Business and the Usual Channels (Lords)

Time is the dominant force in Lords as it is in the Commons. It is not, however, subject to the same tight control at the hands of the Government as it is in the Lower House. While there is a broad consensus that the Government has a right to its business, there is a similar recognition that the Lords has a right to take the time it needs to consider new laws. There is no programming in the Upper House and any attempt to rush the peers in their scrutiny meets with a fierce response.

The consensual nature of the Upper House stems from no party having an overall majority. Party managers – the Whips, known universally as ‘the Usual Channels’ – meet regularly to discuss and negotiate the schedule, with similar weight being given to each party’s opinion and to the Government’s will. The setting of the agenda in the Lords, while still secretive, might be said to be more balanced than in the Commons.

In this way, days are set aside for debates on motions tabled by opposition parties and time is allocated for the progress of private members’ Bills, which is normally, though not always, on a Friday.

The Usual Channels operate whenever there is cause for the Government party and the opposition parties to collude. The Usual Channels are responsible for putting names forward for consideration as committee members and, crucially, it is the Usual Channels that hammer out compromises on Bills, to safeguard their passage before prorogation.

When Parliament is sitting, the Lords meet on Mondays to Thursdays and on Fridays when business has been scheduled.

A day’s agenda in the House normally follows the following pattern:

Starred Questions
Private Business
Main Business (interrupted by statement, if any) – legislation or debate
Dinner break – Unstarred question, private member’s Bill, secondary legislation may be taken
Unstarred Question, if any, secondary legislation may also be taken