By Her Majesty’s Commission

A bit quicker there, Norman!

Keen scholars of British politics will know that Parliament has three fundamental components – the monarch, the Lords and the Commons. Most of the time MPs and peers debate in separate chambers, while the monarch merely signs off the the papers which are brought to her. There are, however, special occasions on which it is necessary for all three components to come together. These are done in the chamber of the House of Lords – normally described as the upper house, but in this context more like the middle – with the monarch enthroned at the south end of the room, MPs standing behind the bar at the north, and peers themselves on their usual red benches in between.

The most famous of these is the state opening, which commences a new parliamentary session. The others are prorogation (the end of a session), granting royal assent to new acts (often combined with prorogation), the opening of a new parliament (in which the first state opening is delayed until MPs and peers are sworn) and the approbation of the lower house’s speaker (done on the second day of a new parliament, and/or after the old speaker departs). The state opening gets more attention than the others partly because it unveils the government’s main legislative agenda – and is thus the main battleground for the presence or absence of parliamentary confidence in the ministry – and partly because in modern practice it is the only event which the monarch attends in person.

The Lords and Commons have three-figure memberships with respective quora of just 30 and 40, so the absence of even large numbers of members – especially backbenchers – does not threaten to invalidate such events as these. The Queen is only one person, and thus physically invisible. Fortunately, methods have been devised which allow Her Most Excellent Majesty to be projected into the legislature while her most singular body remains elsewhere. Enter the Lords Commissioners.

The Queen, by letters patent under the Great Seal of the Realm, appoints a team of three to seven privy counsellors (who are nearly always peers) to carry out these parliamentary functions on her behalf.

There are variations depending on the specific type of ceremony, but certain details are common to all: The Leader of the House of Lords announces that, it not being convenient for Her Majesty to be personally present there that day, a commission has been passed appointing several Lords therein named to do whatever is needed on her behalf. The Lord Speaker rises from the woolsack and vacates the chamber along with several other peers. The commissioners, robed and hatted, then file in and sit adjacent on a temporary bench before the steps of the throne. Black Rod is sent to summon the Commons, and then MPs come to the bar of the house, exchanging bows with their lordships (at which point the male commissioners doff their hats with varying levels of synchronisation). A parliamentary clerk reads out the letters patent to verify that the commissioners have the required authority, each one bowing (and doffing) invididually as his name is mentioned. At the end bows are exchanged again while MPs back out.

In one of the most pointless projects ever undertaken, I have gone through the online Hansard archives noting down all the named members of various commissions in the last two hundred years, and put them into a colour-coded spreadsheet. A few explanatory notes first:

  1. Hansard, and thus the spreadsheet, only lists those who physically attended. Archbishops and Lord Chancellors are named in the patent ex officio but do not actually take part are omitted.
  2. On some occasions the record only says that there was a commission, rather than specifying who was in it. For these I obviously have no information to include. Annoyingly there is a huge stretch from 1905 to 1916 about which I can only guess.
  3. I have listed New Parliaments, Approbations, Sessions Opened and Prorogations. Unless combined with the latter I have not listed Royal Assents, for these are not intuitive to locate in the timeline and, when I have found them, they have uniformly declined to mention commissioners by name.

From what information I have managed to gather, a curious tale can be told:

In the nineteenth century it was the norm for all Lords Temporal involved in the commission to be from the governing party, and even for most or all of them to be government ministers, though the leader of the house (perhaps not yet a well-defined office) was not normally among them. In the first half of the century it was reasonably common for the Archbishop of Canterbury to personally attend, but in the second half this tailed off. Very occasionally the Bishop of London appears. There is even one instance, when setting up the fifth UK parliament in 1812, of the Prince Regent’s younger brothers taking part. Their formal political affiliation is unclear.

The World Wars, and the interbellum period, saw an abnormal frequency of complex and confusing multi-party governments, whether confidence-and-supply or full coalition. This is reflected in the composition of the royal commissions, which frequently include peers from more than one party and even a few whom I took to be Crossbenchers. The approbation of Captain Edward Fitzroy as Commons Speaker in 1928 is the first instance I can find of a Labour peer taking part – Kenneth Muir Mackenzie, between terms as a junior government whip. The general election of 1929 saw the Labour Party win a plurality of seats in the Commons for the first time (though the Conservatives won the popular vote), and Ramsay MacDonald formed a minority government which lasted just over two years (Ramsay had earlier governed for nine months in 1924, but in that instance the transition of power occured after the session had already started). The two commissions at the start of that parliament feature Labour’s John Sankey as Lord Chancellor, but flanked by two Conservatives and two Crossbenchers. The absence of other Labour peers may be explained by their small presence in the upper house at the time, but the preference of opposition Conservatives over allied Liberals is not so clear.

By the time of the 1931 general election a three-way coalition had been formed, with senior Conservative and Liberal figures included. This coalition fought the election together and won by an overwhelming landslide. The specifics of this would be too great a digression from the purpose of this article, but the main Labour Party expelled MacDonald and others who remained in his government. They formed a splinter group called the National Labour Organisation. For convenience I have kept Sankey in red here although the party actually fought in green. The commissions for 3rd and 4th November that year both featured Sankey as Lord Chancellor, but that for the new parliament straddled him with three Conservatives plus the Crossbench Sumner, then that for the Speaker’s approbation involved another three Conservatives plus the Liberal Islington. Stanley Baldwin replaced MacDonald as Prime Minister before the 1935 election, and the two commissions beginning that parliament were mostly Conservative, with one Liberal each and once a crossbencher but no Labour peers.

The commission for Douglas Clifton-Brown’s approbation in 1943 (by which time another wartime grand coalition had been formed) involved Lords Crewe and Addison, leaders of the Liberal and Labour parties in the upper house. Curiously, then-Conservative leader Cranborne was left out in favour of his father and predecessor Salisbury.

Attlee’s 1945 landslide saw the beginning of the modern two-party system. The commission opening that parliament was led by Lord Chancellor Jowitt, accompanied by house leader Addison. Salisbury and Cranborne represented the Conservatives (Yes, father and son together!) while Samuel took part as Liberal leader. Oddly the approbation commission the next day had only Jowitt in common, the others being Air Secretary Stansgate (Tony Benn’s father) and one Conservative and two Liberals. The two commissions at the beginning of Attlee’s second term in 1950 approach what would eventually become the norm, with one member each from the Conservative, Liberal and Crossbench factions.

From the 1955 general election until Wilson’s accession in 1964, the commissioners tended to be three Conservative and two Labour. After that a fairly consistent pattern emerged – albeit with occasional substitutions – a royal commission comprised the Lord Chancellor, the Leader of the House, the leaders of the two main opposition parties, and a third peer from the government side chosen seemingly at random. This convention lasted until 1993. In the prorogation commission that year the Chancellor and three leaders attended as before, but instead of the rotating government peer Lord Weatherill was appointed to complete the group. Speaker of the Commons until the year before, he became Convenor of the Crossbenchers. From then on it became the norm to have a crossbencher in the commissions – usually the Convenor, but if (s)he was not a privy counsellor then someone else might act in his stead.

The next change occured followed the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, and the establishment in the following year of the elected office of Lord Speaker, separated from the Chancellorship. Lady Hayman took office in July and the next commission took place in November. On that occassion the Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) still led the commission as before and Hayman effectively replaced the crossbench representative. A reshuffle in 2007 saw Falconer replaced by Jack Straw, the first MP to hold that office for centuries. As with the Archbishop of Canterbury the Lord Chancellor continued to be named in the letters patent, but a technicality of the Standing Orders of the House of Lords meant he could not perform prorogations in person. From then on nearly all commissions (exceptions to be specified) were led by the Leader of the House – for which there were precedents in earlier ceremonies when the Chancellor could not attend, or even where the office was vacant for a while – accompanied by the Lord Speaker, the opposition leaders and the convenor – all members thus having different affiliations.

The restriction did not apply to approbations, so Straw was able to lead the commission for John Bercow in 2009, with the Lord Speaker waiting outside the chamber. The other commissions in 2009-10 followed the new pattern. There was no commission in 2011 due to the session being extended. The prorogation ceremony in 2012 saw Lord Shutt of Greetland, on his last day as Deputy Chief Whip, substitute for Lord McNally as Liberal Democrat leader. That of 2013 saw Labour leader Lady Royall of Blaisdon absent, though she was still named in the patent. The commissions of 2014-17 were unremarkable. In 2018 there was again no new session, nor did Bercow resign his speakership as originally promised. The bicorn hats were thus not seen at all that year. In the latter third of 2019, however, the commissioners would be very busy.

Boris Johnson’s attempted five-week prorogation was so controversial that the opposition peers all boycotted the ceremony, including those who would have been commissioners. The procedure was thus performed to a nearly-empty chamber in the small hours of the morning by the minimal quorum of three – Evans of Bowes Park (Leader), Fowler (Speaker) and Hope of Craighead (Convenor). That prorogation was annulled by the Supreme Court, but Johnson was eventually permitted to try again – although only for the usual few days this time. The second attempt went normally with Smith and Newby attending as normal (though Lord Judge had replaced Hope as Convenor).

On the penultimate day of that parliament Bercow finally retired and his deputy Sir Lindsay Hoyle was elected to replace him as Speaker. Following Straw’s precedent a decade earlier, Robert Buckland performed the approbation, though his hat had to be precariously perched upon his wig rather than fitting around it. Lord Dholakia subsituted for Newby, and doffed a few times more than necessary.

Following the snap December general election, the 58th Parliament had to be set up in something of a hurry. For what appears to be the first time in at least two hundred years, both of the normal commissions were performed on the same day – presumably to allow MPs to start swearing in earlier. Both commissions involved the standard lineup, though there was an awkward moment when Evans forgot to turn over the page in her script.

This session is due to run until May 2021, and thus we seem to be in for another doff-free year, which the commissioners themselves may find a relief, though for some viewers at home it is no doubt a disappointment.

* Lord Chancellor
^ Leader of the House of Lords
~ Lord Speaker
  Tory, Conservative, Unionist, National
  Whig, Liberal, Liberal Democrat
  Affiliation unclear
  Social Democratic
-1 The Baroness Royall of Blaison was named in the patent but did not appear in the ceremony and was not mentioned in Hansard.


Date Type 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
12/07/05 Prorogation Canterbury Eldon* Camden Hawkesbury^    
15/12/06 New Parliament Canterbury Erskine* Aylesford Walsingham    
16/12/06 Approbation Erskine* Aylesford Spencer Walsingham    
27/04/07 Prorogation Eldon* Camden Hawkesbury^      
22/06/07 Approbation Canterbury Eldon* Aylesford Hawkesbury^    
14/08/07 Prorogation Canterbury Eldon* Camden Hawkesbury^    
21/01/08 Session Opened Canterbury Eldon* Camden Aylesford Dartmouth  
04/07/08 Prorogation Canterbury Eldon* Camden Westmorland Montrose  
19/01/09 Session Opened Canterbury Eldon* Camden Montrose    
21/06/09 Prorogation Eldon* Canterbury Camden Dartmouth Westmorland  
23/01/10 Session Opened Canterbury Eldon* Camden Aylesford Dartmouth  
24/07/11 Prorogation Canterbury Eldon* Camden Westmorland Aylesford  
07/01/12 Session Opened Canterbury Eldon* Wellesley Camden Westmorland  
24/11/12 New Parliament York & Albany Cumberland & Teviotdale Eldon* Liverpool^ Westmorland  
02/06/17 Approbation Eldon* Cholmondeley Shaftesbury Bathurst Liverpool^  
14/01/19 New Parliament Harrowby Westmorland Wellington Shaftesbury Liverpool^  
21/04/20 New Parliament Eldon* Canterbury Wellington Westmorland Shaftesbury  
14/11/26 New Parliament Eldon* Wellington Westmorland Liverpool^ Harrowby  
04/02/30 Session Opened Lyndhurst* Bathurst Rosslyn Wellington^ Aberdeen  
26/10/30 New Parliament Lyndhurst* Canterbury Buckingham Rosslyn Bathurst  
27/10/30 Approbation Lyndhurst* Rosslyn Bathurst Ellenborough Melville  
14/06/31 New Parliament Canterbury Brougham & Vaux* Wellesley Grey^ Durham  
15/06/31 Approbation Brougham & Vaux* Richmond Lansdowne Durham    
29/01/33 New Parliament Brougham & Vaux* Grey^ Richmond Lansdowne Auckland  
31/01/33 Approbation Brougham & Vaux* Richmond Lansdowne Albermarle Auckland  
19/02/35 Session Opened Canterbury Lyndhurst* Rosslyn Wharncliffe Jersey  
31/01/37 Session Opened Canterbury Cottenham* Lansdowne Duncannon Melbourne^  
15/11/37 New Parliament Cottenham* Lansdowne Conygham Mulgrave Duncannon  
28/05/39 Approbation Cottenham* Lansdowne Duncannon Shaftesbury Falkland  
07/10/41 Prorogation Lyndhurst* Wellington^ Buckingham & Chandos Shaftesbury Wharncliffe  
02/02/43 Session Opened Lyndhurst* Canterbury Wharncliffe Buccleugh Shaftesbury  
05/09/44 Prorogation Lyndhurst* Wharncliffe Buccleugh Wellington^ Del La Warr Dalhousie
18/11/47 New Parliament Canterbury Cottenham* Lansdowne^ Spencer Auckland  
19/11/47 Approbation Lansdowne^ Langdale Grey Auckland Campbell  
01/08/49 Prorogation Lansdowne^ Minto Clanricarde Saint Germans Campbell  
31/01/50 Session Opened Cottenham* Lansdowne Minto Breadalbane London  
04/11/52 New Parliament St Leonards* Lonsdale Salisbury Montrose Northumberland  
05/11/52 Approbation St Leonards* Salisbury Montrose Eglinton Colchester  
20/08/53 Prorogation Cranworth* Granville Argyll Breadalbane Newcastle  
14/08/55 Prorogation Cranworth* Granville Argyll Stanley of Alderley Harrowby  
29/07/56 Prorogation Cranworth* Harrowby Stanley of Alderley Willoughby D’Eresby Monteagle of Brandon  
30/04/57 New Parliament Cranworth* Harrowby Spencer Stanley of Alderley Argyll  
01/05/57 Approbation Cranworth* Granville^ Harrowby Spencer Argyll  
28/08/57 Prorogation Canterbury Cranworth* Granville^ Harrowby Panmure  
02/08/58 Prorogation Chelmsford* Salisbury Hardwicke De La Warr Beaufort  
13/08/59 Prorogation Campbell* Granville^ Somerset Saint Germans Sydney  
28/08/60 Prorogation Campbell* Somerset Sydney Stanley of Alderley Monteagle of Brandon  
06/08/61 Prorogation Westbury* Granville^ Saint Germans Sydney Monteagle of Brandon  
06/02/62 Session Opened Westbury* Saint Germans Sydney Stanley of Alderley    
07/08/62 Prorogation Westbury* Saint Germans Russell Kingsdown    
05/02/63 Session Opened Westbury* Argyll Saint Germans Sydney Stanley of Alderley  
28/07/63 Prorogation Westbury* Saint Germans Newcastle Stanley of Alderley Wensleydale  
04/02/64 Session Opened Westbury* Argyll Saint Germans Sydney Stanley of Alderley  
29/07/64 Prorogation Westbury* Saint Germans De Grey Sydney Wensleydale  
07/02/65 Session Opened Westbury* Somerset Saint Germans Sydney Stanley of Alderley  
06/07/65 Prorogation Granville^ Saint Germans Sydney Eversley Wensleydale  
01/02/66 New Parliament Cranworth* Argyll Sydney Bessborough Stanley of Alderley  
02/02/66 Approbation Cranworth* Argyll Sydney Bessborough Dalhousie  
10/08/66 Prorogation Chelmsford* Buckingham & Chandos Malmesbury Bradford Cadogan  
21/08/67 Prorogation Chelmsford* Richmond Bradford Beaufort Devon  
19/11/67 Session Opened Chelmsford* Marlborough Malmesbury Buckingham Cadogan  
31/07/68 Prorogation Cairns* Malmesbury Beaufort Buckingham Devon  
10/12/68 New Parliament Hatherley* De Grey Kimberley Sydney Ailesbury  
11/12/68 Approbation Hatherley* De Grey Kimberley Sydney Argyll  
16/02/69 Session Opened Hatherley* De Grey Kimberley Sydney Ailesbury  
11/08/69 Prorogation Hatherley* Kimberley Granville Sydney Foley  
08/02/70 Session Opened Hatherley* De Grey Kimberley Bessborough Sydney  
10/08/70 Prorogation Hatherley* Halifax Kimberley Normanby Sydney  
21/08/71 Prorogation Hatherley* Halifax Saint Albans Cowper Cork  
06/02/72 Session Opened Hatherley* Ripon Halifax Sydney Bessborough  
12/02/72 Approbation Hatherley* Halifax Bessborough Cork Eversley  
10/08/72 Prorogation Hatherley* Ailesbury Granville^ Kimberley London  
06/02/73 Session Opened Selborne* Ripon Halifax Kimberley Cork  
05/08/73 Prorogation Selborne* Granville^ Cowper Sydney Bessborough  
05/03/74 New Parliament Cairns* Richmond^ Hertford Beauchamp Bradford  
06/03/74 Approbation Cairns* Richmond^ Beauchamp Skelmersdale    
07/08/74 Prorogation Cairns* Beauchamp Derby Bradford Skelmersdale  
05/02/75 Session Opened Cairns* Malmesbury Hertford Beauchamp Skelmersdale  
13/08/75 Prorogation Cairns* Richmond^ Beauchamp Shrewsbury Hardwicke  
15/08/76 Prorogation Cairns* Richmond^ Hardwicke Hertford Bradford  
14/08/77 Prorogation Cairns* Richmond Salisbury Harrowby Skelmersdale  
17/01/78 Session Opened Cairns* Richmond Hertford Beauchamp Skelmersdale  
16/08/78 Prorogation Cairns* Richmond Northumberland Hertford Skelmersdale  
05/12/78 Session Opened Cairns* Richmond Northumberland Beauchamp Skelmersdale  
15/08/79 Prorogation Cairns* Northumberland Beauchamp Hardwicke Skelmersdale  
07/09/80 Prorogation Selborne* Sydney Kenmare Kimberley Cork  
27/08/81 Prorogation Selborne* Spencer Cork Kenmare Monson  
07/02/82 Session Opened Selborne* Sydney Kenmare Cork Monson  
02/12/82 Prorogation Selborne* Granville^ Kimberley Carrington Monson  
15/02/83 Session Opened Selborne* Carlingford Sydney Cork Monson  
25/08/83 Prorogation Selborne* Derby Sydney Kenmare Monson  
05/02/84 Session Opened Selborne* Sydney Kenmare Monson Carrington  
14/08/84 Prorogation Selborne* Sydney Derby Kenmare Monson  
23/10/84 Session Opened Selborne* Carlingford Kimberley Kenmare Monson  
14/08/85 Prorogation Halsbury* Lathom Waterford Coventry Hardwicke  
12/01/86 New Parliament Halsbury* Cranbrook Iddesleigh Coventry Barrington  
13/01/86 Approbation Halsbury* Cranbrook Iddesleigh Coventry Barrington  
25/09/86 Prorogation Halsbury* Iddesleigh Stanley of Preston Kintore Barrington  
27/01/87 Session Opened Halsbury* Lathom Cross Kintore Coventry  
16/09/87 Prorogation Halsbury* Cross Stanley of Preston Brownlow Lothian  
09/02/88 Session Opened Halsbury* Lathom Cross Kintore Rosslyn  
24/12/88 Prorogation Halsbury* Coventry Kintore Colville of Culross Esher  
21/02/89 Session Opened Halsbury* Cranbrook Kintore Lathom Cross  
11/02/90 Session Opened Halsbury* Mount Edgcumbe Limerick Cross Knutsford  
25/11/90 Session Opened Halsbury* Lathom Coventry Brownlow Knutsford  
09/02/92 Session Opened Halsbury* Portland Coventry Mount Edgcumbe Cross  
04/08/92 New Parliament Halsbury* Rutland Cross Knutsford Lathom  
05/08/92 Approbation Halsbury* Rutland Cross Knutsford Balfour of Burleigh  
18/08/92 Prorogation Herschell* Kimberley Spencer Ripon Oxenbridge  
31/01/93 Session Opened Herschell* Spencer Kimberley Breadalbane Carrington  
25/08/94 Prorogation Herschell* Kimberley Breadalbane Carrington Chesterfield  
05/02/95 Session Opened Herschell* Spencer Tweedmouth Breadalbane Carrington  
22/04/95 Approbation Herschell* Kimberley Spencer Carrington Kensington  
05/09/95 Prorogation Halsbury* Cross Norfolk Limerick Belper  
11/02/96 Session Opened Halsbury* Cross Lathom Ashbourne Kintore  
14/08/96 Prorogation Halsbury* Cross Coventry Balfour of Burleigh James of Hereford  
19/01/97 Session Opened Halsbury* Cross Pembroke Balfour of Burleigh Kintore  
06/08/97 Prorogation Halsbury* Norfolk Cross Ashbourne    
12/08/98 Prorogation Halsbury* Norfolk Coventry Waldegrave Rathmore  
07/02/99 Session Opened Halsbury* Hopetoun Coventry Balfour of Burleigh James of Hereford  
17/10/99 Session Opened Halsbury* Pembroke Marlborough Coventry Balfour of Burleigh  
30/01/00 Session Opened Halsbury* Cross Hopetoun Kintore Belper  
03/12/00 New Parliament Halsbury* Clarendon Kintore Pembroke Belper  
20/06/05 Approbation Halsbury* Waldegrave Kintore      
15/02/16 Session Opened Buckmaster* Devonshire Lincolnshire Sandhurst Farquhar  
04/02/19 New Parliament Birkenhead* Crawford Donoughmore Farquhar Sandhurst  
05/02/19 Approbation Birkenhead* Crawford Donoughmore Ribblesdale Newton  
28/04/21 Approbation Birkenhead* Lincolnshire Kintore Sandhurst Balfour of Burleigh  
08/01/24 New Parliament Cave* Cromer Shaftesbury Desart Somerleyton  
09/01/24 Approbation Cave* Cromer Desart Fitzalan of Derwent Huntly  
02/12/24 New Parliament Cave* Shaftesbury Kintore Donoughmoure Newton  
03/12/24 Approbation Cave* Donoughmore Kintore Fitzalan of Derwent Finlay  
21/06/28 Approbation Hailsham* Kintore Strachie Muir Mackenzie Darling  
25/06/29 New Parliament Sankey* Stanhope Kintore Atkin Southborough  
26/06/29 Approbation Sankey* Stanhope Kintore Atkin Southborough  
03/11/31 New Parliament Sankey* Sumner Somerleyton Darling Stonehaven  
04/11/31 Approbation Sankey* Londonderry Onslow Stanhope Islington  
26/11/35 New Parliament Hailsham* Stanmore Thankerton Russell of Killowen Rennell  
27/11/35 Approbation Hailsham* Crawford Goschen Stonehaven Rhayader  
09/03/43 Approbation Simon* Salisbury Crewe Fitzalan of Derwent Addison  
01/08/45 New Parliament Jowitt* Salisbury Samuel Addison Cranborne  
02/08/45 Approbation Jowitt* Fitzalan of Derwent Stansgate Stanmore Mottistone  
01/03/50 New Parliament Jowitt* Addison^ Mersey Hardinge of Penthurst Llewellin  
02/03/50 Approbation Jowitt* Addison^ Mersey Swinton Hardinge of Penthurst  
31/10/51 New Parliament Simonds* Mersey Swinton Hall Ismay  
01/11/51 Approbation Simonds* Mersey Swinton Hall Llewellin  
07/06/55 New Parliament Kilmuir* Home Hall Woolton Ogmore  
08/06/55 Approbation Kilmuir* Home Hall Woolton Ogmore  
20/10/59 New Parliament Kilmuir* Hailsham Saint Aldwyn Stansgate Silkin  
21/10/59 Approbation Kilmuir* Hailsham Saint Aldwyn Stansgate Silkin  
27/10/64 New Parliament Gardiner* Longford^ Carrington Listowel Rea  
28/10/64 Approbation Gardiner* Longford^ Carrington Listowel Rea  
26/10/65 Approbation Gardiner* Dilhorne Listowel Henderson Ogmore  
18/04/66 New Parliament Gardiner* Longford^ Carrington Rea Donovan  
19/04/66 Approbation Gardiner* Longford^ Carrington Rea Morris of Borth-y-Gest  
29/06/70 New Parliament Hailsham of Saint Marylebone* Jellicoe^ Listowel Rea Shackleton  
30/06/70 Approbation Hailsham of Saint Marylebone* Jellicoe^ Listowel Rea Shackleton  
12/01/71 Approbation Hailsham of Saint Marylebone* Jellicoe^ Listowel Rea Shackleton  
06/03/74 New Parliament Elwyn-Jones* Listowel Windlesham Shackleton Byers  
07/03/74 Approbation Elwyn-Jones* Shepherd^ Listowel Saint Aldwyn Byers  
22/10/74 New Parliament Elwyn-Jones* Shepherd^ Listowel Windlesham Byers  
23/10/74 Approbation Elwyn-Jones* Champion Listowel Saint Aldwyn Byers  
03/02/76 Approbation Elwyn-Jones* Shepherd^ Listowel Byers Hailsham of Sain Marylebone  
09/05/79 New Parliament Hailsham of Saint Marylebone* Soames^ Aberdare Byers Elwyn-Jones  
10/05/79 Approbation Hailsham of Saint Marylebone* Soames^ Aberdare Byers Elwyn-Jones  
15/06/83 New Parliament Hailsham of Saint Marylebone* Aberdare Belstead Byers Cledwyn of Penrhos  
16/06/83 Approbation Hailsham of Saint Marylebone* Aberdare Belstead Byers Cledwyn of Penrhos  
07/11/86 Prorogation Hailsham of Saint Marylebone* Whitelaw^ Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe Diamond Elwyn-Jones  
17/06/87 New Parliament Havers* Whitelaw^ Seear Aberdare Cledwyn of Penrhos  
18/06/87 Approbation Havers* Whitelaw^ Seear Aberdare Cledwyn of Penrhos  
15/11/88 Prorogation Mackay of Clashfern* Belstead^ Nugent of Guildford Cledwyn of Penrhos Jenkins of Hillhead  
16/11/89 Prorogation Mackay of Clashfern* Belstead^ Aberdare Cledwyn of Penrhos Jenkins of Hillhead  
01/11/90 Prorogation Mackay of Clashfern* Aberdare Denham Cledwyn of Penrhos Jenkins of Hillhead  
22/10/91 Prorogation Mackay of Clashfern* Aberdare Waddington^ Cledwyn of Penrhos Jenkins of Hillhead  
16/03/92 Prorogation Mackay of Clashfern* Aberdare Waddington^ Cledwyn of Penrhos Jenkins of Hillhead  
27/04/92 New Parliament Mackay of Clashfern* Caithness Aberdare Seear Cledwyn of Penrhos  
28/04/92 Approbation Mackay of Clashfern* Ferrers Aberdare Cledwyn of Penrhos Jenkins of Hillhead  
05/11/93 Prorogation Mackay of Clashfern* Wakeham^ Richard Seear Weatherill  
03/11/94 Prorogation Mackay of Clashfern* Cranborne^ Richard Seear Weatherill  
08/11/95 Prorogation Mackay of Clashfern* Cranborne^ Ampthill Jenkins of Hilhead Richard  
17/10/96 Prorogation Mackay of Clashfern* Cranborne^ Jenkins of Hilhead Richard Weatherill  
21/03/97 Prorogation Mackay of Clashfern* Cranborne^ Jenkins of Hilhead Ampthill Richard  
07/05/97 New Parliament Irvine of Lairg* Richard^ Jenkins of Hilhead Cranborne Weatherill  
08/05/97 Approbation Irvine of Lairg* Richard^ Thomson of Monifieth Cranborne Weatherill  
19/11/98 Prorogation Irvine of Lairg* Cranborne Rodgers of Quarry Bank Jay of Paddington^ Chalfont  
11/11/99 Prorogation Irvine of Lairg* Strathclyde Rodgers of Quarry Bank Jay of Paddington^ Weatherill  
23/10/00 Approbation Irvine of Lairg* Jay of Paddington^ Mackay of Ardbrecknish Rodgers of Quarry Bank Weatherill  
30/11/00 Prorogation Irvine of Lairg* Jay of Paddington^ Marsh Strathclyde Rodgers of Quarry Bank  
13/06/01 New Parliament Irvine of Lairg* Williams of Mostyn^ Strathclyde Moore of Wolvercote Jenkins of Hillhead  
14/06/01 Approbation Irvine of Lairg* Williams of Mostyn^ Moore of Wolvercote Strathclyde Williams of Crosby  
07/11/02 Prorogation Irvine of Lairg* Williams of Mostyn^ Williams of Crosby Strathclyde Molyneaux of Killead  
20/11/03 Prorogation Falconer of Thoroton* Amos^ Strathclyde Thomson of Monifieth Donaldson of Lymington  
18/11/04 Prorogation Falconer of Thoroton* Amos^ Blatch Donaldson of Lymington Williams of Crosby  
11/05/05 New Parliament Falconer of Thoroton* Amos^ Strathclyde Donaldson of Lymington Roper  
12/05/05 Approbation Falconer of Thoroton* Amos^ Strathclyde Roper Donaldson of Lymington  
08/11/06 Prorogation Falconer of Thoroton* Amos^ Hayman~ Strathclyde McNally  
30/10/07 Prorogation Ashton of Upholland^ Hayman~ Strathclyde McNally Williamson of Horton  
26/11/08 Prorogation Royall of Blaisdon^ Hayman~ Strathclyde McNally Williamson of Horton  
22/06/09 Approbation Royall of Blaisdon^ Strathclyde McNally D’Souza Jack Straw*  
12/11/09 Prorogation Hayman~ Strathclyde McNally Royall of Blaisdon^ D’Souza  
08/04/10 Prorogation Royall of Blaisdon^ Hayman~ Strathclyde Shutt of Greetland D’Souza  
18/05/10 New Parliament Strathclyde^ Hayman~ McNally Royall of Blaisdon D’Souza  
19/05/10 Approbation Strathclyde^ Hayman~ McNally Royall of Blaisdon D’Souza  
01/05/12 Prorogation Shutt of Greetland D’Souza~ Strathclyde^ Williamson of Horton Royall of Blaisdon  
25/04/13 Prorogation Williamson of Horton D’Souza~ Hill of Oareford^ McNally -1  
14/05/14 Prorogation Butler of Brockwell D’Souza~ Hill of Oareford^ Royall of Blaisdon Wallace of Tankerness  
26/03/15 Prorogation D’Souza~ Hunt of Kings Heath Laming Newby Stowell of Beeston^  
18/05/15 New Parliament Stowell of Beeston^ D’Souza~ Royall of Blaisdon Wallace of Tankerness Laming  
19/05/15 Approbation Stowell of Beeston^ D’Souza~ Royall of Blaisdon Laming Wallace of Tankerness  
12/05/16 Prorogation Wallace of Tankerness D’Souza~ Stowell of Beeston^ Hope of Craighead Smith of Basildon  
27/04/17 Prorogation Evans of Bowes Park^ Hope of Craighead Fowler~ Newby Smith of Basildon  
13/06/17 New Parliament Evans of Bowes Park^ Fowler~ Smith of Basildon Newby Hope of Craighead  
14/06/17 Approbation Evans of Bowes Park^ Fowler~ Smith of Basildon Newby Hope of Craighead  
09/09/19 Prorogation Evans of Bowes Park^ Fowler~ Hope of Craighead      
08/10/19 Prorogation Evans of Bowes Park^ Fowler~ Newby Judge Smith of Basildon  
04/11/19 Approbation Robert Buckland* Evans of Bowes Park^ Dholakia Judge Smith of Basildon  
17/12/19 New Parliament Evans of Bowes Park^ Fowler~ Smith of Basildon Newby Judge  
17/12/19 Approbation Evans of Bowes Park^ Fowler~ Smith of Basildon Newby Judge  

UPDATE (March 2020)

I recently came across the Journals of the House of Lords which, unlike Hansard, do list all the commissioners and even describe their seating order. I will not be remaking the spreadsheet though. Firstly I just can’t be bothered, and secondly only certain years of the journals are available online, so the updated recored would have several serious gaps.

The Legislative Process with Liam Laurence Smyth

Today the trilogy of parliamentary outreach lectures concluded with the Clerk of Legislation. Mr Smyth’s spoken words were more difficult than his predecessors’ to compile into a textual summary, but unlike them he supplied lavish visual aids, including four bills and five diagrams.

This should make nice bedtime reading.

Smyth noted that his presentation would have been very different four years ago, the referendum having disrupted British politics in almost every way imaginable. Entering the civil service fast stream in 1977 he was eye witness to the decline of James Callaghan and the rise of Margaret Thatcher. He saw the transformation of Tony Blair from a poll-chaser whose view was never known until he had checked with the focus group to a conviction politician who prayed on his knees beside George Bush. Having been born in Northern Ireland he has personal cause to be passionate about the delivery of peaceful democracy. One of his mottoes is “We have to work for people who voted for Section 28 and for people who voted against it.”

There was a brief detour concerning English Votes for English Laws. Smyth said that these were almost pointless in legislative terms – as it is hard to find any concrete example of a bill passing or failing that would have been different had EVEL not been there – but a great political success, for it showed that the government had addressed the West Lothian Question. Notably, no opposition party had made any serious effort to overturn it.

We were shown a diagram of the Chamber Business Team in the Public and Private Bill Office. Smyth was pleased to have avoided the traditional hierarchical display but then pointed out that his office was obviously the largest. That however, would soon change with the parliamentary restoration & renewal process, resulting in a more open-plan approach. Acknowledging that the thirteen-strong team was quite small in proportion to a house of 650 members, Smyth stressed that the team did not carry through every bill that was proposed, nor did they actually write legislation.

Our guest wryly pointed out that three parliaments had dissolved since the passage of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, and that only one of them had run for the full fixed term. He set out the major achievements of the last parliament during the extremely long 2017-19 session: The European Union (Withdrawal) Act, other Brexit-related acts (haulage, healthcare, nuclear safeguards, taxation of cross-border trade, sanctions, et al), the Data Protection Act, various other acts (Offensive Weapons, Smart Meters, Tenant Fees, Ivory), and the aforementioned Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration & Renewal) Act. That last one has an unusual distinction of being given royal assent twice.

He also showed us some examples of the many private members’ bills which were passed, though noted that some were actually written by the government – the giveaway being that the explanatory notes credit the Home Office. Smyth said that since the Roy Jenkins era governments had shied away from private member space and in recent times were more likely to give up their own schedule slots.

Turning back to Brexit, we were told of change in the usage of emergency debates were only for discussion, and would not result in a consequential vote on any substantive motion. This changed on 3rd September when Yvette Cooper secured such a debate to change the House’s procedures so that her private bill could be given precedence in the timetabling, thus subverting the normal working of parliament in several ways. The debate was granted at the discretion of John Bercow, the recently-retired speaker. His conduct, particularly in his last few months, generated a lot of controversy. Smyth said simply that he had responded to the emergence of an anti-government majority, or “The Rebel Alliance” as some were calling it. Smyth joked that whereas previously his department had mapped every outcome possible, in future they would also have to map some which were not.

The Prime Minister held several votes in the House of Commons on a motion for a snap general election. The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act required that the motion be endorsed by two thirds of the total membership (434 out of 650) – a bar which was repeatedly missed. Ultimately the 57th parliament was dissolved through a new piece of legislation, whose passage does not have the super-majority requirement. Smyth described the Early Parliamentary General Election Act being “passed in haste” with many MPs trying to tag on amendments which would have invoked more fundamental issues (such as the extent of the franchise and campaign spending) than were meant to be within the scope of the bill.

Included in today’s presentation was a case study about Northern Ireland. The province’s domestic issues are normally governed by a devolved administration based in Stormont, but in early 2017 a financial scandal caused a snap election from which a new executive has still yet to emerge. That meant political control reverted to Westminster, where laws were recently passed to bring major areas of Northern Ireland’s social policy in line with both Ireland and Great Britain despite the objections of some MLAs. Just before dissolution, the outgoing parliament passed the very important Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act. Assent was given in the Lords at the very end of its last sitting day.

Discussion also turned to a raft of “makeweight” bills introduced by the government in a desperate attempt to retain primacy in parliament. The most derided was the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill – quite literally the bottom of the barrel.

After lunch was another general question session. I have attempted a summary below:

How much has Brexit changed the legislative process? Hugely. We have to get used to EU-retained law. This could become difficult in the long term as the law was passed on the assumption that we would still be in the European Union, so domestic and continental courts are liable to interpret the spirit of the law differently. A lot of the change has been caused by the hung parliament. If the next government has a big majority then things may return to normal.

Is there a problem with negative resolution procedures for secondary legislation in terms of scrutiny and oversight? Not really. Humdrum official-level scrutiny is more significant.

Was it right to call the last parliament a “zombie” given it actually achieved a lot? It was felt that parliament was stuck over Brexit. There were many achievements early in the session, but later on they stalled.

With an early sitting before Christmas is there time to pass the withdrawal agreement? The new parliament will assemble on Tuesday 17th December. The Queen will give her speech on Thursday 19th. Parliament could pass the second reading and the programme motion. It might be hard to get a new Chairman of Ways & Means elected in time. Whatever is passed must also be agreed by the European Parliament.

How will the legislative process change after Brexit? Britain will have to make a lot more decisions about agriculture & fisheries that would once have been made by the European Union. There was a process of grieving after the referendum. We’ve spent our entire working lives thinking Britain would always be in the European Community. Future generations will have a much greater scope to make their own policy decisions.