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Library Note

Customs and Traditions in the House of Lords


The two separate Houses of Parliament date back to the 14th century when Archbishops, Bishops,
abbots and priors (Lords Spiritual) and noblemen of rank (Lords Temporal) began to formally meet. This
started what we now know as the House of Lords. In the following century, the peerage separated into
five distinct ranks, on an hereditary basis: duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron.
The House of Lords is the oldest second chamber in the world and resides with the House of
Commons in one of the most iconic buildings in the worldthe Palace of Westminster. The Palace
became the permanent home of Parliament after 1512 when Henry VIII abandoned the Palace in favour
of the nearby Palace of Whitehall following a fire.
The Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire in 1834only Westminster Hall, the
Undercroft Chapel, the Cloisters and Chapter House of St Stephens and the Jewel Tower survived. The
construction of the new palace began in 1840 and was designed by architect Sir Charles Barry. The
grade I listed building became part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
The Palace today, with its grand neo-gothic architecture and Pugin-designed interiors, is still home to a
busy, working Parliament. The House of Lords is currently made up of around 825 Members from a
variety of professions and walks of life who are engaged each day in negotiating rules, customs and
traditions, some of which are as old as Parliament itself.
This Library Note describes a selection of the customs and traditions, rules of behaviour and courtesies
of the House. It illustrates the key ceremonies in the House of Lords, including the State Opening of
Parliament, and highlights some of the less-known traditions. The Note also identifies changes that have
taken place in recent decades, highlighting the way customs and traditions evolve over time. The Note
draws on a range of sources with particular attention paid to two key documents that set out the
procedure and practice of the House of Lords: the Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the
Proceedings of the House of Lords (2015) and Erskine Mays Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and
Usage of Parliament (2011).

Maxine James
24 August 2015
LLN 2015/025

House of Lords Library Notes are compiled for the benefit of Members of the House of Lords and their personal staff,
to provide impartial, politically balanced briefing on subjects likely to be of interest to Members of the Lords. Authors
are available to discuss the contents of the Notes with the Members and their staff but cannot advise members of the
general public.
Any comments on Library Notes should be sent to the Head of Research Services, House of Lords Library,
London SW1A 0PW or emailed to purvism@parliament.uk.

Table of Contents
1. Members in the Chamber .......................................................................................................................... 1
1.1 Introduction to the House .............................................................................................................. 1
1.2 Robes ................................................................................................................................................... 3
1.3 Maiden Speeches ............................................................................................................................... 4
1.4 Valedictory Speeches ........................................................................................................................ 4
1.5 Where Members Sit and Speak...................................................................................................... 5
2. The Lord Speaker ........................................................................................................................................ 5
2.1 Lord Speakers Procession and the Mace .................................................................................... 6
2.2 Woolsack ............................................................................................................................................ 7
3. Practice in the Chamber ............................................................................................................................ 7
3.1 Prayers ................................................................................................................................................. 7
3.2 Business ............................................................................................................................................... 8
3.3 Rules of Debate and Conduct in the Chamber .......................................................................... 8
3.4 Speaking in the Chamber ................................................................................................................. 9
3.5 Use of Electronic Devices ............................................................................................................. 11
4. Ceremonies................................................................................................................................................. 12
4.1 State Opening................................................................................................................................... 12
4.2 Royal Assent and Endorsements on Bills ................................................................................... 14
4.3 Prorogation ....................................................................................................................................... 15
4.4 Clerk of the Parliaments ................................................................................................................ 15
4.5 Black Rod .......................................................................................................................................... 16
5. Other Customs and Traditions .............................................................................................................. 17
5.1 Dress .................................................................................................................................................. 17
5.2 The Chamber: House of Lords Red and the Throne.............................................................. 18
5.3 Protest Book .................................................................................................................................... 18
Appendix 1: Seating Arrangements in the House of Lords Chamber................................................ 20
Appendix 2: The Protest Book ................................................................................................................... 22

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

1. Members in the Chamber


1.1 Introduction to the House
With the exception of 92 hereditary Peers1 and 26 Lords Spiritual2Church of England
Archbishops and BishopsMembers of the House of Lords are appointed by the Sovereign, on
the advice of the Prime Minister. Before a Member can be formally introduced, a title has to be
agreed and Members may not take their seat until they have received Letters Patent from the
Monarch and a writ of summons, issued by direction of the Lord Chancellor from the Office of
the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery.3
Members are ceremonially introduced to the House if they are:
a.

newly created life peers

b.

Archbishops, on appointment or on translation

c.

a Bishop on first receiving a writ of summons or, if already a member of the


House, on translation to another see.4

Excepted hereditary Peers require no introduction to the House and, after receiving a writ of
summons, can take their seat and the oath of allegiance without any ceremony.5
Oath of Allegiance
I (giving name and title) do swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
Affirmation
I (giving name and title) do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful
and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Her heirs and successors, according to
law. So help me God.

For more information on hereditary Peers, see House of Lords Library, Hereditary Peers in the House of Lords Since
1999, 24 March 2014, LLN 2014/014.
2
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester are ex-officio
members of the House of Lords. The remaining 21 places on the Bishops Bench are occupied by English diocesan
Bishops. When Bishops retire from their seecompulsory at 70their membership of the House also ceases.
The Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015 introduces provisions (for ten years) that stipulate that a vacancy amongst
the 21 non-reserved seats of the Lords Spiritual will be filled by a woman English diocesan Bishop, ahead of a male
English diocesan Bishop. In the absence of a woman English diocesan Bishop the longest serving male Bishop will fill
the place. For more information on the Lords Spiritual, see the Church of England website, The Lords Spiritual,
accessed 22 April 2015; House of Lords Library, House of Lords: Religious Representation, 25 November 2011,
LLN 2011/036; and House of Lords Library, Women in the House of Lords, 30 June 2015, LLN 2015/007.
3
House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 1.07.
4
ibid, para 1.09.
5
ibid, para 1.14.

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

At the introduction ceremony, new Members must swear an oath of allegiance or solemn
affirmation in English, but it may be repeated in Gaelic or Welsh (see text box above).6 The
oath or affirmation is also taken in every new Parliament and after a demise of the Crown.7 The
ceremony of introduction for life Peers derives from that used in 1621 and was reformed in
1998 following the report from the Select Committee on the Ceremony of Introduction.8 The
Committees report made a number of recommendations which resulted in the ceremony seen
today:
1.

A procession led by Black Rod, followed by the new Peer with two supporters, enters
the Chamber, where each member of the party bows once on reaching the bar; the new
Member then proceeds to the Table of the House, where the Reading Clerk reads the
Letters Patent and the new Member takes the oath or makes the solemn affirmation and
signs the Test Roll.

2.

Led by Black Rod and accompanied by his supporters, the new Member proceeds
behind the Clerks chairs. Stopping at the cross-benches the Peer and his supporters
would bow their heads to the Cloth of Estate.

3.

The procession then proceeds along the spiritual side of the House. On reaching the
Woolsack, the new Peer shakes hands with the Lord Chancellor [now the Lord
Speaker] before proceeding out with his supporters.9

The full ceremony is detailed in Appendix K of the Companion to the Standing Orders, including
the stipulation that Members are to sign an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct as
part of the ceremony, and at the start of each Parliament.10
The Lords Spiritual Introduction Ceremony
The ceremony of introduction of an Archbishop or Bishop is broadly the same as for life Peers,
but Lords Spiritual are not preceded by Black Rod and have no Letters Patent to present. 11 The
ceremony is further described in the Companion to the Standing Orders, and can be summarised
as follows:
1.

The new Bishop, in his episcopal robes carries his writ of summons and enters the
Chamber, preceded and followed by a supporting Bishop, also in their robes. At the Bar
they bow to the Cloth of Estate and then approach the Table. The new Bishop hands his
writ to the Reading Clerk at the Table.

2.

The Reading Clerk reads the writ and administers the oath of allegiance to the Bishop,
who then signs the Test Roll upon the Table.

ibid, paras 1.161.25.


For more details on the origins of the ceremony of introduction, see House of Lords Library, Ceremonial in the
House of Lords, 5 March 2010, LLN 2010/007, section III.
8
House of Lords Select Committee on the Ceremony of Introduction, The Introduction of New Members to the
House of Lords, 2 March 1998, HL Paper 78 of session 199798.
9
ibid, para 56.
10
House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
Appendix K.
11
ibid.
7

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

3.

The new Bishop and his supporters then process in front of the Cross Benches and turn
to face the Woolsack. Together, they bow to the Cloth of Estate.

4.

The three Bishops then approach the Woolsack. The new Bishop shakes hands with the
Lord Speaker and the three Bishops then take their seats on the appropriate bench.12

Guidance for New Members


The House of Lords Chamber has been described by one observer as having a minefield of
rules and conventions that can seem arbitrary.13 When they are appointed, and before they
give their maiden speech, Members are provided with several key documents, including:

Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015

Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords, May 2015, HL Paper 3 of session
201516

Handbook on Facilities and Services for Members and their Staff, March 2013

Procedure and Practice in the House and Grand Committee: A Brief Guide for Members, 2011

These guide the Members through the complexity of rules, procedures and traditions in the
House. New Members also meet the Clerk of the Parliaments and Black Rod who provide
further guidance. Staff of the House provide additional information for new Members on areas
such as security, IT, refreshments and library services.
Dr Emma Crewe has conducted detailed research on the House of Lords and written about
the huge practical difficulties and bewildering quantity of information that new Peers need to
assimilate.14 Dr Crewe noted some of the difficulties faced by new Members, not least
familiarising themselves with procedure and the unwritten conventions governing behaviour
and language in the Chamber.15 Some of the rules in the Chamber are outlined in sections 3.3
and 3.4 of this Note.

1.2 Robes
It is customary that new Members wear their parliamentary robes at introduction. In March
1998, the Select Committee on the Ceremony of Introduction reviewed various aspects of the
ceremony and recommended that the practice of wearing parliamentary robes at introduction
be continued.16 This custom has been criticised by some who believe it to be anachronistic and
misleading. For example, in March 2014, the Labour Peers Working Group recommended that

12

ibid.
Emma Crewe, Lords of Parliament: Manners, Rituals and Politics, 2005, p 8.
14
ibid, pp 1419.
15
ibid, p 19.
16
House of Lords Select Committee on the Ceremony of Introduction, The Introduction of New Members to the
House of Lords, 2 March 1998, HL Paper 78 of session 199798, para 27.
13

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

the practice of wearing ceremonial robes at the introduction ceremony be discontinued.17 On


introducing a debate on this report, Baroness Taylor of Bolton said:
We believe that the wearing of robes creates an image of the House that belies the very
modern contribution that the Lords makes to current political life. It may make for good
television for some, but it does nothing but detract from our very positive contributions
to the working of our democracy.18
Further information on Members dress is contained in section 5.1 of this Note.

1.3 Maiden Speeches


The initial speech made by a Member of the House of Lords is known as a maiden speech and is
by tradition an occasion marked with respect by the House. New Members have to make their
maiden speech before they are able to fully participate in the work of the Housethey may not
table oral questions or questions for short debate.19 Maiden speeches should last for no more
than ten minutes and be uncontroversial. It is usual for a Member making a maiden speech not
to be interrupted and to be congratulated by the next speaker, on behalf of the whole House.
During a maiden speech, and the following speakers congratulations, it is expected that
Members will remain seated and not enter or leave the Chamber.20
New Members making their maiden speech have been described by Emma Crewe as generally
nervous; this is a result of the:
[] close, near-silent attention of unusually well-informed listeners; the high standards
of debate; the anxiety of the speaker about the unknown, unpredictable and ferociously
policed rules; the knowledge that their acceptance depends upon whether they speak
well; and, most of all, the fact that they are all there for the rest of their lives.21

1.4 Valedictory Speeches


A newly introduced procedure, the valedictory speech, was introduced as a result of
retirement provisions in the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. The House agreed to the
House of Lords Procedure Committee recommendation that retiring Members be given the
opportunity to make a valedictory speech:
We consider that a Member who has formally notified his or her retirement should
have the opportunity of making a valedictory speech. Like maiden speeches, certain
conventions should apply to valedictory speeches: they should be short (less than ten
minutes), uncontroversial and made in a debate with a speakers list. The Member

17

Labour Peers Working Group, A Programme for Progress: The Future of the House of Lords and its Place in a Wider
Constitution, March 2014, para 10.
18
HL Hansard, 19 June 2014, col 926.
19
House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 4.47.
20
A selection of maiden speeches can be found in: House of Lords Library, House of Lords: Maiden and Valedictory
Speeches, 21 May 2015, LLN 2015/0011.
21
Emma Crewe, Lords of Parliament: Manners, Rituals and Politics, 2005, p 14.

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

speaking immediately after a valedictory speech would pay tribute to the departing
Member, plus the front benches if they wish.22
This was agreed by the House on 30 October 2014.23 Subsequently, the first valedictory speech
was made on 16 December 2014, by Lord Jenkin of Roding.24 A further four Members have
given valedictory speeches upon retiring from the House under the provisions of the Act:
Viscount Tenby25; Lord Lloyd of Berwick26; Lord Eden of Winton27; and Viscount Montgomery
of Alamein.28

1.5 Where Members Sit and Speak


By convention, the Government and their supporters occupy the benches to the right hand side
of the Thronealso referred to as the spiritual sideand the opposition parties sit to the left
hand sideor the temporal side.29 The exception is that the first two benches nearest to the
Throne on the spiritual side are taken by the Bishops. The cross benches are for Members who
are not affiliated to any political party and for Members who belong to other parties.30
Members in receipt of a writ of summons; Members who are currently disqualified from sitting
or voting in the House; and hereditary Peers who were former Members may sit on the steps
of the Throne. Others who may sit on the steps include: Black Rod and his Deputy; retired
Members, including Bishops who previously had a seat in the Lords; and the eldest child of a
Member of the House.31
For a map of the seating arrangements in the Chamber, see Appendix 1.

2. The Lord Speaker


The presence of an individual who presided over proceedings within the House of Lords has
existed since the 16th century.32 However, the position of the Lord Speaker in its current form
is a more recent innovation.

22

House of Lords Procedure Committee, House of Lords Reform Act 2014: Further Consequential Changes, Questions
for Short Debate, Queens and Prince of Wales Consents, 15 October 2014, HL Paper 50 of session 201415, para 2.
23
HL Hansard, 30 October 2014, cols 131417.
24
HL Hansard, 16 December 2014, cols 1414. Further information on valedictory speeches can be found in the
House of Lords Library, House of Lords: Maiden and Valedictory Speeches, 21 May 2015, LLN 2015/0011.
25
HL Hansard, 19 March 2015, cols 11501.
26
HL Hansard, 26 March 2015, cols 15658.
27
HL Hansard, 16 July 2015, cols 7045.
28
HL Hansard, 2 June 2015, col 3234.
29
House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
paras 1.661.71.
30
ibid, footnote 1 to para 1.66.
31
For a complete list of those who may sit on the steps of the Throne see, House of Lords, Companion to the
Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015, para 1.72.
32
N Underhill, The Lord Chancellor, 1978, p 102.

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

The post of Lord Speaker was created under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.33 Previously
the Lord Chancellor acted as Speaker of the House of Lords and sat on the Woolsack. The
Lord Chancellor was also a member of the Government, head of the judiciary and the senior
judge of the House of Lords in its judicial capacity. The Lord Chief Justice is now head of the
judiciary, and the Lord Chancellor may no longer sit as a judge.
The Lord Speaker now oversees proceedings in the Lords Chamber, speaks for the House on
ceremonial occasions and acts as an ambassador for the Lords in the UK and abroad. The
current Lord Speaker is Baroness DSouza, who is the second Lord Speaker, and was elected
by Members of the House on 11 July 2011.34 Lord Speakers can sit for two terms only, which
last a maximum of five years each. The Lord Speaker assumed some of the responsibilities in
the House previously held by the Lord Chancellor, but, unlike the Lord Chancellor, is
independent of government in their appointment and role.
Deputy Speakers assist the Lord Speaker and also sit on the Woolsack in the Lord Speakers
absence.

2.1 Lord Speakers Procession and the Mace


Before each days sitting in the House, the Lord Speaker walks in procession from her room to
the Chamber, preceded by the Mace.35 The Mace is a staff of office symbolising authority that is
carried in and out of the Lords and the Commons Chambers in a procession at the beginning
and end of each day. Without the mace in position, each House cannot sit and debate.36
The Lord Speakers procession consists of a doorkeeper, followed by the Deputy Serjeant-atArms or Principal Doorkeeper bearing the Mace.
Once in the Chamber and after prayers, the Lord Speaker takes her seat on the Woolsack
the Mace previously being placed on the Woolsack behind the Lord Speaker. The Mace is
similarly carried out in procession at the end of business in the Chamber. Without the Mace in
position the Lords cannot sit and debate. A corresponding Mace is used in the Commons when
it is sitting.
The current form of the Lord Speakers Procession evolved from that of the Lord Chancellors,
and results from recommendations made by the Procedure Committee in May 2006,37 following
the changes made in the speakership of the House of Lords by the Constitutional Reform Act
2005.

33

Further information on the creation of the role of the Lord Speaker and elections can be found in House of
Lords Library, Principal Office Holders in the House of Lords, 19 March 2015, LLN 2015/007; House of Lords,
Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2013, paras 1.461.56; Erskine
May, Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 2011, 24th edition, p 71; House of Lords
Library, Principle Officeholders in the House of Lords, 19 March 2015, LLN 2015/007; and in House of Lords, Election
of the Speaker of the House of Lords, 6 June 2011.
34
Elections for the Lord Speaker use the Alternative Vote system. For further information on the current Lord
Speaker, see Parliament website, What does the Lord Speaker do?, accessed 11 March 2015.
35
Further information on the Lord Speakers Procession and the Mace can be found in House of Lords, Companion
to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015, para 3.043.05; and House of Lords
Library, Ceremonial in the House of Lords, 5 March 2010, LLN 2010/007, section V.
36
Parliament website, Mace, accessed 17 July 2015.
37
House of Lords Procedure Committee, Speakership of the House, 4 May 2006, HL Paper 172 of session 200506.

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

Formerly, the Lord Chancellor in his procession was accompanied by a Train Bearer and a
Purse Bearer.38 The Purse Bearer related to the Lord Chancellors ministerial functions and is
therefore no longer part of the Lord Speakers office since the reforms.

2.2 Woolsack
In front of the Throne is the Woolsack, on which the Lord Speaker, a Deputy Speaker or a
Deputy Chairman appointed by the House, sits. The Woolsack is thought to have been
introduced in the 14th century to reflect the economic importance of the wool trade to
England.39 Over the years, its stuffing changed to hair, but in 1938 it was re-stuffed with wool
from England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and countries of the Commonwealth, given by
the International Wool Secretariat. The other two woolsacks are used by judges at the State
Opening of Parliament.
The Companion to the Standing Orders lists the protocols regarding the Woolsack, that Members:

Must not move about the Chamber while a Question is being put from the Woolsack or
the Chair.40

Must not pass between the Woolsack (or the Chair) and any Member who is speaking.

Must not pass between the Woolsack and the Table.41

3. Practice in the Chamber


A typical day in the Chamber of the House of Lords follows a set pattern summarised below.
This section also sets out some of the rules and customs surrounding the proceedings in the
Chamber.

3.1 Prayers
The custom of reading prayers at the beginning of business in the Lords Chamber is thought to
have begun around 1558.42 Prayers are read by one of the Bishops, who take a week each in
turn.43 Only Members of the Lords are present during prayersthe doors of the House are
closed and the public and staff are excluded. The prayers that are read can be found in the
Companion to the Standing Orders.44

38

Parliament website, Speakers Procession and Lord Speakers Procession, accessed 11 March 2015.
Parliament website, Traditions of Parliament, accessed 22 April 2015.
40
The House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, states
that when the House goes into committee, the Lord on the Woolsack leaves the Woolsack and takes the Chair
at the Table of the House (ibid, para 8.78).
41
House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 4.12
42
Parliament website, Prayers, accessed 30 January 2015.
43
House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 3.06.
44
ibid, Appendix J, pp 2646.
39

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

3.2 Business
Following prayers, on a typical Monday to Thursday, a 30 minute slot of four parliamentary
questions are held. The remainder of the dayusually until 10pm on Monday, Tuesday and
Wednesday and 7pm on Thursdayis largely spent scrutinising and debating legislation. Time is
also allocated for debates on current issues or to draw the governments attention to concerns
during breaks in the legislative business and for longer debates on Thursdays. The House of
Lords has around ten sitting Fridays each session and business usually consists of debates on
private members bills.
In session 201415, over half of the time (58 percent) that the House was sitting was devoted
to debating and scrutinising legislation.45 31 percent of the time was spent debating policy issues
and the remaining 12 percent consisted of parliamentary questions, government statements and
other matters.46 For detailed information, the House of Lords Sessional Statistics provides a
breakdown of the work of the House of Lords for each session of Parliament.

3.3 Rules of Debate and Conduct in the Chamber


The unique characteristic of the House of Lords is that it is self-regulating, which means that all
Members are responsible for ensuring that the rules are followed.47 Unlike the Speaker in the
House of Commons, the Lord Speaker does not rule on matters of order or decide who will
speak next. If two or more Members rise to speak in debates on legislation or at question
times, the House decides who speaks. The custom is for Members from different parties or
parts of the House to speak in turn.
Self-regulation has been described as the Chambers most challenging, and cherished,
peculiarity.48 Professor Meg Russell, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit at University
College London, has pointed out that the speaking arrangements in the Lords rely on
considerable courtesy and good judgement by Peers but are fragile and could potentially
result in chaos if all Peers asserted their rights to speak.49
The Government Chief Whip provides advice to the House on speaking times in debates.
For second reading debates on bills and most non-legislative debates, Members who wish to
speak put their name on a speakers list which the Government Whips Office issues. The
speakers lists are available to Members across the House and on the Government Whips
Office website.50
The Leader of the House provides advice to the House on procedure and order. They also
have the responsibility of drawing attention to violations or abuse.51 Guidance on procedure
is also provided by the Clerks who sit at the table.
45

House of Lords, Sessional Statistics on Business and Membership 201415, 2015, p 1.


Numbers do not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.
47
For further information, see, House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the
House of Lords, 2015, para 4.014.10; and Erskine May, Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of
Parliament, 2011, 24th edition, p 514.
48
Emma Crewe, An Anthropology of the House of Lords: Socialisation, Relationships and Rituals, The Journal of
Legislative Studies, 17 August 2010, vol 3 no 3, pp 31324.
49
Meg Russell, The Contemporary House of Lords, 2013, p 85.
50
For more information on the speakers list, also see, House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide
to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015, para 4.264.29.
51
Erskine May, Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 2011, 24th edition, p 514.
46

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

3.4 Speaking in the Chamber


Appellations
Members of the House should refer to each other during debates using certain appellations, as
set out below:
Baron
Baroness
Earl
Archbishop of the Church of England
Archbishops of other Churches

the noble Lord, Lord


the noble Baroness, Lady
the noble Earl, Lord
the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of
the noble and most reverend Lord

A complete list of titles and their appellations is set out in the Companion to the Standing
Orders.52
In April 2011, the Leaders Group on Working Practices, chaired by Lord Goodlad
(Conservative) to consider the working practices of the House of Lords, reported that the
Houses use of appellations was confusing and in urgent need of review.53 It recommended
that the current convention on appellations be discontinued and simplified.54
This recommendation, and a range of others, was considered by the Procedure Committee
which set out proposals for a simplified system of appellations which the Clerk of the
Parliaments had drawn up. During consideration of the Committees report, Members who
supported the recommendation on simplifying appellations said that it would help new
Members, other Members and the public, who find some of the appellations completely
bewildering, that it is perfectly in order to say noble Lord or noble Lady without specifying
the full title.55 Others thought it was a retrograde step to start changing an age-old custom56
and reminded Members that preserving courtesy was a very important element of this
House.57
The House divided with 173 Members voting in favour of the proposal on simplified
appellations and 173 Members voting against.58 The proposal was therefore rejected.
Length of Speeches
The Companion to the Standing Orders reminds Members that: long speeches can create
boredom and kill debate.59 The Chamber has a number of clocks that are used to record the
length of speeches; the time taken on amendments, the total time taken for oral questions; and

52

House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
pp 734.
53
Leaders Group on Working Practices, Report of the Leaders Group on Working Practices, 26 April 2011. HL Paper
136 of session 201012, para 203.
54
ibid, para 208.
55
HL Hansard, 8 November 2011, col 162.
56
ibid, col 160.
57
ibid, col 161.
58
ibid, col 167.
59
House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 4.37.

10

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

for ministerial statements.60 Most debates have recommended time limits with the time allotted
to each speaker being stated on the speakers list.61 In debates with no formal time limits, the
opening and winding up speakers are expected to keep within 20 minutesother speakers
within 15 minutes. However, the Companion to the Standing Orders notes that these were only
guidelines and might be exceeded by a speech of outstanding importance or a ministerial
speech winding up an exceptionally long debate.62
The length of speeches has been described as an issue that brings together all Peers to act as a
sort of collective police; and the howling that takes place when rules are infringed is selfregulation in action.63
Members who are speaking may be interrupted with a brief question for clarification. As the
Companion to the Standing Orders notes, giving way accords with the customary courtesy of the
House.64 A further point of courtesy is that if a Member is speaking in a debate, they are
expected to attend the greater part of that debate. It is considered discourteous for him not
be present for the opening speeches, for at least part of the speech before and that following
his own.65
Asperity of Speech
If a debate does become heated, any Member can move that the Standing Order on Asperity
of Speech be read by the Clerk.66 Standing Order 32 is read by the Clerk of the Parliaments:
To prevent misunderstanding, and for avoiding of offensive speeches, when matters are
debating, either in the House or at Committees, it is for honour sake thought fit, and so
ordered, That all personal, sharp, or taxing speeches be forborn, and whosoever
answereth another mans speech shall apply his answer to the matter without wrong to
the person: and as nothing offensive is to be spoken, so nothing is to be ill taken, if the
party that speaks it shall presently make a fair exposition or clear denial of the words
that might bear any ill construction; and if any offence be given in that kind, as the
House itself will be very sensible thereof, so it will sharply censure the offender, and
give the party offended a fit reparation and a full satisfaction.67
The Asperity of Speech Standing Order was first recorded on 13 June 1626.68 It was last moved
on 10 March 1998 by Earl Russell (Liberal Democrat) after an exchange in the Chamber with

60

Erskine May, Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 2011, 24th edition, pp 51920.
The time limits are set out in Erskine May, Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 2011,
p 520.
62
House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 4.37.
63
Emma Crewe, An Anthropology of the House of Lords: Socialisation, Relationships and Rituals, The Journal of
Legislative Studies, 17 August 2010, vol 3 no 3, pp 31324.
64
House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 4.31.
65
Erskine May, Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 2011, 24th edition, p 521.
66
House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 4.52.
67
House of Lords, The Standing Orders of the House of Lords Relating to Public Business, July 2013, HL Paper 105 of
session 201314, SO32.
68
ibid.
61

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

11

Lord Whitty (Labour).69 Earl Russell moved the Standing Order and the House divided. The
votes were 169 contents and 68 not-contents.
That the Noble Lord be No Longer Heard...
If during a speech a Member is thought to be contravening the practice of the House, another
Member may move that the noble Lord be no longer heard. As the Companion notes, this
motion is very rare as Members generally conform to the sense of the House.70 If agreed
to, the motion has the effect of preventing the Member from speaking further on the motion
they are able to speak on any subsequent motions.
The motion That the noble Lord be no longer heard was last used on 14 July 2011 during a
debate at report stage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.71

3.5 Use of Electronic Devices


It might be surprising to those whose impression of the House of Lords is that of Peers wearing
ceremonial robes that the use of hand-held electronic devices is now permitted in the
Chamber.
A review conducted by the Administration and Works Committee in January 2011 said that
the rules regulating the use of mobile telephones and other electronic devices were
incomplete, outdated and contradictory.72 The Committee recommended a one-year trial
period allowing Members to use hand-held electronic devices, in silent mode, to access
Parliamentary papers and other documents which are clearly and closely relevant to the
business before the House or Grand Committee.73 However, the Committee limited the use
of such devices, recommending that Members should not be permitted to use the internet to
search for material that might be used in the course of proceedings, but which is not generally
available to participants by other means.74
The House agreed to the Committees recommendations in March 2011.75 Following the trialperiod, the Committee reviewed the use of electronic devices and noted that most Members
seem to have accepted their use in the Chamber.76 There remained, however, some confusion
regarding the rules on internet searches which were consequently simplified in the
recommendation that:
Members should be able to use handheld electronic devices (not laptops) in the
Chamber and Grand Committee for any purpose, provided that they are silent and are
used with discretion. This includes using such devices to send or receive messages for
use in proceedings, or to access information for use in debate.77
69

HL Hansard, 10 March 1998, cols 16770.


House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 4.53.
71
HL Hansard, 14 July 2011, col 9578.
72
House of Lords Administration and Works Committee, Use of Electronic Devices in the House, 31 January 2011,
HL Paper 92 of session 201011, para 1.
73
ibid, para 8.
74
ibid.
75
HL Hansard, 10 March 2011, cols 174567.
76
House of Lords Administration and Works Committee, Use of Electronic Devices in the House: Follow-Up Report,
27 April 2012, HL Paper 298 of session 201112, para 6.
77
ibid.
70

12

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

The House agreed the report78 and the Companion to the Standing Orders was updated
accordingly.79

4. Ceremonies
This section will outline the principal ceremonies that take place in the House of Lords. It
begins with the well-recognised State Opening of Parliament and goes on to describe the lesser
known ceremonies that take place: Royal Assent and endorsements on bills; and prorogation.
The Lord Speakers Procession that takes place on each sitting day of the House of Lords is
described in section 2.1 and the ceremony of introduction for new Members is referred to in
section 1.1.

4.1 State Opening


The parliamentary year begins at the State Opening of Parliament which is the main ceremonial
event of the parliamentary calendar.80 Traditions surrounding State Opening and the delivery of
a speech by the Monarch date as far back as the 16th century.81 The current ceremony dates
from the opening of the rebuilt Palace of Westminster in 1852 after the fire of 1834.
Today, the Queens Speech, delivered at State Opening, sets out the Governments agenda for
the coming parliamentary session and marks the formal start to the parliamentary year.
Although the Queen reads the Speech, the content is written by the Government and approved
by the Cabinet.82 The State Opening is the only regular occasion when the three constituent
parts of Parliamentthe Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commonsmeet.
The State Opening of Parliament takes place after a general election and at the beginning of
each new session of Parliament. Since 2012, the Government has given an undertaking that
State Opening will happen in the spring, although in the recent past it was generally set for
November.
The State Opening begins with the Queens procession from Buckingham Palace to
Westminster, escorted by the Household Cavalry.83 The Queen, who may be accompanied by
members of the Royal Family, travels in the Irish State Coach. Further coaches carrying
members of the Royal Household precede the State Coach.
The Queen is met at the Sovereigns Entrance by the Earl Marshall and the Lord Great
Chamberlain who are attended by Heralds. The Royal Standard is flown from the Victoria
Tower and gun salutes are fired in Hyde Park and the Tower of London. The Queen proceeds
to the Robing Room where she puts on the Imperial State Crown and the Robe of State. The
Royal Procession is led through the Royal Gallery by senior parliamentary and government
78

HL Hansard, 12 July 2012, col 1257.


House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
paras 4.224.24
80
For further details on the State Opening, see, for example: John Brooke-Little, Royal Ceremonies of State, 1980;
Norman W Wilding, Encyclopaedia of Parliament, 1972, p 508; and House of Lords Information Office, State Opening
of Parliament, 2014. For an historical account of the State Opening, see House of Lords Library, Ceremonial in the
House of Lords, 16 December 2011, LLN 2010/007.
81
House of Lords Library, Ceremonial in the House of Lords, LLN 2010/007, 16 December 2011.
82
Gov.uk, Queen's Speech 2014 Explained, 23 May 2014.
83
Parliament website, State Opening of Parliament, accessed 22 April 2015; and House of Lords Information
Office, State Opening of Parliament, 2014.
79

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

13

officers, including the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Speaker. The Great Sword of State and the
Cap of Maintenance, symbols of sovereign power and authority, are carried in front of the
Queen.
As the Queen enters the Lords Chamber the lights of the House, which have been dimmed, are
turned up. When the Queen is seated upon the Throne, the Lord Great Chamberlain signals to
Black Rod to summon MPs from the House of Commons. The doors to the Commons
Chamber are shut in his face: a practice dating back to the Civil War, symbolising the
Commons independence from the monarchy. Black Rod strikes the door three times before it
is opened. Members of the House of Commons then follow Black Rod and the Commons
Speaker to the Lords Chamber, standing at the opposite end to the Throne, known as the Bar
of the House, to listen to the Speech.
After the arrival of the MPs, the Lord Chancellor ascends the steps of the Throne, withdraws
the Royal Speech from his purse and hands it to the Queen. After the Speech, the procession
returns to the Robing Room in the order in which they came. The Queen is then escorted back
to the Irish State Coach as before. In both Houses a new parliamentary session can now begin,
starting with Debates on the Address.
The spectacle of the State Opening has other notable traditions, including, the customary
walk from the House of Commons to the House of Lords, where the MPs express their
disdain and displeasure at being ordered about by the Monarch and walk slowly and noisily
across the Central Lobby to the doors of the House of Lords.84 A further example is the
searching of the cellars by the Yeoman of the Guard to commemorate the Gunpowder Plot of
1605.
The State Opening ceremony takes place in the House of Lords Chamber before Members of
both Houses and guests including ambassadors, high commissioners and judges. The ceremony
is seen on television by the public in Great Britain and across the world.
Further information on some of the participants in State Opening, such as the Lord Great
Chamberlain and the Earl Marshall, can found in House of Lords Library, Principal Office Holders
in the House of Lords.
Select Vestries Bill
A little-known and historic convention is the reading of the Select Vestries Bill which takes
place at the opening of a new parliament, or session, and immediately before the debate on the
Queens Speech.85 The Companion to the Standing Orders states that, under Standing Order
75(2):
At the time appointed for the sitting of the House (usually 3.30 pm on the day of State
Opening) the Lord Speaker takes her seat on the Woolsack. Prayers are read and
members of the House may take the oath. A bill, for the better regulating of Select
Vestries, is then read a first time pro forma on the motion of the Leader of the House,

84
85

Emma Crewe, Rituals in Parliament, 2006, p 98.


Church of England in Parliament, A State Opening Traditionthe Select Vestries Bill, accessed 29 June 2015.

14

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

in order to assert the right of the House to deliberate independently of the Crown.
Until this has taken place, no other business is done.86
As the Church of England in Parliament website noted, the Select Vestries Bill is an established
custom that:
[] is not really legislation at all. It is pro-forma and is never printed or debated, but
whilst it is of no substantial legislative consequence what it represents is of great
significance in terms of the relationship between Parliament and the Crown.87
A similar process occurs in the House of Commons.88 Erskine May describes it as follows:
It is the practice, in both Houses, to read some bill a first time pro forma, in order to
assert their right of deliberating without reference to the immediate cause of summons.
In the Lords this practice is governed by Standing Order No 75. In the Commons the
same form is observed pursuant to ancient custom. The Select Vestries Bill is read in
the Lords and the Outlawries Bull in the Commons. Debate is out of order.89
A footnote in Erskine May also points out that in the House of Commons, the bill is recorded
as having been read the first time and ordered to be read a second time, with no day appointed
for the second reading. In neither House is the bill ordered to be printed.
At the start of the 201516 session, after the Queens Speech and before the speech was
debated, the Select Vestries Bill was read a first time.90

4.2 Royal Assent and Endorsements on Bills


Royal Assent is the formality that marks the Monarchs agreement to make a bill an act.91 For a
bill to become an act of Parliament, it must first pass through both Houses before it can receive
Royal Assent. When Royal Assent has been given to a bill, the announcement is usually made in
both Houses by the Lord Speaker in the Lords and the Speaker in the Commons.92
The Monarch used to be present for the giving of the Royal Assent to bills. This last occurred in
1854.93 It is now announced by the Speaker in the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker in
the House of Lords in their respective Houses, using the words:
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the
Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts [and measures].94
86

House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 2.05.
87
Church of England in Parliament, A State Opening Traditionthe Select Vestries Bill, accessed 29 June 2015.
88
House of Commons Library, Traditions and Customs of the House: House of Commons Background Paper, 2 August
2013, SN/PC/06432.
89
Erskine May, Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 2011, 24th edition, p 159.
90
HL Hansard, 27 May 2015, col 7.
91
For more details on Royal Assent, see Norman W Wilding, Encyclopaedia of Parliament, 1972, pp 6536; House
of Lords Library, Ceremonial in the House of Lords, 16 December 2011, LLN 2010/007, p 10; and Erskine May,
Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 2011, 24th edition, pp 6425.
92
For procedural details on Royal Assent, see, House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the
Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015, Appendix F.
93
Erskine May, Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 2011, 24th edition, p 644.
94
ibid.

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

15

The Clerk of the Parliaments then endorses the acts in Norman French, saying: La Reyne le
veultthe Queen wills it.95 The formal language of a bills passage through Parliament are
written in Norman Frencha tradition dating back to a time just after the Norman Conquest
when Norman French was the official language of government.96 Further examples are: Soit
baill aux Communesused when a House of Lords bill is sent to the House of Commons
and Ceste Bille est remise aux Seigneurs avecque des raisonsused when the House of
Lords lists the reasons why it does not agree with a House of Commons bill.97 The reasons
themselves are written in English.

4.3 Prorogation
Prorogation is the formal end to a parliamentary session, or parliamentary year. An
announcement is usually made, on behalf of the Queen, which is read in the House of Lords.98
As with the State Opening, it is made to both Houses and the Speaker of the House of
Commons and MPs attend the Lords Chamber to listen to the Speech.
The same announcement is then read out by the Speaker in the Commons. Following this both
the House of Commons and House of Lords are officially prorogued and will not meet again
until the State Opening of Parliament.99
Prorogation brings to an end nearly all parliamentary business. However, public bills may be
carried over from one session to the next, subject to agreement.
Since the passing of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, no Parliament may continue to sit
for more than five years from the day on which, by writ of summons, it was appointed to
meet.100
The 201415 session of Parliament was prorogued on Thursday 26 March 2015 and dissolved
on 30 March 2015.101

4.4 Clerk of the Parliaments


The Clerk of the Parliaments is the most senior official in the House of Lords. He calls on the
business of the House and participates in certain ceremonial occasions. The Crown appoints
him or her as head of the permanent administration and the chief procedural adviser to the

95

ibid.
Parliament website, Norman French, accessed 24 August 2015.
97
Additional examples of Norman French endorsements on Bills can be found at House of Lords, Companion to the
Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015, Appendix H.
98
The last Monarch to prorogue Parliament in person was Queen Victoria in 1854 (Erskine May, Treatise on the
Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 2011, 24th edition, p 146).
99
Further details on prorogation can be found in: Erskine May, Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage
of Parliament, 2011, 24th Edition, pp 1457; Parliament website, Prorogation: Modern Practice, accessed 24 April
2015; House of Lords Library, Ceremonial in the House of Lords, 5 March 2010, LLN 2010/007, section II; and
Norman W Wilding, Encyclopaedia of Parliament, 1972, pp 61819.
100
House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 2.14.
101
Parliament website, Dissolution of Parliament, accessed 24 April 2015, and House of Commons, Dissolution of
Parliament, 28 January 2015, SN 05085.
96

16

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

House.102 It is a role similar to that of a chief executive in a commercial business and with a
number of administrative and management responsibilities. The Clerk of Parliaments sits for a
large proportion of each day in the Chamber and keeps a supervisory watch over its
proceedings.
David Beamish is the 63rd Clerk of the Parliaments. He took up office on 15 April 2011
following the retirement of his predecessor Michael Pownall. David Beamish took his oath of
office on 26 April 2011.103
The Clerk of the Parliaments is Chairman of the Management Board for the House of Lords
and also has a number of specific legal and contractual administrative responsibilities. These can
be summarised as follows:

The Clerk of the Parliaments has responsibility for the performance of statutory and
contractual duties towards all employees and others.

He is the Corporate Officer of the House of Lords and is authorised to enter into
contracts on behalf of the House.

He is the Accounting Officer for the House of Lords and has the same responsibilities as
do Accounting Officers in the Civil Service regarding, for example, public finances and
resource accounting.

The Clerk of the Parliaments is custodian of the records of Parliament stored in the
Victoria Tower in the House of Lords.

He provides authoritative advice on procedural matters on a daily basis to the Lord


Speaker, the Leader of the House and other Members of the frontbenches, the
Chairman of Committees and individual Members.

He is responsible for maintaining the authentic records of proceedings of the House and
for preparing the texts of Acts of Parliament and for endorsing the proper copies of bills
and acts.104

The job title Clerk of the Parliaments is plural to signify that the position is permanent and
remains through successive Parliaments.105

4.5 Black Rod


The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rodgenerally, simply known as Black Rod is a senior
official in the House of Lords who has responsibility for security in the House and also has a
ceremonial role. The office originated as Usher of the Order of the Garter in the 14th century
in the reign of King Edward II.106
102

For further information on the Clerk of the Parliaments, see, Parliament website, Clerk of the Parliaments
(Lords), accessed 24 August 2015; and Parliament website, The Clerk of the Parliaments: Role and Functions,
accessed 24 August 2015.
103
HL Hansard, 26 April 2011, col 10.
104
ibid.
105
Parliament website, Clerk of the Parliaments (Lords), accessed 10 July 2015.
106
Parliament website, Black Rod, accessed 24 August 2015.

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

17

Black Rod also holds the title of Secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain (who is the Officer
of State responsible for Royal affairs at Westminster) and is responsible for and participates in
the major ceremonial events in the Palace of Westminster, including the State Opening of
Parliament, Royal and State Visits, and other ceremonial events.107 He also participates in new
Members introductions to the House (see section 1.1).
The public generally know Black Rod from his role in the State Opening of Parliament. After
the Queen has taken her seat on the Throne, she despatches Black Rod to the Commons
Chamber to summon MPs to hear the Queens Speech. The door of the Commons is slammed
in Black Rods face. He then bangs three times on the door with the rod.
This custom dates back to 1641 and has been continued as a way to symbolise the Commons
independence from the Sovereign and the Lords. After knocking, Black Rod is admitted to the
Commons Chamber and requests Members attendance.108
MPs pair up, led by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, and follow Black Rod to
the Bar of the House of Lords to hear the Queens Speech.

5. Other Customs and Traditions


5.1 Dress
Members dress in the House of Lords is not officially specified in a code of conduct, however,
Peers of both sexes generally are attired smartly with most Lords wearing a jacket and tie and
female Members suitably dressed.109
Ceremonial dress is restricted to the ceremony of introduction (see section 1.1) and the State
Opening of Parliament (see section 4.1). For these occasions, Members wear parliamentary, red
ermine-trimmed robes. The infrequent wearing of these robes at such high-profile events that
are widely covered in the media has led to a common misperception that Members of the
House of Lords wear them much of the time. Professor Meg Russell, Deputy Director of the
Constitution Unit at University College London, has written extensively on the House of Lords
and the subject of Peers wearing red ermine-trimmed robes which, as Professor Russell
pointed out, are only worn once a year for the Queens Speech.110 She asserted that this one
day aside, Peers are dressed the same as MPs or other professional people. Professor Russell
pointed out If this ermine-clad image was ever accurate, it is certainly now well-out of date.111
She has argued that the ceremonial robes misrepresented the changes undergone in the House
of Lords membership in recent decades, asserting that abandoning the robes worn for the
State Opening would be a symbolic change that would enhance and update the image of the
House of Lords.112

107

ibid.
ibid.
109
House of Lords, Handbook on Facilities and Services for Members of the House of Lords, March 2013, p 47, sets out
the dress code for visitors to the Peers dining rooms which is indicative of the attire of Members.
110
Professor Meg Russell, The Contemporary House of Lords, 2013, p 89.
111
ibid.
112
ibid, p 279.
108

18

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

At their ceremony of introduction, the Lords Spiritual wear their episcopal robes and are
expected to wear robes whenever possible in the division lobby.113
The Lord Speaker wears court dress with a plain black silk gownlike that worn by the Clerks
at the Tablewhile presiding over the House.114 For State occasions and similar ceremonies
outside the Chamber, the Lord Speaker wears a black silk damask and gold lace ceremonial
gown.

5.2 The Chamber: House of Lords Red and the Throne


No visitor to the House of Lords, or a viewer of proceedings on television, can fail to notice
the distinct colours in the two Houses of Parliament. The seats and other furnishings in the
Chamber of the House of Commons are green, with some mottled brown following the postSecond World War rebuilding.115 On the other side of the building, the principal colour of the
House of Lords is redthought to reflect the connections with royalty and the nobility.116
The House of Lords Chamber is the most lavishly-decorated room in the Palace of
Westminster with the red benches being surrounded by giant frescoes and ancient emblems of
previous monarchs. The original stained-glass windows designed by Pugin depicting the
monarchs of England and Scotland were lost during the Second World War.117 Their 1950
replacements show the coats of arms of Peers between 1360 and 1900. The Chamber also
displays statues of the 16 barons and the two Bishops known to have been present at the
sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215.118
At the far end of the Chamber on a dais is the Royal Thronean ornate gilded piece based on
the early 14th century Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. When the House is sitting, all
Members should bow to the Cloth of Estate behind the Throne.119

5.3 Protest Book


An interesting, though seldom used, procedure of the House of Lords is the Protest Book. Any
Member is entitled to record a protest against any decision of the Housewith their reasons
for the protestif they so wish. The protest must be recorded in the Protest Book and
Members may add their names to a protest provided they were present at the debate, and in
the case of a division, voted on the matter at issue. All protests are recorded in the Journals.120

113

House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 4.16 and Appendix L.
114
House of Lords, Election of the Speaker of the House of Lords, 6 June 2011.
115
House of Commons Library, Traditions and Customs of the House: House of Commons Background Paper, 2 August
2013, SN06432, section 4.
116
ibid, section 4.
117
Parliament website, The Lords Chamber, accessed 24 August 2015.
118
For further information on art in Parliament, see, for example: Jacqueline Riding, The Houses of Parliament:
History Art and Architecture, 2000; House of Lords, Works of Art in the House of Lords, 1980; and Parliament website,
Art in Parliament, accessed 22 April 2015.
119
House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2015,
para 4.11.
120
For further information, see, House of Lords, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the
House of Lords, 2015, paras 7.287.29.

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

19

The Protest Book is kept in the Parliamentary Archives and was last used on 16 July 1998 by
Lord Tebbit on the Northern Ireland (Sentencing) Bill. See Appendix 2 for Lord Tebbits entry
in the Protest Book.

20

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

Appendix 1: Seating Arrangements in the House of Lords Chamber

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
21.
22.
23.
24.

Throne
Cloth of Estate
Chairs of State
Steps of the Throne
Clerks box
Officials box
Woolsack
Judges Woolsacks
Spiritual side of the House
Temporal side of the House
Bishops benches
Table of the House
Clerks at the Table
Chairman of Committees Chair at the Table
Wheelchairs
Cross benches
Government front bench
Opposition front bench
Bar of the House
Black Rods box
Seats for Members spouses
Hansard reporters
Overflow seating for members
Brass Gates

21

22

House of Lords Library Note I Customs and Traditions

Appendix 2: The Protest Book


The most recent Protest Book entry:
The Lord Tebbit protests that Whereas The Official Report correctly records that the
Lord Campbell of Alloway called Not Content on my asking leave to withdraw my
amendment it does not record fully the confusion which appeared to exist as to
whether his objection was of itself subject to the approval of the House; in consequence
of which many Noble Lords were calling Content and Not Content. The Deputy
Speaker did not hear my own call of content above the calls of Not Content from
Lord Campbell and those on the Government Front Bench. She declared the
Amendment negatived without a Division, despite my call for a Division.
It being undesirable that the business of the House should be decided by
misunderstanding or confusion or by which microphones are live in various parts of the
Chamber I submit that it would be in the interests of the proper despatch of business
that, notwithstanding the practice of the House, a Division with or without further
debate should be allowed at the Third Reading of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill.
(House of Lords Journal, Session 199798, vol 231, p 993)