Behind the scenes

Who will be the next Lord Speaker?

The successful candidate will be announced tomorrow as Lord Fowler steps down

The House of Lords will announce the election of a new Lord Speaker this week as Norman Fowler steps down from the position.

Lord Fowler’s term began in 2016 and was not due to end until September this year. However, in February the former transport and health secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s government announced that “a range of important changes” taking place within the upper house should be overseen by the team who will see them through.

On announcing his retirement from the role, the 83-year-old, whose parliamentary career spans more than 50 years, told the House that the job comes with “one grave disadvantage” – that “I am not able to speak my mind on the issues of the day”.

He stands down to begin a career as an “entirely independent backbencher, able to speak out on political issues that concern me” and to “have the freedom to campaign, particularly on the area of HIV and AIDs”, he explained during his address to the House in February. As secretary of state for health and social security in 1987, Lord Fowler spearheaded the “Don’t Die of Ignorance” campaign that increased public awareness of the disease and how it is transmitted. 

What is the job of the Lord Speaker?

The Lord Speaker takes up position on the Woolsack – the name of the Speaker’s seat in the Lords – as an elected member of the House of Lords overseeing proceedings in the chamber, acting as an ambassador for the house and playing an integral role in its administration. 

Duties include presiding over the business in the chamber and representing the Lords at state and ceremonial events, both in the UK and overseas. As chair of the House of Lords Commission, the Lord Speaker plays an integral role in setting the “high-level strategic and political direction” for the House, as well as co-ordinating programmes to engage the public in the Lords’ work, as explained by the UK Parliament website.

Who is in the running?

Three candidates are standing for the position of Lord Speaker, says UK Parliament

Lord McFall of Alcluith

The current senior deputy speaker John McFall has “long been expected to run for the top job”, the BBC reports. The former Labour MP held the Dumbarton seat between 1987 to 2005, and West Dunbartonshire from 2005 until 2010.

“My vision is clear,” McFall stated in his candidate election address to the Lords: “We need a vibrant second chamber which is open, transparent and engages with the wider public.”

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town

The House of Lords’ shadow deputy leader, Dianne Hayter, has previously spoken out against hereditary peerage, and has expressed a desire to see the chamber “described as “a House of Experts” rather than “the unelected House”.”

The BBC’s Mark D’Arcy tips Lady Hayter as a possible favourite, “with talk that the Labour and Conservative leaderships have done a deal to put her on the Woolsack”.

Lord Alderdice

Former leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland John Alderdice marks his 25th year as a member of the House of Lords in 2021. A Liberal Democrat peer, he would be the party’s first representative to take the position of Lord Speaker. 

“Changes in the culture and operation of the House” are on Alderdice’s agenda were he to be elected, alongside widening the Lords’ programme of engagement.

Who chooses the Lord Speaker?

Members of the House of Lords sworn in before 25 March 2021 are eligible to vote for the next Lord Speaker, except for those who are on leave of absence, suspended from service, or subject to statutory disqualification. 

The election results will be announced on 21 April, with the new Lord Speaker expected to take office on 1 May. 

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