Though the Leader of the House is a member of the cabinet and remains a partisan figure, he or she also has responsibilities to the House as a whole. In contrast to the House of Commons, where proceedings are controlled by the Speaker, proceedings in the Lords are controlled by peers themselves, under the rules set out in the Standing Orders. The Leader of the House has the responsibility of reminding the House of these rules and facilitating the Lords' self-regulation, though any member may draw attention to breaches of order or failure to observe customs. The Leader is often called upon to advise on procedures and points of order and is required to determine the order of speakers on Supplementary Questions, subject to the wishes of the House. However, like the Lord Speaker, the Leader of the House has no power to rule on points of order or to intervene during an inappropriate speech.
Until the election of the first Lord Speaker on 4 July 2006, the Leader of the House had responsibility for making preliminary decisions on requests for Private Notice Questions and for waiving the sub judice rule in certain cases. Those functions were transferred to the Lord Speaker.
The title seems to have come into use some time after 1800, as a formal way of referring to the peer who managed government business in the upper House, irrespective of which salaried position they held in the cabinet. However, it may have been used as early as 1689, applied to George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax, when he was Speaker of the House of Lords during the Convention Parliament of that year.
The role developed during the first quarter of the eighteenth century, at the same time as the role of Prime Minister and the system of Cabinet government. In the wake of the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution and the succession of the Hanoverians to the throne, Britain evolved a system of government where ministers were sustained in office by their ability to carry legislation through Parliament. It was therefore necessary for a member of the government to take responsibility for steering government legislation through each House.
The Earl of Sunderland, initiated aspects of the role during the Whig Junto under Queen Anne. Sunderland and the other Whigs were dismissed from office in reaction to their co-ordination of government matters, which was taken as a threat to the power of the monarch. Sunderland returned to power under George I, as Lord Privy Seal. The first documentary evidence of the existence of the role comes from 1717, when Sunderland became Secretary of State for the Northern Department: in the form of lists of peers invited to the office of the Northern Secretary immediately before sessions of Parliament.
When the Prime Minister sat in the House of Lords, which was common until the beginning of the twentieth century, he usually held the position of Leader of the House of Lords. When the Prime Minister sat in the Commons, the position of Leader of the Lords was often held by the Foreign Secretary or Colonial Secretary. In some coalition governments, it was held by the party leader who was not Prime Minister.
Since the end of the Marquess of Salisbury's last government, in 1902, the position clearly exists in its own right as a member of the cabinet. Since 1966 it has only been combined with sinecure positions and the holder has not been a departmental minister though some have held additional responsibilities such as Quintin Hogg, 2nd Viscount Hailsham also being designated "Minister for Science" or Margaret Baroness Jay also being "Minister for Women".
Because the post is a parliamentary one and not a ministerial office in its own right, it is not always included in official lists of government offices, especially for earlier periods. This can make it difficult to determine who the Leader of the House of Lords was in a particular ministry.
Term of office
Other ministerial offices held as Leader of the House of Lords
^ abcdefghijklmJ. C. Sainty, "List of peers responsible for the management of the House of Lords 1717–1803" in Clyve Jones and David L. Jones eds, Peers, Politics and Power: The House of Lords 1603–1911 (Hambledon, 1986) pp. 221–227.
^ abcdefghijChris Cook and John Stevenson, British Historical Facts 1760–1830 (1980) pp. 50–51.
^M. W. McCahill, The House of Lords in the Age of George III (1760-1811) (2009) p. 242.