Balance of power in the Star Kingdom of Manticore
The affairs of both houses are affected by the activities of the other in many ways; this is part of the notion of balance of power.
The House of Lords' power is based primarily on the fact that the Prime Minister must be a member of that House and the control of the initiation of finance bills. The House of Commons' power lies in the fact that approval of both houses is required for an act to become law as well as the Commons' ability to amend finance bills before approving them. More to the point for the purposes of this little drama, the House of Commons votes to confirm patents of nobility; no one may become a peer of the SK (and thus a member of the House of Lords) without the approval of the Commons. The ability of the Crown and the Commons to "pack" the Lords by creating new peers favorable to the Crown/Commons side of a dispute with the Lords is limited by two factors:
(1) the total membership of the Lords may be increased by a maximum of 10% between general elections;
(2) the peers may vote to exclude any peer for any reason in its sole discretion, which means that the Lords could simply refuse to seat the peers appointed to "pack" its membership.
NOTE: There are Manticoran peerages which do not grant their holder a seat in the House of Lords. Most of these are "life peerages" granted as a sort of public atta-boy! (or atta-girl!), but some are hereditary. After so long as a monarchy, the Star Kingdom has acquired its own share of idiosyncrasies.
Ultimately, the powers of the Lords trump the power of the Commons, which was precisely how the Founders (who were all about to become nobles under the new Constitution) wanted things set up. What Elizabeth wants to do is to split one of the Lords' twin-barreled "whammy" powers -- the power of the purse -- away from the Lords and hand it to the Commons, thereby promoting a more equal balance of power between the two Houses.
In a general election, every member of the House of Commons stands for reelection simultaneously.
[Elections to] The House of Commons is on a regular schedule... sort of. By law, no more than 4 Manticoran years may pass between general elections. That, however, is the maximum amount of time which may elapse between them; the current government can, at its own discretion, call a general election whenever it chooses (although the law requires a minimum period for campaigns to be conducted), and the Prime Minister (a member of the House of Lords) is the head of the current government. That means that a peer of the realm is in charge of deciding when to hold an election for the House of Commons. For obvious reasons, the question of exactly when to schedule such an election is a matter of very careful calculation in the Star Kingdom's political processes.
From a post to Baen's Bar BuShips dated January 17, 2002:
This [each House being able to initiate legislation] is true, but it's true about the US system, not the Manticoran one. I know you're aware of that point; I simply make it as a sort of preface for what follows. I really didn't want to go into all of the details of the constitutional mechanics built into the system to bolster the domination of the Lords in the SK in the current book. God knows I do enough "info dumps" already! But given the nature of this particular debate, I thought I'd give at least a little detail information on the procedure, which is actually akin to the one Doug Lampert has sketched out.
The Manticoran Constitution provides that a finance bill must originate in the Lords. It also provides that the final form of the same bill must be that adopted by the Lords. That is, the Commons may offer amendments, and the usual process is for a compromise form to be worked out in conference, but in the end, the Lords have the authority -- under the Constitution -- to effectively strip the bill of any provisions of which the upper house disapproves. At that point, the only option the Commons have is the scorched earth response of refusing to ratify the bill at all when it returns to the Commons for final vote.
The real weakness of the Commons in this sort of dispute, however, is that the Lords have the power to enact emergency continuance legislation for specified, essential government activities even if a new budget is not agreed to. They cannot create/fund new programs without the concurrence of the Commons, but they can fund the Navy, certain (very narrowly) specified social service agencies, and the operation of the Exchequer's revenue and regulatory offices. They are restricted in the amount by which that funding may be increased under such legislation, but they could keep the bare bones of the government up and running literally for years without the approval of the Commons. Among the things they can't keep running are most of the agencies which provide the services most commonly used by the citizenry as a whole: postal services, immigration offices, advocacy programs, etc. This is deliberate; it is intended to make this sort of standoff painful for the electorate for reasons which should, I think, be fairly obvious.
This has actually happened twice in the history of the Star Kingdom, and both times it was an unmitigated disaster for the House of Commons, which was blamed by the electorate for the shutdown of the portions of the government which could not be continued under emergency legislation. Exactly as the pro-Lords Founders intended things to work out.
The Commons have no real response. Remember that in Field of Dishonor, it was the opposition of certain peers to the declaration of war which was the sticking point for Elizabeth, and it was given additional teeth because the Commons (unlike the Lords) could not have funded military operations in the face of a majority opposition in the Lords.
What Elizabeth wants to do is not to transfer the current fiscal powers of the Lords in toto to the Commons, although certain of the peers think that's what she wants. She's told them differently, but they don't believe her; partly (no doubt, though I'm sure I wouldn't know what they're thinking) because of their very clear recognition of just how enormous their advantage has been and how effectively they've used it historically, which creates a resulting fear that the Commons will seek vengeance upon them if given the chance.
What Elizabeth is actually after, however, is for the Commons to hold the same powers the Lords currently possess but without the ability to enact special enabling legislation. In other words, she is after a system in which the Commons would posses the power to strip out amendments to its finance bills if it finds those amendments offensive to it, but in which a final compromise must be enacted for the government to be funded. In a confrontation like that, the Lords would continue to retain the edge because a collapse of government as a result of a fiscal standoff would not require its members to face an angry electorate. The overall advantage, however, would lie with the Commons. More importantly, the Lords would be deprived of what has actually been its true whiphand in the domination of the lower house. If she can accompany this with other actions intended to restrain the peers' power once she has enough San Martinos in place to support additional reforms, she'll take it, but she isn't conteplating a sudden, massive shift to a clear dominance by the Commons.
Elizabeth probably expects, in the end, that this would indeed be the first crack in the eventual loss of dominance of the Manticoran aristocracy in the Star Kingdom's political processes. She doesn't expect it to happen overnight, however. Indeed, she actually prefers a situation in which the shift will be gradual, the result of a steady evolution rather than an overnight reformation of the system.
Hope this makes some of the process clear. I plan on working some of this detail in later if, for any odd reason, it should happen that the High Ridge Government were to fall and be replaced by one headed by, oh... well, by Willie Alexander, just to pick a random name out of a hat. I just didn't want to throw it all at the reader at a moment when I'm already going to be forced to deal in considerable detail with the tactical infighting swirling around the issue rather than actually showing the budgetary process itself in action.