Select Committee on Procedure of the House First Report


  59. As noted above, self-regulation and the freedoms of the House depend to a high degree on courtesy and self-restraint. These are likely to come under particular strain at a time of change. At the start of the debate on The Queen's Speech, the then Leader of the Opposition put it thus: "Emotions will run high, and the measured judgment in great matters that the public have come to expect of this House will require an extra effort of will on the part of us all".[30] The following recommendations are intended to help.

  60. First, especially in the context of reform of the House, Lords should be careful how they refer to one another, and should refrain from making disparaging remarks about holders of particular types of peerage.

  61. Secondly, the system of "appellations", i.e. how Lords refer to one another in the Chamber, is time-honoured; but it is complicated. We propose no radical changes in advance of reform. However we recommend that Lords should be tolerant of members, especially new members, who, despite their best efforts, get appellations wrong. In particular:

    (a)  A Lord referring to another of a degree above Baron, who cannot remember his degree, should be allowed to refer to "the noble Lord, Lord X" without rebuke;

    (b)  A Lord referring to Lord X of Y should similarly be allowed to refer to him as "the noble Lord, Lord X"; and

    (c)  It should be acceptable (although not desirable) to omit the appellations "learned" and "gallant".[31] Omitting them is better than using them inappropriately; for instance, "learned" should not be applied to a QC or circuit judge (unless he is or has been a Law Officer, e.g. Attorney General).

  62. Thirdly, the sight of front-benchers putting their feet on the Table gives a poor impression to other members and to the public. We recommend that this practice should cease.

  63. Finally, too many Lords have taken to conducting background conversations in the Chamber. This should be strongly discouraged; and we recommend that, as a last resort, the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair should use his power under Standing Order 19 to "stop the business in agitation".[32] Lords should also try to avoid doing business with the Clerk at the Table when a Lord is speaking from the Despatch Box or nearby.

  64. There are other courtesies of the House of which some Lords need reminding. In particular:

    (a)  Lords should bow to the Cloth of Estate on entering the Chamber, though not on leaving (SO 17(2)). Lords should also bow when the Mace passes.[33]

    (b)  "A Lord who is taking part in a debate is expected to attend the greater part of that debate. It is considered discourteous for him not to be present for the opening speeches, for at least the speech before and that following his own, and for the winding-up speeches. Ministers cannot be expected to answer, orally or in writing, points made by a speaker who does not stay to hear the Minister's closing speech. A Lord who becomes aware in advance that he is unlikely to be able to stay until the end of a debate should normally remove his name from the list of speakers."[34] Putting it another way, a Lord who expects the House to listen to what he has to say should extend the same courtesy to others.

    (c)  "Reading of speeches is alien to the custom of the House . . . 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 too closely" (Companion page 68).

    (d)  Lords should never address one another in debate as "you". As one of our correspondents put it, "Speeches are not private conversations".

    (e)  Lords should refer to "the noble Lord, the Minister", or simply "the Minister", but NOT "the noble Minister".

    (f)  The Lord who follows a maiden speaker (and ONLY that Lord) should congratulate him on behalf of the whole House. Other Lords should not leave the Chamber while this takes place.[35]

    (g)  Lords should not pass between the Lord who is speaking and the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair (SO 17(1)).

    (h)  "Lords should not move about the Chamber while a Question is being put from the Woolsack or the Chair" (Companion page 63). This does not of course apply when the Lord Chancellor is speaking as a Minister, whether from beside the Woolsack or from the front bench.

    (i)  Lords should not bring books or newspapers into the Chamber, except for reference in debate (Companion page 64).

30  Hansard 24 November 1998, col. 15. Back
31  The only Lords who should ever be referred to as "learned" are Lord Chancellors, Lords of Appeal, Law Officers, judges of the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Court of Session in Scotland, and former holders of these offices. "Gallant" is reserved for Admirals of the Fleet, Field Marshals, Marshals of the RAF, and holders of the VC or GC (Companion p. 76). Back
32  If it is thought necessary, SO 19 should be amended to make it clear that the power is not confined to conversations behind the Woolsack, and can be exercised by Deputy Speakers and Deputy Chairmen. Back
33  The bow is to the Mace, not to the Lord Chancellor. Back
34  Companion p. 67, as amplified in the Procedure Committee's 1st Report 1994-95 and 2nd Report 1997-98. Back
35  Companion p. 75, as amplified in the Procedure Committee's 1st Report 1994-95 and 3rd Report 1995-96. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999