Meet our members
Most members of the House of Lords are appointed for life ('life peers'), and members no longer inherit their seats. Many members 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 from episode one
Baroness King of Bow
Baroness King is currently on leave of absence from the House of Lords. A member who will not be able to attend for a significant period of time may obtain leave of absence.
Once granted, the member cannot attend sittings of the House. To attend again, they must give three months’ notice.
Whips in the Lords
There are two groups of whips in the House of Lords: government whips, who are members of the government and may draw a salary in the same way as a minister, and party whips, who are volunteers and not members of government. Lord Borwick, seen in episode one of Meet the Lords, is a party whip and not a member of the government.
Government whips are members of the Lords appointed by the government to help organise their party’s and members’ contribution to parliamentary business. The unpaid party whips assist with communication between government and members of their party.
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 set up 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 will 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.
Work of the House of Lords
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 were produced by the main committees
- 710 members spoke in debates
- 779 voted in divisions
- 321 were members of select committees
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.
Lord Bird's maiden speech
Lord Bird gives his maiden speech and takes part in Lords questions for the first time.
Children and Social Work Bill
Baroness King of Bow is shown celebrating as a government minister agrees to change regulations in line with Baroness King’s proposed change removing any cap on child benefits with respect to adopted children whether they were siblings or not. Prior to this amendment, child benefit was limited to two children but could be paid if more than two siblings were adopted.
Housing and Planning Bill
Lord Borwick is seen discussing his amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill with Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb. His specific amendment was not incorporated into the final Act. It was part of a section of the draft law looking at how planning authorities can delegate power to specific people to process planning applications. The proposed change made it clear that this power only related to processing the application, and not making any decision on the outcome.
Lord Palmer's questions and votes
Lord Palmer appears during several divisions (votes) on the Housing and Planning Bill.
A ‘division’ is a vote on a proposed change to a draft law (bill). The House literally divides, with members choosing to walk through one of two lobbies (‘content’ or ‘not content’) on either side of the chamber. As they walk through the lobby, they are counted and their names recorded by whips and clerks.
A bell rings when a division is called. There is an eight-minute time limit from the beginning of a division for members to enter the lobbies.
No political party has a majority in the Lords, but the government generally has a majority in the Commons. While the government wins most divisions in the Lords, it is defeated more frequently in the Lords than in the Commons.
Members featured in episode one
Key members of staff in episode one
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 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.
Catering and facilities
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 wide number of people, not just members, such as visitors, staff, journalists and police officers.
Work for us
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