to life in prison himself due to public anger in Dayashina rather than any capital crime, commentators criticized the susceptability of the upper house to impulse and prejudices of the upper class. The Limitations on Judicial Powers Act of 1953 limited the range of possible punishments to removal from office, personal debarrment from public service, and fines not exceeding the total value of emoluments received up to the point of impeachment.

Court of final resort

The House of Lords, in a nominal sense, remains the court of last resort for private and public cases in general. While formerly appeals were tried by the entire house, with all members acting as judges of law, procedures since 1885 require that only justices of appeal be involved in deciding each case. These members are customarily called "law lords" after Tyrannian practice. Since the size of the bench in the Court of Appeal is not fixed, and it was customary to ennoble a judge after ten years on the bench, the law lords are also not fixed in number. The bench decided on questions of law by a vote of majority. Trial proceeds very much as in impeachment trials, with both parties represented by counsel, rather than in person. In 1953, as part of the reforms to the judicial functions of the House of Lords, the law lords were deprived of the power to vote on legislation.

Unlike some apex courts, the house had no discretion over cases reviewed. In the 19th century, about three quarters of the house's sitting time was devoted to judicial proceedings, which was considered anomalous. Between 1846 and 1920, to prevent waste of judicial resources, the government could impose a forfeiture on the plaintiff-in-error, in case the Lords do not overturn the judgment. The size of the forfeiture is arbitrary and has been as high as 100 million m′rjing.[2] Nevertheless, the forfeiture is not considered an illegal barrier to litigation, as the amount does not need to be paid beforehand.

In actual practice, the government's imposition of any amount of forfeiture was invariably criticized, sometimes even by the upper house itself. Moreover, the case is seen to have failed if the house was prorogued before favourable judgmet was given, and the power to prorogue lay with the executive. The house often waives the forfeiture for litigants deemed unable to pay or if the case had "legitimate cause" to see further deliberation, even if judgment was not reversed. In 1937, Lord of Snjang-lang castigated the Forfeiture Act in terms of executive infringement on judicial power, stating that the imposition of such a massive and debilitating fine amounted to judicial power, which was exercised without authority and proper oversight. In 1918, the Liberal government abolished the reviled forfeiture system with only scant opposition.

Membership

The membership of the House of Lords is restricted to the upper rank of the Peerage of Themiclesia, the r′jêt-go (徹侯) or ordinary peer. The lower rank, that of run-go or titular peer, is eligible for election to the House of Commons.

Inheritance

Under the Peerage Act of 1847, a title in the peerage can be inherited by eldest, legitimate, male offspring of the peer's body. This law was amended in 1971 to be irrespective of the sex of the offspring, so a female offspring may inherit the title if she is older than the eldest male offspring. While some sections of society debated whether females may pass on their titles, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal have both ruled, on the grounds of precedent, that female peers are competent to do this as much as male peers. The primogeniture rule amongst several legitimate heirs remains in effect.

In order for an offspring to be legitimate, his biological parents must be legally married to each other at the point of birth. The marriage of a peer, though autonomous unlike the royal family, must be reported to the Marshal of Peers to be effective. The offspring had to be born on Themiclesian soil in order to be eligible to inherit, but this has been relaxed in 1894. If a peer has married multiple times, whether due to the death of the spouse or divorce, his offspring from the first marriage is preferred from those of subsequent marriages.

The law requires those inheriting titles to be metally sound, financially solvent, and not a convicted criminal. The House of Lords itself judges whether any inheritor is disqualified along these lines. A child is permitted to inherit a title, but he is not able to take his seat in the House until 25 years of age; if any allegation of insanity, insolvency, or criminality is made on a peer in his minority, these must be raised at the point he takes his seat. Thus, if a peer becomes legally insane at the age of 20 and but recovers by the time he is 25, he is still eligible to take his seat. If a peer is declared insane after taking his seat, he is no longer permitted to recover his seat and title, which then pass to his successor.

If a peer is convicted, usually by the House, of any crime which calls for imprisonment, his is considered to have vacated his seat, which passes to his successor. If a peer has been convicted in a different court, the House may vacate his seat by a vote. If declared insolvent, he must vacate his seat until he has satisfied his debts to creditors.

Proxy

If a peer cannot attend the House, he is permitted to report his absence to the Marshal of Peers before the start of a session and give his vote to a different peer. However, to ensure attendance, the House declared in 1897 that a peer can only do so if he has been present at least once during the previous session, effectively meaning a peer must attend one out of every two sessions to have a valid proxy vote. A proxy vote may not be proxied again to a third peer, with or without permission from the original peer; this question was settled in 1846, almost as soon as the modern House came into existence.

Acceleration

Similar to Tyrannian practice but also rooted in domestic custom, the eldest son of an ordinary peer can also obtain a seat in the House of Lords if he already has the rank of a titular peer. The sons of peers possess privileges to receive appointments, which in turn grants them a better chance of becoming titled themselves. If the sitting peer is unwell or occupied, writs of acceleration can be issued as a matter of course to give the seat to his eldest son; however, since the reform of 1845, eldest sons who possess the required rank will automatically receive a seat alongside their fathers. Thus, Lord Kam sat in the House between 1940 and 1941 until his assassination, signing his name on bills as "Lord Kam in lieu of the Lord of P.rjang" (柑君行邴侯事).

If an accelerated peer precedes his father, the seat is automatically cancelled and may not be inherited.

Premises

The House of Lords possesses four main sections where its legislative and judicial functions occur, the Kaw-men Hall, the Judicial Committee complex, the Inner Court of Attendants, and the Outer Court of Attendants.

Kaw-men Hall

The House of Lords currently occupies the Kaw-men Hall (高門殿, kaw-men-ntenh) and its surrounding galleries, peristyle, and buildings, to the east side of the Palace Hall in the Sk'ên'-ljang Palace.

The name kaw-men means "tall gate", a reference to the diased gates of aristocratic houses, though that this name applied to the house is accidental. The hall was originally built in 525 and several times rebuilt, in traditional Themiclesian architecture, with a hip roof over a plot of pillars. It served as the bedchamber for the empress-dowager when she visited the monarch and was built according to royal sumptutory entitlements. The hall measures 98 by 42 m, with fourteen bays on the north-south axis and six on the east-west. The middle row of pillars are to create a more open interior. It is mostly occupied by the chamber of House, with a gallery one bay wide on each side. For these dimensions but not membership, the Lords has been considered one of the largest upper houses in the world.

The layout of the hall reflects its former use as a bedchamber. The north and south ends of the hall, within the gallery, each have one bay separated as antechambers. In the fourth bay from the west, there is a large, canopied structure, facing east. This the Parliamentary Throne (省御座, srêng-nhjah-dzarh), where the sovereign sits. Presiding officers sit at the foot of the throne. The antechamber west of the throne is reserved for royal use, where there is a smaller throne and seats for members of the retinue. That in the east contains the box of the Gentleman-Captain and seats for visitors to the house, usually occupied by litigants and testimonies.

The main chamber is separated from the gallery with drapery, which could be lifted or lowered to regulate lighting in the chamber or provide privacy. The drapery of the House of Lords is renowned for its luxury and weight, being silk and velvet lined several times and woven out of gold thread in many places. As the chamber has no permanent walls, the weight of the drapery keeps the interior separated from the elements.

Since the chamber would be completely dark with all curtains closed, there is a considerable number of lamps and chandeliers, which were candlelight until the introduction of electricity in 1905, 22 years behind the Commons. The house being a wooden structure, all open flames were contained by a polished bronze shroud that emitted light by reflection; a dish of water surrounded the actual flame that it would go out if tipped over. Foreign dignitaries visiting the house in the 1800s described the atmosphere as "eerie and quiescent, as it might have been in the dark ages".

Lords Exchequer

Court of Gentlemen

Judicial Committee

Notes

  1. Historians think this is related to the share of revenues influenced by the shifting economic structure. As the Commons represented the commercial and industrial classes, which came to dominate the economy approaching the end of the 19th century, it was believed the Lords, whose income was primarily agricultural, should not be able to interfere with the spending of the Commons.
  2. The famous "you will be ruined if the government wins" case, in 1880. This would have been a grossly-unpayable fine that would 1) force the convicted into debt servitude and 2) saddle his estate with so much debt that his descendants would be disinherited from.

See also