I will be speaking in a debate in Grand Committee in the Lords later today. How do I know I will be speaking? Don’t I have to catch the eye of the Speaker or whoever is presiding, as in the Commons? The answer is no. Unlike the Commons, the Lords is a self-regulating chamber. The Lord Speaker has no powers: she does not call people to speak, she does not maintain order, and she does not select which amendments will be debated.
The House collectively is responsible for maintaining order and what goes on. In what are generally referred to as set-piece debates, such as on the second reading of Bills, general debates and questions for short debate, peers sign up in advance to speak. Having signed up to speak, you are then included on the speakers’ list for the debate: this is published on the morning of the debate. Those on the list speak in the order they appear on it. Where debates are time limited, the time is allocated among the speakers according to how many are speaking. You might have only a few minutes (and no more than fifteen). This may sound artificial, but it actually works: you normally have a series of short, informed contributions. You know you will be speaking, so you can prepare accordingly, but a time limit concentrates the mind wonderfully, so you make sure you concentrate on your key points.
Where there is no speakers’ list, as when debating amendments to Bills or in Question Time (for supplementary questions), it is a case of simply getting to your feet to speak. If two peers rise at the same time, one normally gives way. It is generally accepted that if a peer from one grouping in the House has just spoken, it is the turn of a peer from another grouping to speak next. If there is any confusion, the Leader of the House or a government whip normally intervenes to suggest that it is the turn of such-and-such.
On the whole, the procedures facilitate informed debate and a dialogue with ministers, and when the House made the switch from having the Lord Chancellor to an elected Lord Speaker as presiding officer, one thing that was clear was that it wished to remain a self-regulating body. The Lord Speaker is very conscious of that and recognises that her major role is an ambassadorial one for the House.