Many members of the House of Lords have a political background, some don’t. They represent a wide range of professions – in medicine, law, business, the arts, science, sports, education, the armed forces, diplomacy and public service.
Who are the members of the House of Lords?
Currently, there are about 800 members who are eligible to take part in the work of the House of Lords. The majority are life peers. Others include 26 archbishops and bishops and 92 hereditary peers. There is no upper limit on the total number of members.
Crossbenchers do not support any political party. Many are appointed principally because of their experience outside the House. Their participation allows voices that might not otherwise be heard in the political process to contribute to discussion of draft laws and in-depth consideration of government policy. Numbers in each of the parties and Crossbench groups fluctuate.
Types of members of the House of Lords
- Life peers: The majority (about 700) of members are appointed for their lifetime by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. Any British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen who is a UK resident and taxpayer over the age of 21 is eligible to be nominated or can apply to become a member, via the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission.
- Archbishops and bishops: 26 Church of England archbishops and bishops sit in the House. When they retire as bishops their membership of the House ceases and is passed on to the next most senior bishop.
- Elected hereditary members: The House of Lords Act 1999 ended the right of most hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House. Ninety-two remain.
Independence of thought
The House of Lords is characterised by ‘independence of thought’. This is partly because a significant part of the membership is non-party-political, for example, the Crossbenchers and bishops.
How the House of Lords is organised
Members sit in the chamber according to the party or group they belong to. The government and the main opposition party or parties each have a leader, business managers (whips) who organise the work of the House and spokespeople who sit on the frontbench. Crossbenchers have a convenor but, because they have no party affiliation, they do not have a whip system.
Image: House of Lords 2013/Roger Harris