The office of Lord Speaker was created under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 when the historical roles of the Lord Chancellor were re-distributed and reformed.
The Lord Speaker chairs daily business in the House of Lords chamber and is an ambassador for the work of the House. To date, there have been two Lord Speakers.
The House of Lords is self-regulating, meaning that it has never delegated its power to regulate its own proceedings to any other authority.
The Lord Speaker has no power to call Members to order, to decide who speaks next, or to select amendments.
In practice this means that the preservation of order and the maintenance of the rules of debate are the responsibility of the House itself, that is, of all the Members who are present, and any Member may draw attention to breaches of order or failures to observe customs.
However, the Lord Speaker does ‘collect the voices’ and calls for votes when necessary. ‘Collect the voices’ is the term for the process whereby the Lord Speaker puts a motion or amendment to a vote at the end of the debate, and tries to judge by the volume of voices which side has the most support.
At the start of each sitting, the Lord Speaker processes into the Chamber and presides over proceedings from the Woolsack, the large square cushion of wool covered in red cloth at the centre of the Lords’ Chamber. It is stuffed with wool brought from around the Commonwealth.
The tradition of the Woolsack dates back to the reign of Edward III when the wool trade was one of the most important parts of the economy, and so the seat is a traditional symbol of the wealth of the country.