Leader of the House of Lords

From Academic Kids

Leader of the House of Lords is a function in the British government that is always held in combination with a formal Cabinet position, most often Lord President of the Council, Lord Privy Seal or Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Leader of the House takes charge of the government's business in the House of Lords. Unless the Leader is also a departmental minister, being Leader constitutes the bulk of his government responsibilities, but it has never been an independent salaried office.

Though the Leader of the House is a member of the cabinet and remains a partisan figure, he also has responsibilities to the House as a whole. In contrast to the House of Commons, where proceedings are controlled by the Speaker, proceedings in the Lords are controlled by peers themselves, under the rules set out in the Standing Orders. The Leader of the House has the responsibility of reminding the House of these rules and facilitating the Lords' self-regulation, though any member may draw attention to breaches of order or failure to observe customs. The Leader is often called upon to advise on procedures and points of order, and is required to determine the order of speakers on Supplementary Questions, subject to the wishes of the House. However, like the Speaker of the Lords, he has no power to rule on points of order or to intervene during an inappropriate speech.

Under the plans for constitutional change announced in June 2003 (and following recommendations made by the Select Committee in November 2003, and agreed by the House of Lords on January 12 2004), these responsibilities to the House will almost certainly be transferred to the Speaker, remaining within the framework of self-regulation. The Speaker will in future be elected by the House and required to give up party politics, whilst the Leader will remain an appointed member of the Cabinet and become the most senior member of his party in the House.


The title seems to have come into use some time after 1800, as a formal way of referring to the peer who managed government business in the upper House, irrespective of which salaried position they held in the cabinet. However, it may have been used as early as 1689, applied to George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax, when he was Speaker of the House of Lords during the Convention Parliament of that year.

The role developed during the first quarter of the eighteenth century, at the same time as the role of Prime Minister and the system of Cabinet government. In the wake of the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution and the succession of the Hanoverians to the throne, Britain evolved a system of government where ministers were sustained in office by their ability to carry legislation through Parliament. It was therefore necessary for a member of the government to take responsibility for steering government legislation through each House.

Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, initiated aspects of the role during the Whig Junta under Queen Anne. Sunderland and the other Whigs were dismissed from office in reaction to their co-ordination of government matters, which was taken as a threat to the power of the monarch. Sunderland returned to power under George I, as Lord Privy Seal. The first documentary evidence of the existence of the role comes from 1717, when Sunderland became Secretary of State for the Northern Department: in the form of lists of peers invited to the office of the Northern Secretary immediately before sessions of Parliament.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Prime Minister himself usually took responsibility for steering business through the House in which he sat. When the Prime Minister sat in the Commons, the position of Leader of the Lords was often held by the Foreign Secretary or Colonial Secretary. In some coalition governments, it was held by the party leader who was not Prime Minister (under Lord Aberdeen, for instance, it was Lord John Russell, leader of the Whigs, who led business in the Commons).

After the end of Salisbury's last government, in 1902, the position clearly exists in its own right as a member of the cabinet. Since 1966 it has only been combined with sinecure positions and the holder has not been a departmental minister though some have held additional responsibilities such as Lord Hailsham also being designated "Minister of Science" or Lady Jay of Paddington also being "Minister for Women".

The first female Leader of the Lords was Lady Young in 1981-1983.

Leaders of the House of Lords


Because the post is a parliamentary one and not a ministerial office in its own right, it is not always included in official lists of government offices, especially for earlier periods. This can make it difficult to determine who the Leader of the House of Lords was in a particular ministry.

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