The Lord Speaker election: why we should care

Chris Adams

As voting for the new Lord Speaker begins today, Public Affairs Account Director, Chris Adams, explores the valuable and often unseen role the Lords plays in the UK legislature

Nominations have closed and it’s a three-horse race to determine who becomes the next Lord Speaker. Whereas at the last election in 2016 there was no Labour candidate, this time there is no Conservative candidate, indicating the two main parties have determined that by working together they can alternate between them. This in turn effectively freezes out other groups in the Lords including the Liberal Democrats and the Crossbenchers, meaning that Labour’s current Deputy Leader in the Lords, Baroness Hayter, is almost certain to win the role.

For most, this contest may seem broadly irrelevant. Indeed, for many the House of Lords itself seems like an outdated irrelevance, although no-one ever seems to feel strongly enough about it to either commence the work of reforming it or abolishing it altogether (valiant recent efforts by the Sunday Times notwithstanding). Yet the reality is that the House of Lords, however flawed it may be, carries out essential work as a revising Chamber.

It has none of the political flair of the Commons, usually operating quietly in the background (Brexit aside), and yet Peers are often more effective in scrutinising Government legislation than their colleagues in the Commons. Anyone who has either worked for or had close dealings with MPs knows full well how busy they are. Very rarely does an MP become a subject matter expert, and if they do it’s almost inevitably because it’s in their political interest to do so: it becomes their core campaign in Parliament or their legacy achievement. Not so in the Lords.

Unlike MPs, Peers are often subject matter experts and, more than that, they often have extensive experience outside Parliament in their chosen area, be it via business roles, in the public sector, or as athletes, academics or journalists. While we might assume Peers are just political grandees needing a retirement role, that simply isn’t the case. Think Tanni Grey-Thompson, one of our most successful Paralympic athletes, or Danny Finkelstein, the Times columnist. If you’re looking for business expertise, there’s Anthony Bamford (JCB) or Karan Bilimoria (Cobra Beer), to name just two. On the Government’s green agenda, we should never underestimate the influence of Zac Goldsmith, now Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park.

While they may not be as exciting as the Commons and, generally speaking, are of less consequence, there are myriad reasons why businesses and consultants alike cannot afford to ignore the House of Peers. Yes, occasionally some of the older Peers might take naps in the Chamber – it has none of the heat of the Commons – but its often sleepy nature demonstrates just how little its dealings are tainted with the partisan political squabbling we so often see in the Commons. Reasoned debate, backed up with well-researched argument, can go a long way in a House where well over a third of Peers are affiliated to neither Labour nor the Conservatives.

While the election of the Lord Speaker may well be a foregone conclusion, it serves to remind us of the valuable and often unseen role which the Lords plays in our country’s legislature. We ignore them at our peril.