Assistance in the Chamber, Divisions, House of Lords Business - Procedure of the House Committee Contents


Assistance in the Chamber

1.  We have considered a request from Baroness Campbell of Surbiton that she be allowed to call upon an assistant both to provide practical and personal help in the Chamber or Grand Committee, for instance in managing papers or taking notes, and, on occasions when she is unable to complete a speech, to read out the text of that speech on her behalf.

2.  Standing Order 12, which dates from 1707, states that "When the House is sitting, no person shall be on the floor of the House except Lords of Parliament and such other persons as assist or attend the House." The Report of the Committee of Privileges on which this Standing Order was based made it clear that this prohibition should apply to "all Persons, except the necessary Attendants of the House".[1] These "Attendants of the House" are the staff of the House—clerks and doorkeepers—whose work in supporting the House as a whole requires them to be on the floor of the House while the House is sitting. Thus Standing Order 12 prohibits the admission of a member's personal assistant (such as a researcher), and we are clear that this general prohibition should be maintained.

3.  Baroness Campbell of Surbiton was nominated by the House of Lords Appointments Commission in 2007 on the basis of her work in the field of equal rights for those with disabilities, including as a Commissioner of the Disability Rights Commission. The nomination was made in full knowledge of the progressive nature of her own disability. The House has an excellent record in supporting disabled members, and it is right that it should do everything possible to enable Lady Campbell to continue to draw on her experience and knowledge in contributing to the work of the House. Her condition is such that she already needs a high level of support, and this level will increase further as time passes.

4.  The concept of a "reasonable adjustment" or "reasonable accommodation", a modification to the physical environment or to working practices made in order to assist a disabled person to participate equally in normal activities, is familiar in domestic and international law.[2] Such an adjustment may be made in response to special circumstances affecting a particular individual. In Lady Campbell's exceptional case, not agreeing to her request for personal assistance in the Chamber would limit and ultimately prevent her from taking part in the work of the House. Moreover, the nature of the assistance she requires is such that it is more appropriately provided by her carers, rather than by other members or by staff of the House. Her request that her assistant be on hand to provide her with personal and practical help is therefore, in our view, a reasonable one in the circumstances.

5.  The same principles apply to Lady Campbell's request that her assistant be authorised to read out speeches on her behalf. Hitherto other members of the House have finished reading speeches which Lady Campbell has begun. However, we do not consider it appropriate that she should continue to be required to seek the help of other members in order to be able to participate in the work of the House. We therefore conclude that this request too is a reasonable one in the circumstances: her words, when she cannot herself deliver them, should be spoken by an assistant, employed by her and whose presence will not be recorded in the Official Report.

6.  In agreeing to Lady Campbell's requests, we are grateful for her assurances, made in person to the Committee and in a subsequent letter to the Chairman of Committees, that she will use her judgement in deciding when to make use of these adjustments, so as to ensure that other members of the House are not inconvenienced or inhibited. In particular, she has indicated that she will not consider bringing an assistant into the Chamber at times when it is full, such as during oral questions.

7.  In conclusion, we emphasise two further considerations: first that we regard these measures as reasonable adjustments in light of Lady Campbell's exceptional circumstances; and, secondly, that the general principle contained in Standing Order 12, as set out in paragraph 2 above, will continue to apply. Any further request for such adjustments would be considered afresh, in light of the specific circumstances of the individual case.

8.  We therefore recommend that Standing Order 12 be dispensed with to the extent necessary to enable Baroness Campbell of Surbiton's assistant to enter the chamber of the House, or any committee of the House, in order to provide her with necessary practical and personal help, and to read out the text of speeches on her behalf.


9.  In the last two years the average size of whipped divisions has increased very considerably. In the 2009-10 session the average number of members voting in whipped divisions was just under 200; in 2010-12 this rose to almost 380. Larger divisions have caused long queues to form in and around the chamber and the lobbies. This has in turn resulted in divisions taking significantly longer.

10.  The size and lay-out of the chamber and lobbies, and number of members voting, mean that there is limited scope to speed up divisions. However, we are persuaded that giving tellers discretion, once both tellers and both clerks are in place, to start counting members through the lobbies, rather than waiting for the question to be repeated after three minutes, would help to reduce the length of queues. In the event of either the contents or the not contents not replying when the question is repeated after three minutes, the division would be cancelled as at present.

11.  We recommend that tellers be given discretion, once two tellers and two clerks are in place, to start counting members through the division lobbies.

House of Lords Business

12.  We have considered a number of proposals from the Clerk of the Parliaments to make savings by reducing the number of pages printed in House of Lords Business. We have agreed the following changes, which will take effect when the House returns in October:

  • The full lists of "Motions for Balloted Debate" and "Questions for Short Debate" will be printed weekly, rather than daily.
  • Any new motion falling under "Other Motions for Debate" will be printed on the day it was tabled, but the daily printing of the full list of Other Motions for Debate will be discontinued.
  • Lists of members voting in divisions will no longer be printed in House of Lords Business, but will continue to be printed in the Official Report and the House of Lords Journal.

13.  Up-to-date lists under all these headings will continue to be published in the daily online version of House of Lords Business. However, it is expected that the reduction in printing described above will yield a saving to the House of around £50,000 per annum.

1   Lords Journal, volume 18, p. 306. Back

2   The concept of "reasonable adjustment" was set out in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995; "reasonable accommodation" is defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by the United Kingdom in 2009. Back

previous page contents

© Parliamentary copyright 2012