Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords - Contents

CHAPTER 4: CONDUCT in the house


4.01  The House is self-regulating: the Lord Speaker has no power to rule on matters of order. 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.

4.02  The word "undesirable" may be used in the House of Lords as an equivalent of the expression "out of order". If any member is in doubt about a point of procedure, the Clerk of the Parliaments and other Clerks are available to give advice, and members of the House are recommended to consult them.[130]


4.03  The Leader of the House is appointed by the Prime Minister, is a member of the Cabinet, and is responsible for the conduct of government business in the Lords.[131] Because the Lord Speaker has no powers to rule on matters of procedure, the Leader also advises the House on procedure and order, and has the responsibility of drawing attention to violations or abuse. The Leader also expresses the sense of the House on formal occasions, such as motions of thanks or congratulation. However, like the Lord Speaker, the Leader is endowed with no formal authority.

4.04  The Leader, the Government Chief Whip and their offices are available to assist and advise all members of the House. Members greatly assist the effective conduct of the House's business if they give as much notice as possible to the Leader and the Government Whips' Office whenever they propose to raise any matter on which the Leader's guidance might be required.

4.05  It is usual for another minister to be appointed Deputy Leader of the House. In the Leader's absence the Deputy Leader takes responsibility for advising the House on matters of procedure and order. In the absence of both of them, this responsibility falls to the senior government Whip present. The Opposition front benches, and the Convenor of the Crossbench Peers (if present), also have a responsibility to draw attention to transgressions of order.

4.06  The role of assisting the House at question time rests with the Leader of the House, not the Lord Speaker.

4.07  At other times of day the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair may assist the House by reminding members of the relevant parts of the Companion. Such assistance is limited to procedural advice and is usually given at the start of the business in hand, for example how time is to be divided between the front and back benches in response to a statement, the correct procedure at Report stage, the handling of grouped amendments, and the procedure to be followed in the case of amendments to amendments. Assistance may be helpful at other stages when procedural problems arise.[132]

4.08  The Government Chief Whip advises the House on speaking times in debates. Reinforcing such time limits is handled by the front benches rather than the Lord Speaker, and any member can draw such advice to the attention of the House. Timed debates are brought to an end (if necessary) by the Lord Speaker on an indication from the Table.

4.09  Interventions, in particular those calling attention to the failure of an individual member to comply with the practice of the House, for example when arguments deployed in committee are repeated at length on report, may come from the front benches or other members. . Such interventions would not normally come from the Lord Speaker.

4.10  As indicated above (paragraphs 1.48-50), the Lord Speaker's function in the House is to assist, and not to rule. She observes the same formalities as any other member of the House, addressing the House as a whole, and not an individual member, and not intervening when a member is on his feet. The House does not recognise points of order. Any advice or assistance given by the Lord Speaker is subject to the view of the House as a whole.[133]


4.11  When the House is sitting, all members should on entering the Chamber bow to the Cloth of Estate behind the Throne.[134] It is not the practice to do so on leaving. Members also bow to the Mace in procession, as a symbol of the authority of the Sovereign. All bows are made with the head and not the body.

4.12  SO 20(1) declares that members of the House "are to keep dignity and order, and not to remove out of their places without just cause, to the hindrance of others that sit near them, and the disorder of the House". In practice, this means that members:

  • must not move about the Chamber while a Question is being put from the Woolsack or the Chair;
  • must not pass between the Woolsack (or the Chair) and any member who is speaking;
  • must not pass between the Woolsack and the Table;[135]
  • must leave the Chamber quietly at the end of question time.

4.13  If members wish to speak to other members while the House is sitting, they should go to the Prince's Chamber. Members should not hold conversations in the space behind the Woolsack.[136]

4.14  Unless they are disabled, members of the House must speak standing, except by permission of the House.[137]

4.15  Male members of the House must speak "uncovered" (without a hat), except by permission of the House. Women members may wear hats without seeking permission.[138]

4.16  Lords Spiritual wear robes of rochet and chimere in the Chamber. They are expected to wear robes whenever possible in the division lobby.[139]

4.17  Lords Spiritual must speak from the Bishops' benches, and no Lord Temporal may speak from there.[140]

4.18  No-one may speak from the gangways in the House.

4.19  Members address their speech to the House in general and not to any individual.[141] Thus the expressions used are: "Your Lordships", "Your Lordships' House" and "the noble Lord", and not "you".

4.20  Members should not bring into the Chamber:

  • books and newspapers (except for papers specifically related to the debate);
  • unopened correspondence;
  • briefcases and ministerial boxes.[142]

4.21  Exhibits should not be taken into the Chamber or produced in debate, whether to illustrate a speech or for any other purpose.


4.22  Members and officials may use hand-held electronic devices (not laptops) in the Chamber and Grand Committee for any purpose, provided that they are silent and are used with discretion. Members making speeches may refer to electronic devices in place of paper speaking notes, subject to the existing rule against reading speeches (see paragraph 4.40).

4.23  Members may use hand-held electronic devices to send or receive messages for use in proceedings. They may be used to access documents and information for use in debate.

4.24  Electronic devices may be used silently in select committee meetings, subject to the discretion of the Chairman of the committee on a meeting-by-meeting basis.[143]


4.25  Debate must be relevant to the Question before the House; and where more than one Question has been put, for example on an amendment, the debate must be relevant to the last Question proposed until it has been disposed of.[144]


4.26  When two or more members rise to speak, the House determines who is to speak. This may, if necessary, be decided upon a motion that one of the members "be now heard". It is customary for speakers from different parties or parts of the House to take turns.


4.27  For most debates a list of speakers is issued by the Government Whips' Office[145] and is available from that Office, and also from the Printed Paper Office, the Prince's Chamber and Peers' Lobby. This list is drawn up after consultation through the usual channels. Members wishing to speak should put their names on the speakers' list at any time before 12 noon on the day of the debate, or 6 p.m. on the previous day if the House is sitting in the morning. Members should remove their names from the list if they become aware in advance that they are unlikely to be able to stay until the end of a debate (see paragraph 4.34).

4.28  Any member whose name is not on the published list may still take part, if time allows, by speaking "in the gap", that is, before the winding-up speeches. They should inform the Table of their wish to do so, and have their name added in manuscript to the list. Any such speaker is expected to be brief (not longer than 4 minutes),[146] and should not take up time allotted to the winding up speeches (for which see paragraph 6.63). Members speaking in the gap are subject to the same rules on attendance at debate as members whose names are included in the speakers list.

4.29  It is not in order for a member to speak after the mover of a motion or an amendment has exercised his or her right of reply, except when the House is in committee.[147] It is not in order for members to continue the debate on a motion or a question for short debate after the government's reply has been given, save for questions to the minister "before the minister sits down".[148]

4.30  When at the end of a debate the Question has been put, no member may speak save on a point of order.[149]


4.31  A member of the House who is speaking may be interrupted with a brief question for clarification. Giving way accords with the traditions and customary courtesy of the House. It is, however, recognised that a member may justifiably refuse to give way, for instance, in the middle of an argument, or to repeated interruption, or in time-limited proceedings when time is short. Lengthy or frequent interventions should not be made, even with the consent of the member speaking.


4.32  In the case of motions, no member may speak more than once, except the mover in reply, or a member who has obtained the leave of the House. Such leave may be granted only to:

  • a member to explain a material point of their speech, without introducing any new subject matter;
  • the Chairman of Committees, or in his absence a Deputy Chairman, and the chairman of a select committee on the report of such a committee;
  • a minister of the Crown.

4.33  When the House is in committee there is no restriction on the number of times a member may speak.[150]


4.34  A member of the House who is taking part in a debate (including general debates and debates on amendments or motions) should attend the start, end and greater part of that debate.[151] In addition, it is considered discourteous for members not to be present for at least the opening speeches, the speeches before and after their own, and for the winding-up speeches. Ministers may decide not to answer, orally or in writing, points made by a speaker who does not stay to hear the minister's closing speech. Members who believe that they are unlikely to be able to stay to the end of a debate should not seek to participate in it (and if the debate has a speakers' list, should remove their names from the list).

4.35  There are reasons for these customs. Members who have missed the speeches before their own will not know what has already been said and so points may be repeated or missed. Members who leave soon after speaking are lacking in courtesy to others, who may wish to question, or reply to, points they have raised. Debate may degenerate into a series of set speeches if speakers do not attend throughout.

4.36  It is, however, recognised that some members may have commit-ments related to the committee work of the House which may prevent them from being able to attend as much of the debate as might otherwise be expected.


4.37  The House has resolved "That speeches in this House should be shorter".[152] Long speeches can create boredom and tend to kill debate.

4.38  In debates where there are no formal time limits, members opening or winding up, from either side, are expected to keep within 20 minutes. Other speakers are expected to keep within 15 minutes. These are only guidelines and, on occasion, a speech of outstanding importance, or a ministerial speech winding up an exceptionally long debate, may exceed these limits.[153] For length of speeches in time-limited proceedings see paragraph 6.63; in questions for short debate see paragraph 6.47.

4.39  Clocks are installed under the galleries to time the length of speeches. The clocks are used principally to record:

  • the length of speeches in all debates except debates on amendments and in Committee of the whole House;
  • the time taken on amendments at all stages and, in Committee of the whole House, on debates on the Question that a clause or Schedule stand part of the bill;
  • the total time taken for oral questions and debates on delegated legislation;
  • for ministerial statements, the length of the statement itself, the frontbench exchanges and the backbench exchanges.[154]


4.40  The House has resolved that the reading of speeches is "alien to the custom of this House, and injurious to the traditional conduct of its debates".[155] It is acknowledged, however, that on some occasions, for example ministerial statements, it is necessary to read from a prepared text. In practice, some speakers may wish to have "extended notes" from which to speak, but it is not in the interests of good debate that they should follow them closely.[156]


4.41  Languages other than English should not be used in debate, except where necessary. The use of the Welsh language is permitted for the purpose of committee proceedings held in Wales.[157]


4.42  Visitors should not be referred to, whether in the public gallery or in any other part of the Chamber, except for the purpose of a motion for the withdrawal of all visitors.[158]


4.43  When speaking in the House, members speak for themselves and not on behalf of outside interests. They may indicate that an outside body agrees with the substance of their views but they should not read out extended briefing material from such bodies.[159]



4.44  The House of Commons may be referred to by name, rather than as "the other place" or "another place".

4.45  Members of the House of Commons are referred to by their names, and not by reference to their constituencies.[160] Ministers may be referred to by their ministerial titles. Additional descriptions such as "Right Honourable", "Honourable" and "Learned" are not used, except when referring to ministerial or party colleagues in the House of Commons as "Right Honourable" or "Honourable" friends.


4.46  No member of the House of Commons should be mentioned by name, or otherwise identified, for the purpose of criticism of a personal, rather than a political, nature. Public activities by members of the House of Commons outside their parliamentary duties may be referred to.


4.47  Criticism of proceedings in the House of Commons or of Commons Speaker's rulings is out of order, but criticism may be made of the institutional structure of Parliament or the role and function of the House of Commons (see also paragraphs 6.20 and 6.22, in relation to the wording of questions).


4.48  It is usual for a member making a maiden speech not to be interrupted and to be congratulated by the next speaker only, on behalf of the whole House, plus the front benches if they wish.[162] It is therefore expected that a member making a maiden speech will do so in a debate with a speakers' list, so that the House may know that the conventional courtesies apply. In return the maiden speaker is expected to be short (less than 10 minutes) and uncontroversial. The maiden speaker should not take advantage of the indulgence of the House to express views in terms that would ordinarily provoke interruption.

4.49  Members of the House who have not yet made their maiden speeches may not table oral questions or questions for short debate, but may table questions for written answer.


4.50  When a maiden speech is being made, and during the following speaker's congratulations, members of the House are expected to remain in their seats and not leave the Chamber. Those entering the Chamber are expected to remain by the steps of the Throne or below the Bar.


4.51  The proper ways of referring to other members of the House in debate are given in the table on pages 71-72.

4.52  When any Peer who has a higher title than that by virtue of which he or she sits in Parliament is named in any record of proceedings of the House or of a committee, the higher title alone is used. When such a Peer takes the oath of allegiance, the title or dignity by which he or she sits in Parliament is added in brackets.[164]
Archbishop of the Church of England "the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of …"
Bishop of the Church of England "the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of …"
Duke "the noble Duke, the Duke of …"
Marquess "the noble Marquess, Lord …"
Earl "the noble Earl, Lord …"
Countess "the noble Countess, Lady …"
Viscount "the noble Viscount, Lord …"
Baron "the noble Lord, Lord …"
Baroness or Lady "the noble Baroness, Lady …" or "the noble Lady, Lady …"
Members with rank of Admiral of the Fleet, Field Marshal or Marshal of the Royal Air Force, members who have held the office of Chief of the Defence Staff, and holders of the Victoria or George Cross "the noble and gallant …" (service rank is not referred to)[165]
Law Officers of the Crown, Judges of superior courts in the United Kingdom (High Court and above)[166], former holders of these offices or former Lords of Appeal[167] "the noble and learned …"
Archbishops of other Churches who are members of the House "the noble and most reverend Lord…"
Bishops of other Churches who are members of the House "the noble and right reverend Lord …"
Former Archbishops or Bishops who are members of the House "the noble and right reverend Lord…"[168]
Fellow member of a political party "my noble friend" (instead of one of the above descriptions)
Relatives "my noble kinsman …" or "my noble relative …" (precise relationship is not mentioned)


4.53  When debate becomes heated, it is open to any member of the House to move "that the Standing Order on Asperity of Speech be read by the Clerk". Standing Order 32 can be read only on a motion agreed to by the House, and this motion is debatable.


4.54  If in a speech a member is thought to be seriously transgressing the practice of the House, it is open to another member to move "that the noble Lord be no longer heard". This motion however is very rare; it is debatable and seldom needs to be decided on Question since members generally conform to the sense of the House as soon as this sense becomes clear.

4.55  The effect of agreeing to this motion is to prohibit the member in question from speaking further on the substantive motion, but not on any subsequent motion.


4.56  A member who does not wish the House to record an opinion on a motion that has been moved may, at any time during the course of the debate, move "That the House do proceed to the next business".[169] It is helpful if a member who intends to move this motion gives notice.

4.57  A Next Business motion supersedes the original motion before the House and, if it is agreed to, the Question on the original motion is not put, and the debate ends. If it is disagreed to, the debate on the original motion is resumed and the Question is put in the usual way.

4.58  The Next Business motion is debatable and, since it cannot be debated without reference to the original motion, the subject matter of both motions may be debated together.

4.59  The Next Business motion is not allowed on an amendment; although, after an amendment has been agreed to, it may be moved on the original motion as amended. It may not be moved in any committee of the House.


4.60  The Closure, that is, the motion "that the Question be now put", is not debatable and so requires an immediate conclusion. If carried, it compels the House at once to come to a decision on the original motion. It is a most exceptional procedure, so when a member seeks to move the Closure, the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair draws attention to its exceptional nature, and gives the member concerned the opportunity to reconsider, by reading the following paragraph to the House before the Question is put:

[To be read slowly] "I am instructed by order of the House to say that the motion "That the Question be now put" is considered to be a most exceptional procedure and the House will not accept it save in circumstances where it is felt to be the only means of ensuring the proper conduct of the business of the House; further, if a member who seeks to move it persists in his intention, the practice of the House is that the Question on the motion is put without debate."

4.61  If the member of the House who is seeking to move the Closure persists, the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair must put and complete the Question forthwith without debate, in the following terms: "The Question is that the Question be now put."

4.62  If the Closure is carried:

(a)  the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair remains standing after announcing the result and immediately puts and completes the original Question without further debate;

(b)  the original Question cannot be withdrawn because the House has decided that the Question be now put; and

(c)  the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair may not put any other Question until the original Question has been disposed of.


4.63  The privilege of freedom of speech in Parliament places a corresponding duty on members to use the freedom responsibly. This is the basis of the sub judice rule. Under the rule both Houses abstain from discussing the merits of disputes about to be tried and decided in the courts of law.

4.64  The House of Lords adopted a resolution on sub judice on 11 May 2000. The resolution, as amended, is as follows:

"That, subject to the discretion of the Lord Speaker,[171] and to the right of the House to legislate on any matter or to discuss any delegated legislation, the House in all its proceedings (including proceedings of committees of the House) shall apply the following rules on matters sub judice:

(1)  Cases in which proceedings are active in United Kingdom courts shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question.

(a)  (i)   Criminal proceedings are active when a charge has been made or a summons to appear has been issued, or, in Scotland, a warrant to cite has been granted.

  (ii)   Criminal proceedings cease to be active when they are concluded by a verdict and sentence or discontinuance, or, in cases dealt with by courts martial, after the conclusion of the mandatory post-trial review.

(b)   (i)  Civil proceedings are active when arrangements for the hearing, such as setting down a case for trial, have been made, until the proceedings are ended by judgment or discontinuance.

  (ii)  Any application made in or for the purposes of any civil proceedings shall be treated as a distinct proceeding.

(c)  Appellate proceedings, whether criminal or civil, are active from the time when they are commenced by application for leave to appeal or by notice of appeal until ended by judgment or discontinuance.

But where a ministerial decision is in question, or in the opinion of the Lord Speaker a case concerns issues of national importance such as the economy, public order or the essential services, reference to the issues or the case may be made in motions, debates or questions.

(2)  Specific matters which the House has expressly referred to any judicial body for decision and report shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question, from the time when the Resolution of the House is passed, until the report is laid before the House.

(3)  For the purposes of this Resolution—

(a)  Matters before Coroners Courts or Fatal Accident Inquiries shall be treated as matters within paragraph (1)(a); and

(b)  "Question" includes a supplementary question."[172]

4.65  The House has agreed that the practice governing motions and questions relating to matters sub judice should be similar in both Houses of Parliament.[173] It is desirable that each House should be in the same position to debate a sub judice matter when the circumstances warrant it.

4.66  The rules governing sub judice do not apply to bills, Measures or delegated legislation or to proceedings on them. Nor do they apply to matters being considered by departmental inquiries and the like; but it is recognised that Parliament should not generally intervene in matters where the decision has been delegated to others by Parliament itself.

4.67  The Lord Speaker must be given at least 24 hours' notice of any proposal to refer to a matter which is sub judice. The exercise of the Speaker's discretion may not be challenged in the House.[174]


4.68  The House has resolved that, in the opinion of this House, the following principles should govern the conduct of ministers of the Crown in relation to Parliament:

(1)  Ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments and executive agencies;

(2)  It is of paramount importance that ministers should give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister;

(3)    Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest;

(4)  Ministers should require civil servants who give evidence before parliamentary committees on their behalf and under their directions to be as helpful as possible in providing accurate, truthful and full information;

(5)    The interpretation of "public interest" in paragraph (3) shall be decided in accordance with statute and the government's Code of Practice on Access to Government Information;[175] and compliance with the duty in paragraph (4) shall be in accordance with the duties and responsibilities of civil servants set out in the Civil Service Code.[176]


4.69  Members of the House of Lords who are members of or employed by public boards, executive agencies or other public bodies, whether commercial or non-commercial in character, are not by reason of such membership debarred from exercising their right to speak in the House of Lords, even on matters affecting the boards of which they are members; and it is recognised that, in the last resort, only the members concerned can decide whether they can properly speak on a particular occasion.[177] Such members are subject to the normal rules on registration and declaration of interests.

4.70  The following guidance (known as the "Addison Rules"), based upon that given in 1951 by the then Leader of the House, Viscount Addison, after consultation and agreement between the parties, may be helpful to members of the House who are considering whether or not to take part in a particular debate:[178]

(a)  when questions affecting public boards arise in Parliament, the government alone are responsible to Parliament. The duty of reply cannot devolve upon members of public boards who happen to be members of the House of Lords;

(b)  it is important that, except where otherwise provided, public boards should be free to conduct their day-to-day administration without the intervention of Parliament or ministers. If board members who happen also to be members of the House of Lords were to give the House information about the day-to-day operations of the board or to answer criticism respecting it, the House would in fact be exercising a measure of parliamentary supervision over matters of management. It would also be difficult for the responsible minister not to give similar information to the House of Commons;

(c)  there is no duty upon board members to speak in any debate or to answer questions put to them in debate. Nor should the fact that a member spoke in a particular debate be regarded as a precedent for that member or any other member to speak in any other debate;

(d)  the foregoing applies only to debates relating to public boards. Experience acquired as a member of a public board will often be relevant to general debates in which the same considerations do not arise, and the contributions of board members who are members of the House may be all the more valuable because of that experience.

130   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1981-82. Back

131   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1981-82, 1st Rpt 1987-88. Back

132   Report of the Select Committee on the Speakership of the House, 2005-06, paragraph 17. Back

133   Procedure 3rd Rpt 2005-06. Back

134   SO 20(2). Back

135   Procedure 3rd Rpt 1995-96. Back

136   SO 21. Back

137   SO 26. Back

138   Procedure 1st Rpt 1965-66, SO 26. Back

139   Procedure 3rd Rpt 1990-91. Back

140   See paragraph 1.64. Back

141   SO 27. Back

142   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70. Back

143   Administration and Works 2nd Rpt 2010-12. Back

144   SO 28. Back

145   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1966-67, 2nd Rpt 1971-72. Back

146   Procedure 3rd Rpt 1995-96. Back

147   Procedure 1st Rpt 1978-79. Back

148   Procedure 1st Rpt 1977-78. Back

149   SO 29. Back

150   SO 30. Back

151   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70; 1st Rpt 1987-88; 3rd Rpt 1995-96; 1st Rpt 1998-99; 1st Rpt 2002-03. Back

152   LJ (1964-65) 386. Back

153   Procedure 1st Rpt 1987-88. Back

154   Procedure 6th Rpt 1971-72, 1st Rpt 1982-83. Back

155   LJ (1935-36) 241. Back

156   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70, 4th Rpt 1992-93. Back

157   Procedure 2nd Rpt 2008-09. Back

158   Procedure 1st Rpt 1980-81. Back

159   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70, 4th Rpt 1992-93. Back

160   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1991-92, 1st Rpt 1992-93. Back

161   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70. Back

162   Procedure 2nd Rpt 2006-07. Back

163   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70. Back

164   SO 7. Back

165   Procedure 1st Rpt 1969-70, 2nd Rpt 1988-89. Back

166   Procedure 1st Rpt 1964-65, 1st Rpt 1969-70. Back

167   As defined in the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876. The Act was repealed with effect from 1 October 2009, but Members who formerly fell within the definition of "Lord of Appeal" under that Act remain entitled to the appellation "noble and learned".  Back

168   Procedure 1st Rpt 1974-75. Back

169   Procedure 5th Rpt 1971-72. Back

170   Procedure 1st Rpt 1960-61, 6th Rpt 1970-71. Back

171   Procedure 2nd Rpt 2006-07. Back

172   LJ (1999-2000) 389. Back

173   Procedure 1st Rpt 1963-64. Back

174   Procedure 1st Rpt 1994-95, Report of the Select Committee on the Speakership of the House of Lords, HL Paper 92 2005-06. Back

175   This Code was completely superseded by the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and had no effect after 1 January 2005. Back

176   HL Deb. 20 March 1997 cols 1055-62; LJ (1996-97) 404. Back

177   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1970-71. Back

178   HL Deb. 21 March 1951, col. 1241. Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2013