Page last updated at 16:55 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Guide to the House of Lords



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Introduction to the House of Lords

Great minds hand-picked from glittering careers in academia, business and public life: the House of Lords is a hotbed of talent.

In debate, good manners and gentle self-deprecation are as keenly deployed as rapier wit and barbed rhetoric.

The depth of experience in this noble pool can make it an intimidating place for a novice swimmer: one newly promoted Defence Minister recalls spotting no less than four former Chiefs of the Defence Staff on the red leather benches as he stood up to make his first speech.

The chamber prides itself on "self-regulation": no single figure oversees debates (in contrast to the Commons).

For instance, decisions about who should be allowed to speak next are taken spontaneously and collectively. Peers often follow ancient unwritten protocols, but those unfortunate souls who transgress soon know about it.

A rarely deployed motion, "that the noble Lord be no longer heard", i.e. humiliation by one's peers is the ultimate sanction in debate.

More formal sanctions are rarely deemed necessary, even when peers have been convicted of criminal offences.

The House of Lords was once likened - by former PM Clement Attlee, no less - to "a glass of champagne that has stood for five days". Unfair? You decide.

KEY FACTS
  • The House of Lords is a Parliamentary debating chamber
  • Members of the House of Lords are called peers
  • Life peerages are distributed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister
  • The Commons can over-rule the Lords by invoking the Parliament Act 1911
  • Peers do not face the sack even if convicted of a criminal offence

  • The Queen announces the government's legislative programme in the Lords
  • There are about 780 peers, of which 164 are women
  • The House of Lords revises legislation the Commons has passed
  • There are 26 Lords Spiritual: 24 bishops and two archbishops
  • In total, 92 peers sit in the Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage



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