Companion to the Standing Orders and guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords



4.01  The House is self-regulating: the Lord Speaker has no power to rule on matters of order. In practice this means that the preservation of order and the maintenance of the rules of debate are the responsibility of the House itself, that is, of all the members who are present, and any member may draw attention to breaches of order or failures to observe customs.

4.02  The word "undesirable" is used in the House of Lords as the equivalent of the expression "out of order" in the House of Commons. If any member is in doubt about a point of procedure, the Clerk of the Parliaments and other Clerks are available to give advice, and members of the House are recommended to consult them.[108]

Role of the Leader of the House and the Whips

4.03  The Leader of the House is appointed by the Prime Minister, is a member of the Cabinet, and is responsible for the conduct of government business in the Lords.[109] Because the Lord Speaker has no powers to rule on matters of procedure, the Leader also advises the House on procedure and order, and has the responsibility of drawing attention to violations or abuse. The Leader also expresses the sense of the House on formal occasions, such as motions of thanks or congratulation. However, like the Lord Speaker, the Leader is endowed with no formal authority.

4.04  The Leader and the private office of the Leader and Government Chief Whip are available to assist and advise all members of the House. Members greatly assist the effective conduct of the House's business if they give as much notice as possible to the Leader and the private office whenever they propose to raise any matter on which the Leader's guidance might be required.

4.05  It is usual for another minister to be appointed Deputy Leader of the House. In the Leader's absence the Deputy Leader takes responsibility for advising the House on matters of procedure and order. In the absence of both of them, this responsibility falls to the senior government Whip present. The Opposition front benches, and the Convenor of the Crossbench Peers (if present), also have a responsibility to draw attention to transgressions of order.

Role of the Lord Speaker in the Chamber

4.06  The House elects one of its members to be Lord Speaker. The process of election is governed by Standing Order 19.[110]

4.07  The primary role of the Lord Speaker is to preside over proceedings in the Chamber, including Committees of the whole House. The Lord Speaker seeks the leave of the House for any necessary absence of a full sitting day or more.

4.08  The Lord Speaker has no power to act in the House without the consent of the House.

4.09  The role of assisting the House at question time rests with the Leader of the House, not the Lord Speaker.

4.10  At other times of day the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair may assist the House by reminding members of the relevant parts of the Companion. Such assistance is limited to procedural advice and is usually given at the start of the business in hand, for example how time is to be divided between the front and back benches in response to a statement, the correct procedure at Report stage, the handling of grouped amendments, and the procedure to be followed in the case of amendments to amendments. Assistance may be helpful at other stages when procedural problems arise.

4.11  The Government Chief Whip advises the House on speaking times in debates. Reinforcing such time limits is handled by the front benches rather than the Lord Speaker, and any member can draw such advice to the attention of the House. Timed debates are brought to an end (if necessary) by the Lord Speaker on an indication from the Table.

4.12  Interventions, in particular those calling attention to the failure of an individual member to comply with the practice of the House, may come from the front benches or other members. This would be the case, for example, when arguments deployed in committee were repeated at length on report. Such interventions would not normally come from the Lord Speaker.

4.13  The Lord Speaker observes the same formalities as any other member of the House, addressing the House as a whole, and not an individual member, and not intervening when a member is on his feet. The Speaker's function is to assist, and not to rule. The House does not recognise points of order. Any advice or assistance given by the Lord Speaker is subject to the view of the House as a whole.[111]

Deputy Speakers

4.14  Certain members of the House are appointed by the Crown by Commission under the Great Seal to act as Deputy Speakers of the House of Lords in the absence of the Lord Speaker.[112] Deputy Chairmen, who perform all the functions of Deputy Speakers,[113] may also act as Speaker. If a Deputy Speaker or a Deputy Chairman is not present, the House may on motion appoint a Speaker for the occasion.

Chairman of Committees

4.15  At the beginning of every session, or whenever a vacancy occurs, a member is appointed by the House to fill the salaried office of Chairman of Committees.[114] He or a Deputy Chairman takes the chair in Committees of the whole House.[115] He is also chairman ex officio of all other committees[116], unless the House otherwise directs. He is ex officio the first of the Deputy Speakers appointed by Commission. He is empowered, in the absence of the Lord Speaker, to recall the House during a period of adjournment.[117]

Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees

4.16  The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees is a salaried office-holder appointed in the same manner as the Chairman of Committees. In addition to assisting the Chairman in his duties, he is appointed to act as chairman of the European Union Committee.[118]

Deputy Chairmen

4.17  At the beginning of every session the House on motion appoints a number of members, proposed by the Committee of Selection, as Deputy Chairmen of Committees.[119] Under the resolution for their appointment, these members are entitled to perform the duties of the Chairman of Committees, except that they may not recall the House under SO 17 in an emergency. Deputy Chairmen exercise all the functions of Deputy Speakers and it is the practice that they are appointed Deputy Speakers at a convenient opportunity after their appointment as Deputy Chairmen.[120]

4.18  In the absence of the Chairman of Committees, one of the panel of Deputy Chairmen officiates in his place. If no Deputy Chairman is present, the House appoints some other member, on motion, to perform his duties on that occasion.

Conduct in the House

4.19  When the House is sitting, all members should on entering the Chamber bow to the Cloth of Estate behind the Throne.[121] It is not the practice to do so on leaving. Members also bow to the Mace in procession, as a symbol of the authority of the Sovereign. All bows are made with the head and not the body.

4.20  SO 20(1) declares that members of the House "are to keep dignity and order, and not to remove out of their places without just cause, to the hindrance of others that sit near them, and the disorder of the House". In practice, this means that members:

  • must not move about the Chamber while a Question is being put from the Woolsack or the Chair;
  • must not pass between the Woolsack (or the Chair) and any member who is speaking;
  • must not pass between the Woolsack and the Table;[122]
  • must leave the Chamber quietly at the end of question time.

4.21  If members wish to speak to other members while the House is sitting, they should go to the Prince's Chamber. Members should not hold conversations in the space behind the Woolsack.[123]

4.22  Mobile telephones must be silent in the Chamber, Prince's Chamber, Peers' Lobby, division lobbies during divisions, the Moses Room and committee rooms during committee meetings.[124] In the Chamber and in committee rooms, pagers must not be used to transmit messages to members of the House for use in proceedings.

4.23  Members should not bring into the Chamber:

  • books and newspapers (except for papers specifically related to the debate);
  • unopened correspondence;
  • briefcases and ministerial boxes.[125]

4.24  Exhibits should not be taken into the Chamber or produced in debate, whether to illustrate a speech or for any other purpose.

4.25  Unless they are disabled, members of the House must speak standing, except by permission of the House.[126]

4.26  Male members of the House must speak "uncovered" (without a hat), except by permission of the House. Women members may wear hats without seeking permission.[127]

4.27  Bishops wear robes of rochet and chimere in the Chamber. They are expected to wear robes whenever possible in the division lobby.[128]

4.28  Lords Spiritual must speak from the Bishops' benches, and no Lord Temporal may speak from there.

4.29  No-one may speak from the gangways in the House.

4.30  Members address their speech to the House in general and not to any individual.[129] Thus the expressions used are: "Your Lordships", "Your Lordships' House" and "the noble Lord", and not "you".


4.31  Debate must be relevant to the Question before the House; and where more than one Question has been put, for example on an amendment, the debate must be relevant to the last Question proposed until it has been disposed of.[130]

4.32  A member may speak on any motion before the House, or upon a question of order arising out of the debate.

Order of speaking

4.33  When two or more members rise to speak, the House determines who is to speak. This may, if necessary, be decided upon a motion that one of the members "be now heard". It is customary for speakers from different parties or parts of the House to take turns.


4.34  For most debates a list of speakers is issued by the Government Whips' Office[131] and is available at 2 p.m.[132] from that Office, and also from the Printed Paper Office, the Prince's Chamber and Peers' Lobby. This list is drawn up after consultation through the usual channels. Members wishing to speak should put their names on the speakers' list at any time before 12 noon on the day of the debate, or 6 p.m. on the previous day if the House is sitting in the morning. Any member whose name is not on the published list may still take part, by speaking "in the gap", that is, before the winding-up speeches. They should inform the Table of their wish to do so, and have their name added in manuscript to the list. Any such speaker is expected to be brief (not longer than 4 minutes).[133] Members are expected to remove their names from the list if they become aware in advance that they are unlikely to be able to stay until the end of a debate (see paragraph 4.40).

4.35  It is not in order for a member to speak after the mover of a motion or an amendment has exercised their right of reply, except when the House is in committee.[134] It is not in order for members to continue the debate on a motion or a question for short debate after the government's reply has been given, save for questions to the minister "before the minister sits down".[135]

4.36  When at the end of a debate the Question has been put, no member may speak save on a point of order.[136]

Interruption of speeches

4.37  A member of the House who is speaking may be interrupted with a brief question for clarification. Giving way accords with the traditions and customary courtesy of the House. It is, however, recognised that a member may justifiably refuse to give way, for instance, in the middle of an argument, or to repeated interruption, or in time-limited proceedings when time is short. Lengthy or frequent interventions should not be made, even with the consent of the member speaking.

Speaking more than once

4.38  In the case of motions, no member may speak more than once, except the mover in reply, or a member who has obtained the leave of the House. Such leave may be granted only to:

4.39  When the House is in committee there is no restriction on the number of times on which a member may speak.

Attendance at debate

4.40  A member of the House who is taking part in a debate is expected to attend the greater part of that debate.[137] It is considered discourteous for a member not to be present for the opening speeches, for at least the speech before and that following their own, and for the winding-up speeches. Members who become aware in advance that they are unlikely to be able to stay until the end of a debate should remove their names from the list of speakers. Ministers may decide not to answer, orally or in writing, points made by a speaker who does not stay to hear the minister's closing speech.

4.41  There are reasons for these customs. Members who have missed the speeches before their own will not know what has already been said and so points may be repeated or missed. Members who leave soon after speaking are lacking in courtesy to others, who may wish to question, or reply to, points they have raised. Debate may degenerate into a series of set speeches if speakers do not attend throughout.

4.42  It is, however, recognised that some members may have commitments related to the judicial or committee work of the House which may prevent them from being able to attend as much of the debate as might otherwise be expected.

Length of speeches

4.43  The House has resolved "That speeches in this House should be shorter".[138] Long speeches can create boredom and tend to kill debate.

4.44  In debates where there are no formal time limits, members opening or winding up, from either side, are expected to keep within 20 minutes. Other speakers are expected to keep within 15 minutes. These are only guidelines and, on occasion, a speech of outstanding importance, or a ministerial speech winding up an exceptionally long debate, may exceed these limits.[139] For length of speeches in time-limited proceedings see paragraph 5.54; in questions for short debate see paragraph 5.40.

4.45  Clocks are installed under the galleries to time the length of speeches. The clocks are used principally to record:

  • the length of speeches in all debates except debates on amendments and in Committee of the whole House;
  • the time taken on amendments at all stages and, in Committee of the whole House, on debates on the Question that a clause or Schedule stand part of the bill;
  • the total time taken for oral questions;
  • for ministerial statements, the length of the statement itself, the frontbench exchanges and the backbench exchanges.[140]

Reading of speeches

4.46  The House has resolved that the reading of speeches is "alien to the custom of the House and injurious to the traditional conduct of its debates".[141] It is acknowledged, however, that on some occasions, for example ministerial statements, it is necessary to read from a prepared text. In practice, some speakers may wish to have "extended notes" from which to speak, but it is not in the interests of good debate that they should follow them closely.[142]

Languages other than English

4.47  Languages other than English should not be used in debate, except where necessary.

Reference to visitors

4.48  Visitors should not be referred to, whether in the public gallery or in any other part of the Chamber, except for the purpose of a motion for the withdrawal of all visitors.[143]

Speaking on behalf of outside interests

4.49  When speaking in the House, members speak for themselves and not on behalf of outside interests. They may indicate that an outside body agrees with the substance of their views but they should not read out extended briefing material from such bodies.[144]

References in debate to the House of Commons


4.50  Members of the House of Commons are referred to by their names, and not by reference to their constituencies.[145] Ministers may be referred to by their ministerial titles. Additional descriptions such as "Right Honourable", "Honourable" and "Learned" are not used, except when referring to ministerial or party colleagues in the House of Commons as "Right Honourable" or "Honourable" friends.


4.51  No Member of the House of Commons should be mentioned by name, or otherwise identified, for the purpose of criticism of a personal, rather than a political, nature. Public activities by Members of the House of Commons outside their parliamentary duties may be referred to.


4.52  Criticism of proceedings in the House of Commons or of Commons Speaker's rulings is out of order, but criticism may be made of the institutional structure of Parliament or the role and function of the House of Commons.

Maiden speeches[146]

4.53  It is usual for a member making a maiden speech not to be interrupted and to be congratulated by the next speaker only, on behalf of the whole House, plus the front benches if they wish.[147] It is therefore expected that a member making a maiden speech will do so in a debate with a speakers' list, so that the House may know that the conventional courtesies apply. In return the maiden speaker is expected to be short (less than 10 minutes) and uncontroversial. The maiden speaker should not take advantage of the indulgence of the House to express views in terms that would ordinarily provoke interruption.

4.54  Members of the House who have not yet made their maiden speeches may not table oral questions or questions for short debate, but may table questions for written answer.


4.55  When a maiden speech is being made, and during the following speaker's congratulations, members of the House are expected to remain in their seats and not leave the Chamber. Those entering the Chamber are expected to remain by the steps of the Throne or below the Bar.


4.56  The proper ways of referring to other members of the House in debate are:

Archbishop of the Church of England "the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of …"
Bishop of the Church of England[148] "the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of …"
Duke"the noble Duke, the Duke of …"
Marquess"the noble Marquess, Lord …"
Earl"the noble Earl, Lord …"
Countess"the noble Countess, Lady …"
Viscount"the noble Viscount, Lord …"
Baron"the noble Lord, Lord …"
Baroness or Lady"the noble Baroness, Lady …" or "the noble Lady, Lady …"
Members with rank of Admiral of the Fleet, Field Marshal or Marshal of the Royal Air Force, members who have held the office of Chief of the Defence Staff, and holders of the Victoria or George Cross "the noble and gallant …" (service rank is not referred to)[149]
Lord Chancellor, Lords of Appeal, Law Officers of the Crown, Judges of superior courts in the United Kingdom (High Court and above)[150] or former holder of these offices "the noble and learned …"
Archbishops of other Churches who are members of the House "the noble and most reverend Lord…"
Bishops of other Churches who are members of the House "the noble and right reverend Lord …"
Former Archbishops or Bishops subsequently made members of the House "the noble and right reverend Lord …"[151]
Fellow member of a political party"my noble friend" (instead of one of the above descriptions)
Relatives"my noble kinsman …" or "my noble relative …" (precise relationship is not mentioned)

4.57  When any Lord who has a higher title than that by virtue of which they sit in Parliament is named in any record of proceedings of the House or of a committee, the higher title alone is used. When such a Lord takes the oath of allegiance, the title or dignity by which they sit in Parliament is added in brackets.[152]

Asperity of speech (SO 33)

4.58  When debate becomes heated, it is open to any member of the House to move "that the Standing Order on Asperity of Speech be read by the Clerk". Standing Order 33 can be read only on a motion agreed to by the House, and this motion is debatable.

"That the noble Lord be no longer heard"

4.59  If in a speech a member is thought to be seriously transgressing the practice of the House, it is open to another member to move "that the noble Lord be no longer heard". This motion however is very rare; it is debatable and seldom needs to be decided on Question since members generally conform to the sense of the House as soon as this sense becomes clear.

4.60  The effect of agreeing to this motion is to prohibit the member in question from speaking further on the substantive motion, but not on any subsequent motion.

The Next Business motion

4.61  A member who does not wish the House to record an opinion on a motion that has been moved may, at any time during the course of the debate, move "That the House do proceed to the next business".[153] It is helpful if a member who intends to move this motion gives notice of his intention.

4.62  A Next Business motion supersedes the original motion before the House and, if it is agreed to, the Question on the original motion is not put, and the debate ends. If it is disagreed to, the debate on the original motion is resumed and the Question is put in the usual way.

4.63  The Next Business motion is debatable and, since it cannot be debated without reference to the original motion, the subject matter of both motions may be debated together. The Next Business motion should be distinguished from the Closure, namely "That the Question be now put", which is not debatable: see below.

4.64  The Next Business motion is not allowed on an amendment; although, after an amendment has been agreed to, it may be moved on the original motion as amended. It may not be moved in any committee of the House.


4.65  The Closure, that is, the motion "that the Question be now put", is not debatable and so requires an immediate conclusion. If carried, it compels the House at once to come to a decision on the original motion. It is a most exceptional procedure. So when a member seeks to move the Closure, the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair draws attention to its exceptional nature, and gives the member concerned the opportunity to reconsider, by reading the following paragraph to the House before the Question is put:

[To be read slowly] "I am instructed by order of the House to say that the motion "That the Question be now put" is considered to be a most exceptional procedure and the House will not accept it save in circumstances where it is felt to be the only means of ensuring the proper conduct of the business of the House; further, if a member who seeks to move it persists in his intention, the practice of the House is that the Question on the motion is put without debate."

4.66  If the member of the House who is seeking to move the Closure persists, the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair must put and complete the Question forthwith without debate, in the following terms: "The Question is that the Question be now put."

4.67  If the Closure is carried:

    (a)  the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair remains on his feet after announcing the result and immediately puts and completes the original Question without further debate;

    (b)  the original Question cannot be withdrawn because the House has decided that the Question be now put; and

    (c)  the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair may not put any other Question until the original Question has been disposed of.

108   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1981-82. Back

109   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1981-82, 1st Rpt 1987-88. Back

110   See also Report of the Select Committee on the Speakership of the House of Lords, HL Paper 92 2005-06; resolutions of the House 12 July 2005 and 31 January 2006; Procedure 3rd and 4th Rpts 2005-06; and House Committee 1st Rpt 2005-06. The first election took place on 28 June 2006. Back

111   Procedure 3rd Rpt 2005-06 Back

112   SO 18. Back

113   There is no difference between Deputy Speakers and Deputy Chairmen other than the method of their appointment: the former by Commission, the latter by motion in the House on a report from the Committee of Selection. Back

114   SO 62. Back

115   Under SO 63 the Lord Speaker may preside over Committee of the whole House. Back

116   Except the House Committee, which is chaired by the Lord Speaker, and the Appellate and Appeal Committees where the senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary present is ex officio chairman. Back

117   SO 17(2). Back

118   Procedure 1st Rpt 1973-74, 3rd Rpt 1974-75. Back

119   SO 64(5). Back

120   See paragraph 4.14. Back

121   SO 20(2). Back

122   Procedure 3rd Rpt 1995-96. Back

123   SO 22. Back

124   Also the Library, the Salisbury Room, the Writing Room, and all bars and restaurants. Elsewhere they may be used with discretion. HL Deb. 31 January 2007 col. WS 15. Back

125   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70. Back

126   SO 27. Back

127   Procedure 1st Rpt 1965-66. Back

128   Procedure 3rd Rpt 1990-91. Back

129   SO 28. Back

130   SO 29. Back

131   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1966-67, 2nd Rpt 1971-72. Back

132   Or before the sitting when the House sits in the morning. Back

133   Procedure 3rd Rpt 1995-96. Back

134   Procedure 1st Rpt 1977-78. Back

135   Procedure 1st Rpt 1977-78. Back

136   SO 30. Back

137   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70; 1st Rpt 1987-88; 3rd Rpt 1995-96; 1st Rpt 1998-99; 1st Rpt 2002-03. Back

138   LJ (1964-65) 386. Back

139   Procedure 6th Rpt 1987-88. Back

140   Procedure 6th Rpt 1971-72, 1st Rpt 1982-83. Back

141   LJ (1935-36) 241. Back

142   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70, 4th Rpt 1992-93. Back

143   Procedure 1st Rpt 1980-81. Back

144   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70, 4th Rpt 1992-93. Back

145   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1991-92, 1st Rpt 1992-93. Back

146   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70. Back

147   Procedure 2nd Rpt 2006-07. Back

148   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70. Back

149   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1988-89. Back

150   Procedure 1st Rpt 1964-65, 1st Rpt 1969-70. Back

151   Procedure 1st Rpt 1974-75. Back

152   SO 7. Back

153   Procedure 5th Rpt 1971-72. Back

154   Procedure 1st Rpt 1960-61, 6th Rpt 1970-71. Back

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