Meet the Lords: episode two

The second episode of the BBC2‘s Meet the Lords was broadcast at 9pm on Monday 6 March. Go behind the scenes and find out more about the members, staff and work it features.

Episode two

Most members of the House of Lords are appointed for life ('life peers'), and members no longer inherit their seats. Many have a political background but many come from other professional backgrounds including medicine, the military, business, science and technology, the creative industries and the law.

Members come from different backgrounds and most faiths and ethnic groups in the UK are represented. Many remain active in their careers and apply their professional experience to the House's work.

Around a fifth of members are Crossbenchers, an independent group and a unique feature of the Lords. Compromise and consensus with the Crossbenchers is often important because no party has a majority in the Lords.

Key members of the Lords in episode two

Closing the parliamentary year: prorogation

Prorogation is the formal ceremony that closes the parliamentary year. Episode two shows members rehearsing their part in the ceremony as a group known as the Royal Commission.

They are the most senior members of the parties and groups in the Lords, and the Lord Speaker, who chairs daily business in the House. The Leader of the House of Lords is a member of the Cabinet, and the shadow Leader of the Lords sits in the shadow Cabinet. The Convenor of the Crossbench Peers is elected by the members of the Crossbench group to represent their interests.

Members of the Royal Commission shown in episode two:

Current members of the Royal Commission:

Find out more:

Whips in the House of Lords

Episode two shows Baroness Morgan of Ely (Labour), an opposition whip in the Lords (2015-16), and Lord Bassam of Brighton (Labour), shadow Chief Whip, organising members of the Labour party to vote on the Trade Union Bill.

One of the whips’ responsibilities is to make sure the maximum number of their party members vote, and vote the way their party wants. They also negotiate behind the scenes to arrange the day to day business in the Lords.

All the political parties have whips but the Crossbenchers do not. The Convenor of the Crossbench Peers represents their interests but does not advise them on how to vote.

Size of the House of Lords

The Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House of Lords was established in the wake of the House agreeing unanimously on 5 December 2016 ‘that this House believes that its size should be reduced, and methods should be explored by which this could be achieved.’

The committee intends to offer the Lord Speaker advice on what might command broad consensus across the House and beyond. It is currently considering written evidence it has received on this issue.

Members of the Lords work on behalf of the UK public examining draft laws, checking government action and investigating public policy, often persuading the government to make changes on a range of issues.

The 2015-16 session ran from 27 May 2015 to 12 May 2016, and during this time:

  • 78 bills were introduced
  • 3,678 changes were considered
  • 1,254 changes were made
  • 27 reports produced by the main committees
  • 710 members spoke in debates
  • 779 voted in divisions
  • 321 were members of select committees.

Find out more:

Role of the House of Lords: a second opinion

The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. It is independent from and complements the work of the elected House of Commons – they share responsibility for making laws and checking government action.

The Lords plays an essential role in improving bills (draft laws): highlighting potential problems and ensuring they will be workable laws. The Lords sometimes reaches different conclusions on bills, and agrees amendments asking the Commons and the government to ‘think again’.

Because of the lack of a government majority, the more relaxed party discipline, and the fact that Lords procedures give members freedom to propose and debate changes (amendments), the House of Lords provides a second opinion to the Commons.

Lord Dubs (Labour), a former child refugee from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia who came to the UK on the ‘Kindertransport’ in 1939, is shown introducing an amendment to the Immigration Bill. It required the government to relocate and support 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees to the UK.

306 members voted in favour (204 against) of the ‘Dubs amendment’, so the change was made in the House of Lords. The amendment was overturned in the Commons. After further exchanges between the two Houses, the government and the Commons accepted a compromise amendment proposed by Lord Dubs, that the precise number admitted to the UK should be determined by the government following consultation with local authorities.

In February 2017, the Home Office announced that the resettlement programme for child refugees would end after 350 children had been admitted to the UK. Lord Dubs held the government to account by asking for an explanation of the closure of the scheme in a private notice question, a question that a minister must respond to in the chamber at short notice.

Some members of the Lords expressed considerable concern about the bill, and partly as a result of this the House set up a committee to spend a month examining the ‘opting-in’ clauses, in addition to the normal checks of draft laws in the chamber. The committee’s recommendations formed the basis of the agreement which was eventually reached on the ‘opting-in’ clauses seen in this episode.

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Labour), an opposition whip in the Lords (2015-16), and Lord Bassam of Brighton (Labour), shadow Chief Whip, are seen organising members of their party to vote for an amendment. Proposed by Lord Burns (Crossbench), the amendment required only new members of trade unions to ‘opt-in’ to contributions to ‘political funds’, funds that unions are allowed to spend on political campaigning.

The amendment was passed in the Lords with 320 members for and 172 against.

The Strathclyde Review

Lord Strathclyde (Conservative), former Leader of the House of Lords (2010-13), discusses his review of the powers of the House of Lords and House of Commons.

Following defeats in the Lords relating to certain tax credits regulations, the government asked Lord Strathclyde to review the way statutory instruments (SIs) are scrutinised by Parliament. Statutory instruments, also known as delegated legislation, are laws made by ministers (or others) under a power given (“delegated”) to them by an Act of Parliament.

Three Lords committees published responses to Lord Strathclyde’s report, opposing the recommendation that there should be a new statutory procedure that would remove the power of the Lords to reject an SI. However they endorsed the view that the government should do more to ensure that bills contain the principal elements of a policy and that too much is not left for implementation by SIs. 

Lord West and 'Boaty McBoatface'

Lord West of Spithead (Labour) asks a written question about the public ballot to name the Royal Research Ship commissioned by the British Antarctic Survey. His question is answered by Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Conservative), who was minister for culture, media and sport from 2015-16. 

All written questions and answers can be searched online.

'Ping pong'

‘Ping pong’ is an informal term for consideration of amendments, a stage of legislation in which the House of Lords and House of Commons consider changes to draft laws written by the other.

If the Commons makes amendments to the bill, the Lords must consider them and either agree or disagree to the amendments or make alternative proposals.

If the Lords disagrees with any Commons amendments, or makes alternative proposals, then the bill is sent back to the Commons.

A bill may go back and forth between each House until both Houses reach agreement on the exact wording of the bill – this is known as ‘ping pong’.

Getting ready for the State Opening of Parliament

Preparations for the State Opening of Parliament begin, overseen by Steve Jaggs, Parliamentary Maintenance Manager.

The State Opening of Parliament marks the formal start of the parliamentary year, and the Queen’s Speech sets out the government’s agenda for the coming session, outlining proposed policies and legislation. It is the only regular occasion when the three constituent parts of Parliament – the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons – meet.

When the Queen leaves, a new parliamentary session starts and Parliament gets back to work.  Traditions surrounding State Opening and the delivery of a speech by the monarch can be traced back as far as the 16th century. The current ceremony dates from the opening of the rebuilt Palace of Westminster in 1852 after the fire of 1834.

Financial support for members of the House of Lords

Members of the House of Lords are not paid a salary. They can claim an allowance when they attend a sitting. To claim the allowance, members of the Lords must sign a declaration that they are undertaking parliamentary work. This can include speaking and voting in the chamber or sitting on a committee but it is not limited to these activities, and much of it would not leave a record in Hansard. Members can also choose to claim a reduced daily allowance of £150 or may choose not to submit a claim at all.

Name Party/group
Lord Bassam of Brighton Labour
Bishop of Birmingham Bishops
Lord Blencathra Conservative
Baroness Boothroyd Crossbench
Lord Cormack Conservative
Lord Dubs Labour
Lord Fellowes of West Stafford Conservative
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour
Baroness King of Bow Labour
Lord Lisvane Crossbench
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour
Baroness Morgan of Ely Labour
Lord St John of Bletso Crossbench
Lord Strathclyde Conservative
Baroness Thomas of Winchester Liberal Democrat
Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat
Lord West of Spithead Labour

Red Coat and doorkeepers

Red Coat is on duty at the Peers’ Entrance of the House of Lords. The red coat is worn in summer and in winter the uniform changes to a grey overcoat. Red Coat is one of the team of doorkeepers; the others wear black coated uniforms.

Doorkeepers are responsible for assisting in the smooth running of the House of Lords. They provide a service to peers, in particular by operating a messaging service.  Doorkeepers ensure the maintenance of good order and security at all times in and around the Lords chamber.

Black Rod

Black Rod is responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House and its precincts, as well as having an important ceremonial role.

Clerk of the Parliaments

The Clerk of the Parliaments is the most senior official in the House of Lords, responsible for its management, administration and finances. He also has responsibilities in the chamber during business.

Steve Jaggs, Palace Maintenance Manager

Steve Jaggs is Palace Maintenance Manager in Parliament’s Maintenance Services. He is also Keeper of the Great Clock in the Elizabeth Tower.

The Maintenance team serves the Commons and Lords on planned and urgent maintenance issues. They cover the full range of issues arising from members of two busy Houses of Parliament and staff working in a historic, Grade 1 listed building. The team is responsible for fire safety and emergency evacuation, as well as compliance with health and safety and environmental legislation.

House of Lords catering services meet the needs of a working House of Parliament. Due to the unpredictable nature of sittings of the House, and periods where the House doesn’t sit and so revenue is not generated, a subsidy is unavoidable. The House of Lords pays all staff at least the London Living Wage and provides workplace pensions to catering staff, and is proud to do so but it means costs are higher than some commercial restaurants. The House of Lords catering subsidy has been reduced by 27% since 2007 and we are working hard to reduce the subsidy even further.

There is a range of catering facilities in the House of Lords, from the Peers’ Dining Room featured in the documentary, to cafeterias like those provided for staff in most other organisations where people work outside normal office hours. The catering facilities in the House of Lords are used by a large number of people, not just members, such as visitors, staff, journalists and police officers.

Now you have met the Lords, do you see yourself working with them? The House of Lords offers rewarding careers across a range of posts, offices and skills levels. There are also office-based student placements available for those aged 15 to 18 years old.

Image: House of Lords 2017

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