The Lord Chancellor is a Cabinet minister and currently a Member of the House of Commons. Reforms, including the creation of the Ministry of Justice and the election of a Lord Speaker for the House of Lords, have significantly altered the role of Lord Chancellor in modern times.
Election of the first Lord Speaker
On 4 July 2006, Members of the House of Lords elected their first Lord Speaker. This new role assumed some of the Lord Chancellor's responsibilities, such as chairing debates in the Lords' chamber and speaking for the House on ceremonial occasions.
How the Lord Speaker is elected
The Lord Speaker is elected by members of the House of Lords for a period of five years, renewable once. The first election took place on 4 July 2006 when Baroness Hayman took office.
Upon election, the successful Lord Speaker becomes unaffiliated from any party and is not expected to vote, even in the event of a tie (as the House of Lords has rules set out for resolving an equality of votes).
The post of Lord Speaker was created under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. Previously, the Lord Chancellor presided over debates in the House of Lords.
Lord Speaker's duties
presiding over business in the Lords chamber from the Woolsack;
chairing the House of Lords Commission, which provides high-level strategic and political direction for the House of Lords Administration on behalf of the House;
taking formal responsibility for security in the Lords area of the parliamentary estate;
coordinating an outreach programme to engage the public in the work and role of the Lords, central to which is the Peers in Schools programme;
attending and speaking at state and ceremonial occasions on behalf of the Lords;
representing the Lords to overseas parliaments, attending conferences with speakers of other parliaments, sharing best practice and developing links between parliaments.
Lord Speaker's role in the chamber
The Lord Speaker is the presiding officer in the House of Lords. However, as the House of Lords is self-regulating, the Lord Speaker guides and assists the House during debate, rather than controlling or managing it.
The Lord Speaker has no power to call members to order, to decide who speaks next, or to select amendments, but does call amendments, collect the voices and call for divisions (votes) when necessary.
Deputy Speakers assist the Lord Speaker and sit on the Woolsack in the Lord Speaker's absence.
Judicial Appointments Commission
A new Judicial Appointments Commission began to operate from 3 April 2006. This ended the Lord Chancellor's past position as head of the judiciary (courts of law in England and Wales) and power to appoint judges.
The role of the Lord Chancellor
The modern role of the lord chancellor straddles both political and legal spheres. He presides over the highest court of appeal in the country, the House of Lords. He is also part of the legislature, acting as Speaker in the Lords. Finally, the lord chancellor is a government cabinet minister responsible for the operation of the English judicial system. The second Blair administration proposed to replace the Lord Chancellorship by a Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, but, after strong opposition, in 2005 the two offices were merged.