Companion to the Standing Orders and guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords


Composition of the House

1.01  The following are members of the House of Lords provided they are not under the age of twenty-one:

    -  the Archbishops of Canterbury and York;

    -  the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester;

    -  twenty-one other diocesan bishops of the Church of England according to seniority of appointment to diocesan sees;

  • Lords Temporal:

Disqualification for membership

1.02  The following are disqualified for membership of the House of Lords:

    By the Act of Settlement 1701[5] "no person born out of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland or Ireland, or the Dominions thereunto belonging … (except such as are born of English parents)" may be a member of either House. By virtue of an amendment made by the British Nationality Act 1981,[6] this provision does not apply to Commonwealth citizens or citizens of the Republic of Ireland. Under the 1981 Act,[7] "Commonwealth citizen" means a British citizen, a British Overseas Territories citizen, a British subject under that Act, or a citizen of an independent Commonwealth country;
  • those convicted of treason

    The Forfeiture Act 1870 provides that anyone convicted of treason shall be disqualified for sitting or voting as a member of the House of Lords until he has either suffered his term of imprisonment or received a pardon;
  • bankrupts

    Under the Insolvency Act 1986,[8] a member of the House adjudged bankrupt, or in Scotland a member of the House whose estate is sequestered, is disqualified for sitting and voting in the House of Lords or in any committee of the House. A writ is not issued to any person, who would otherwise be entitled to one, while he is so disqualified. The court certifies the bankruptcy or sequestration and its termination to the Lord Speaker and it is recorded in the Journals.

Membership of the House under SOs 9 and 10

1.03  Section 1 of the House of Lords Act 1999 provides that "No-one shall be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage".[9] However, section 2 of the Act provides that 90 hereditary peers, and also the holders of the offices of Earl Marshal and Lord Great Chamberlain, shall be excepted from this general exclusion and shall remain as members for their lifetime or until a subsequent Act otherwise provides.

1.04  In accordance with SO 9, 75 of the 90 excepted hereditary peers were elected by the hereditary peers in their political party or Crossbench grouping.[10] The remaining 15 were elected by the whole House to act as Deputy Chairmen and other office-holders.[11] Under SO 9, vacancies arising due to the death of one of the 90 before the end of the first session of the Parliament after that in which the 1999 Act was passed were filled by a runner-up in the relevant election.[12] That period ended on 7 November 2002.

1.05  Under SO 10, any vacancy due to the death of one of the 90 is now filled by holding a by-election. By-elections are conducted in accordance with arrangements made by the Clerk of the Parliaments and take place within three months of a vacancy occurring. If the vacancy is among the 75, only the excepted hereditary peers (including those elected among the 15) in the relevant party or Crossbench grouping are entitled to vote. If the vacancy is among the 15, the whole House is entitled to vote.

1.06  The Clerk of the Parliaments maintains a register of hereditary peers who wish to stand in any by-election under SO 10. Any hereditary peer other than a peer of Ireland is entitled to be included in the register, not just those who were previously members of the House. Under SO 11, any hereditary peer not previously in receipt of a writ of summons who wishes to be included in the register petitions the House and any such petition is referred to the Lord Chancellor to consider and report upon whether such peer has established his right to be included in the register.


1.07  There is no retirement age for members of the House of Lords, except that bishops retire from their sees on reaching the age of seventy, and cease to be members of the House.[13] Lords of Appeal in Ordinary retire from their judicial office at 70 years of age,[14] but remain as members of the House.

Writ of summons

1.08  A member of the House may not take his seat until he has obtained his writ of summons. Writs of summons are issued by direction of the Lord Chancellor from the office of the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery.

1.09  New writs are issued before the meeting of each Parliament to all Lords Spiritual and Temporal who have established their right to them.

1.10  An archbishop, on appointment or translation to another see, and a bishop who has become entitled to sit or who already has a seat and is translated to another see, applies for a writ to the Lord Chancellor with evidence to support his claim.

1.11  Writs, called writs of assistance or writs of attendance, are also sent to the following, unless they are members of the House: the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Family Division, the Vice-Chancellor, the Lords Justices of Appeal and the Justices of the High Court. The attendance of such judges is now confined to the State Opening of Parliament.

Introduction and sitting first in Parliament

1.12  The following are ceremonially introduced before taking their seats in the House:

  • newly created Life Peers;[15]
  • archbishops, on appointment or on translation;
  • bishops, on first receiving a writ of summons or, if already a member of the House, on translation to another see.

1.13  When a writ has been issued to any such person, the Lord Speaker fixes a day for the introduction. The following rules apply:

  • introductions may not take place on the first day of a new Parliament;[16]
  • the House has agreed that, save in exceptional circumstances, no more than two new members should be introduced on any one day.[17] This rule does not apply to introductions on swearing-in days at the beginning of a new Parliament;
  • introductions normally take place on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays[18];
  • new Lords are normally supported on introduction by two others of the same degree in the House. However, archbishops may act as supporters at the introductions of bishops, and bishops may so act at the introductions of archbishops;[19]
  • no member of the House may act as supporter without having first taken the oath;
  • newly appointed Lords of Appeal in Ordinary who are not already members of the House are normally introduced at a sitting for public business. They may, however, be introduced at a judicial sitting during prorogation or a recess, if it is in the interest of judicial business.[20]

1.14  Appendix L (page 228) describes the ceremony of introduction.

1.15  A new member of the House may not use the facilities of the House, other than the right to sit on the steps of the Throne, before he has taken his seat for the first time.[21] However, he may use the Refreshment Department on the day that he is introduced.

Oath of allegiance and affirmation

1.16  The oath of allegiance must be taken or solemn affirmation made by all members before they can sit and vote in the House:

1.17  The oath is usually taken after prayers, but may be taken at the end of business before the adjournment.[24] The oath may also be taken at a judicial sitting.

1.18  The form of the oath, prescribed by s. 2 of the Promissory Oaths Act 1868 and s. 1 of the Oaths Act 1978, is:

    "I (giving name and title) do swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God."

1.19  Under the Oaths Act 1978, members of the House who object to being sworn may affirm:

    "I (giving name and title) do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Her heirs and successors, according to law."

1.20  The oath or affirmation must be taken in English but it may be repeated in Welsh[25] or in Gaelic.[26]

1.21  Before taking the oath a member goes to the Table, bringing his writ of summons (except on a demise of the Crown, when new writs are not issued). He then recites aloud the words of the oath, reading them from a card kept at the Table, and holding a New Testament in the right hand. The oath may also be taken in the Scottish form with uplifted hand. In the case of members of the House who are of the Jewish faith, the Old Testament is used; in the case of other faiths, the appropriate sacred text is used.

1.22  In cases of disability or infirmity the oath may be taken seated.

1.23  After taking the oath, a member must sign the Test Roll at the head of which the oath and affirmation are written. He then goes to the Woolsack, shakes hands with the Lord Speaker and goes out of the House by the temporal side into the Prince's Chamber.

1.24  Lords who sit by virtue of one peerage but are known by another title take the oath and sign the Roll using the title by virtue of which they sit.

1.25  Any member of the House who sits or votes without having taken the oath is subject to a penalty of £500.[27] However, a member may attend prayers or an introduction before taking the oath. On a swearing-in day it is convenient for members to occupy their seats while they are waiting to take the oath. Members who attend the House without taking the oath are not recorded in the attendance lists in the Journals, and votes cast by such members in divisions are invalid.[28] A member of the House may not attend the State Opening of Parliament without having taken the oath.[29]

Leave of absence

1.26  Members of the House are to attend the sittings of the House. If they cannot attend, they should obtain leave of absence.[30]

1.27  At any time during a Parliament, a member of the House may obtain leave of absence for the rest of the Parliament by applying in writing to the Clerk of the Parliaments. Before the beginning of every Parliament the Clerk of the Parliaments writes to each member who was on leave of absence at the end of the preceding Parliament to ask whether he wishes to apply for leave of absence for the new Parliament. The House grants leave to those who so apply. In addition, the Dissolution Notice sent to all members of the House at the opening of a new Parliament invites other members who wish to apply to communicate with the Clerk of the Parliaments.

1.28  Directions relating to those on leave of absence are as follows:

    (a)  a member of the House who has been granted leave of absence is expected not to attend sittings of the House until his leave has expired or been terminated, except to take the oath of allegiance;[31]

    (b)  a member of the House on leave of absence who wishes to attend during the period for which leave was granted is expected to give notice in writing to the Clerk of the Parliaments at least one month before the day on which he wishes to attend; and his leave is terminated one month from the date of this notice, or sooner if the House so directs;[32]

    (c)  a member of the House on leave of absence may not act as a supporter in the ceremony of introduction;[33]

    (d)  a member of the House on leave of absence may not vote in elections and by-elections for hereditary peers;

    (e)  members of the House on leave of absence may apply for places for their spouses at the State Opening of Parliament, and the usual number of places at such functions as The Queen's Birthday Parade (Trooping the Colour);

    (f)  members on leave of absence may use the Library, the Dining Room, and other facilities of the House outside the Chamber, and may obtain tickets for the Public Gallery. Their spouses enjoy the same facilities as the spouses of other members of the House;

    (g)  members on leave of absence may sit on the steps of the Throne during a sitting of the House;

    (h)  members on leave of absence may receive parliamentary papers.

Notification of death of member

1.29  The Lord Speaker informs the House of the death of a member of the House, before the first oral question.[34] The Lord Speaker's announcement takes a standard form and is distinct from tributes, which are a matter for the Leader of the House and the usual channels. It is not debatable.

Expenses for attending the House

1.30  Members of the House of Lords (except ministers, certain office holders and Lords of Appeal in Ordinary) do not receive a salary. They are entitled to recover certain expenses incurred in connection with their parliamentary duties. Details may be found in the Members' Reimbursement Allowance Scheme General Guide, or the Quick Guide in the Handbook on facilities and services for members.

1.31  The House Committee supervises the arrangements for the reimbursement of expenses.

Seating in the Chamber

1.32  The side of the House on the Sovereign's right hand when she is seated on the Throne is called the spiritual side, and that on the left the temporal side.

1.33  By convention the government and their supporters occupy the benches on the spiritual side, with the exception of the first two benches nearest to the Throne, which are taken by the bishops. The front one of these benches is reserved for the two Archbishops and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester. Lords Spiritual must speak from the bishops' benches. Lords Temporal may sit on these benches but may not speak from them.

1.34  The benches on the temporal side are, by convention, occupied by the opposition parties. Originally there were only two benches on the temporal side of the House, namely, the Earls' Bench (at the front) and the Barons' Bench, adjacent to the wall. There are now five benches, but the lowest or front bench continues to be known as the Earls' Bench, and the highest bench, abutting the wall, as the Barons' Bench. The official opposition party occupies the centre block and the benches nearest the Bar. The other opposition parties occupy the upper end of the Earls' Bench and the benches behind it. The diagram at the end of chapter 1 shows the usual seating arrangements.

1.35  The Cross Benches are for those who are not members of any of the main political parties in the House.


1.  Throne
2.  Cloth of Estate
3.  Chairs of State
4.  Steps of the Throne
5.  Clerks' box
6.  Officials' box
7.  Woolsack
8.  Judges' Woolsacks
9.  Upper end of Earls' Bench
10.  Spiritual side of the House
11.  Temporal side of the House
12.  Lower end of Barons' bench
13.  Bishops' benches
14.  Table of the House
15.  Clerks at the Table
16.  Chairman of Committees' Chair at the Table
17.  Wheelchairs
18.  Cross benches
19.  Government front bench
20.  Opposition front bench
21.  Bar of the House
22.  Black Rod's box
23.  Seats for members' spouses
24.  Hansard reporters
25.  Brass Gates

1.36  On both sides of the Chamber the front benches below the gangway are customarily occupied by Privy Counsellors.

Steps of the Throne

1.37  The following may sit on the steps of the Throne:

1   SO followed by a number refers to the standing orders relating to public business. PBSO followed by a number refers to the standing orders governing private business. Back

2   House of Lords Act 1999, s. 2(2). Back

3   House of Lords Act 1999, s. 2(2). Back

4   SO 2. Back

5   s. 3. Back

6   Schedule 7. Back

7   s. 37. Back

8   s. 427 as amended by the Enterprise Act 2002. Back

9   Certain members of the House who sat formerly by virtue of a hereditary peerage now sit by virtue of a life peerage. Under SO 7 they use their higher title. Back

10   Under SO 9(2)(i), 2 peers were elected by the Labour hereditary peers, 42 by the Conservative hereditary peers, 3 by the Liberal Democrat hereditary peers, and 28 by the Crossbench hereditary peers. Back

11   27-28 October 1999 and 3-4 November 1999. Back

12   Two places, both among the 28 Crossbench peers, were filled in this way. Back

13   Ecclesiastical Offices (Age Limit) Measure 1975. Retired bishops are entitled to sit on the steps of the Throne and use the facilities of the House outside the Chamber: Offices 4th Rpt 1970-71. Back

14   Section 26 of the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993 sets the retirement age of the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary appointed to full-time judicial office subsequent to the commencement of the Act (31 March 1995) at 70 years of age. Those appointed before the commencement may continue in office until the age of 75. Back

15   Including newly appointed Lords of Appeal in Ordinary who are not already members of the House, but excluding those hereditary peers who sat in the House before November 1999: resolution of 3 November 1999. Back

16   Procedure 1st Rpt 1970-71. Back

17   LJ (1997-98) 775. Back

18   Procedure 3rd Rpt 2005-06. Back

19   Members of the House holding offices which give them special precedence under the House of Lords Precedence Act 1539, such as the Lord President and the Lord Privy Seal, may act as supporters for new Lords of the same degree; their precedence as office holders determines their seniority as supporters: Procedure 2nd Rpt 1992-93. Back

20   Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 s. 8; Procedure 3rd Rpt 1980-81. Back

21   Offices 2nd Rpt 1975-76. The issue of Letters Patent entitles a newly created Lord to use his title and sit on the steps of the Throne. Back

22   Hereditary peers who receive a life peerage or win a by-election are not formally introduced but take the oath when first sitting in the House by virtue of their new writ of summons. Back

23   SO 76(1). Back

24   SO 42(5). Back

25   Procedure 1st Rpt 1982-83. Back

26   Procedure 1st Rpt 2001-02. Back

27   Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866, s. 5. Back

28   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1993-94. Back

29   Procedure 1st Rpt 1970-71. Back

30   SO 23. Back

31   SO 23(4). Back

32   SO 23(5). Back

33   Leave of Absence 1st Rpt 1957-58. Back

34   Procedure 1st Rpt 2006-07. Back

35   Offices 1st Rpt 1999-2000. Back

36   House Committee, decision by correspondence, November 2004. Back

37   Offices 4th Rpt 1999-2000. Back

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