Role and work of the House of Lords

What does the House of Lords do?

The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. It works with the House of Commons to:

  • make laws
  • check and challenge the actions of the government, and
  • provide a forum of independent expertise

The House of Lords Chamber spends about 60% of its time on legislation; the other 40% is spent on scrutiny questioning Government and debating issues and policy. Committee work takes place outside the Chamber.

How does the House of Lords relate to Parliament and government?

The House of Lords is often referred to as the 'Upper House' or 'Second Chamber'. Both these terms illustrate that the Lords is one of two parts of the UK Parliament.

The political party which wins the most seats/places in a general election forms the Government.

The Government runs the country and is formed from the political party that wins most seats in the House of Commons in a general election. The Government formulates policy and introduces legislation in Parliament.

Most senior members of the Government are members of the House of Commons but there are ministers, along with two Cabinet members, in the House of Lords.

The House of Lords also contains many Members of Parliament who were in previous governments.

What happens in the House of Lords Chamber each day?

Each sitting day the Members of the Lords start by questioning Government Ministers in the Chamber to find out what they are doing, or propose to do, on any subject (Oral Questions).

After Oral Questions, Lords may then examine and improve draft legislation. This may have begun in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Members may also debate important topics to highlight what the House thinks on an issue, signalling their views to the country and the government.

How is time in the House of Lords Chamber allocated?

In the House of Lords there is no concept of Government time as in the Commons. Business is decided by agreement among the party business managers (whips) and the Convenor of the Crossbenches.

The House can decide to sit for longer than the usual finishing time (usually 10pm Mondays-Wednesdays; 7pm on Thursdays; and 5pm on sitting Fridays), if it needs more time to consider a particular issue.

What does 'on the floor' and 'off the floor' mean?

The work done in the Lords Chamber such as examining Bills is often referred to as 'on the floor', ie in the Chamber itself.

Much of the additional work of the House of Lords is done away from the Chamber in committees some is on legislation and other work by select committees. It does not take place in the Chamber so it is 'off the floor'.

Where can I find forthcoming business in the Lords?

For forthcoming business in the Lords see the Parliamentary Calendar

For detailed information showing forthcoming House of Lords business see the Lords Government Whips Office website.

Where can I see/read what has happened in the Lords recently?

You can watch and listen to live and archived coverage of Chamber and committee proceedings in the House of Lords on Parliament TV. 

You can read the full report of proceedings in the House of Lords online: Lords Hansard.

What is Lords Hansard?

Lords Hansard is a transcript of everything that is said in the Lords Chamber.

When a Lord asks the Government about a specific issue in writing, the answers are also given in writing in Hansard. There is a separate House of Commons Hansard.

Where can I find the list of speakers for a debate in the Lords?

You can find a list of speakers for any forthcoming debate in the Parliamentary Calendar. Speakers lists are also on the Lords Government Whips Office website.

Any Member of the Lords can put their name down on these lists as soon as the debate is announced. Just before the debate takes place the list is closed and the names are put in the order they will speak.

What do 'prayers' mean before the start of each Chamber session?

The first thing that happens at the beginning of business each day in the Lords Chamber is the saying of prayers by one of the bishops. Only Members of the Lords are present while prayers are said - the public and staff are not present.

What does 'rising time' mean?

Rising time is the term used for the time business finishes either in the Lords Chamber or in a Grand Committee.

What are Oral Questions and how are they chosen?

Up to four questions are put to the government each day in the Chamber. Any Member of the House can ask a question on any subject.

The minister for the appropriate area answers each question and they can be challenged or asked further questions about their answer. Oral Questions take up to 30 minutes each day.

What are written questions and answers?

If a Member of the Lords wants to ask a specific question which may have a detailed or technical answer, they can choose to write the question down.

The question is answered by the relevant minister and should be replied to within a fortnight. The answer appears in Hansard.

Where can I find the rules on procedure in the House of Lords?

The detailed rules for business in the Lords Chamber can be found in the Standing Orders of the House of Lords relating to Public Business and the Standing Orders of the House of Lords relating to Private Business.

These rules are explained in the Companion to the Standing Orders of the Proceedings of the House of Lords.

Can Members of the public attend debates at the House of Lords?

Yes, members of the public are admitted to the Public Gallery.

Can I view live coverage of the House of Lords online?

Yes. Continuous live and archived coverage of Lords Chamber and committee proceedings is available online.