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In days gone by Peers sat in strict order of precedence - the Lords Spiritual on the right of the throne and the Lords Temporal on the left. However, as membership of the House increased, it became necessary to provide additional seating and in the 17th century cross benches were introduced primarily to accommodate the Viscounts and the Barons.

So the problem of seating is not new, but with the introduction of Life Peers in 1958 it has steadily increased (although the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876 allowed the Law Lords to sit as Life Peers). The cross benches are now associated with Peers who have no specific party allegiance. Crossbenchers also sit on some of the benches on the left of the Throne nearest the three cross benches. Their numbers steadily increased to over 300 until the 1999 House of Lords Act ended the automatic right of Hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords.

Crossbench Peers receive notice of forthcoming business, but no whip is ever issued. There is a meeting on Wednesday afternoons chaired by the Convenor at which matters of mutual interest or concern may be raised, but there is no obligation to attend and it is not permitted to seek to influence the way in which those present should vote on any issue. Indeed the record shows that Crossbenchers are frequently split between the parties in the Division Lobbies. Nevertheless when the Crossbench Peers do attend in strength to support a particular measure, their influence can often be decisive.

It is important to stress that Crossbench Peers sit strictly as individuals and do not constitute a party. An increasing number of Crossbench Peers come from outside the realm of politics, from the learned professions, from medicine or education, from industry and commerce or from the voluntary sector and the performing arts. Many are still actively involved outside the House.

Adapted from an article written by Lord Weatherill, then Convenor of the Crossbench Peers, in 1996.


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