With the change in government, and the nature of the new government, it has meant that everyone in the House has had to change places – well, almost everyone. Most current members were appointed post-1997, so it has been a new experience having to find a new seat. Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers now sit on the Government side of the House and Labour on the Opposition side. All the parties are effectively sitting directly opposite where they sat before. Cross-benchers, or what may be termed over-spill cross-benchers, have also swapped sides. The only members who have not moved are the Lords Spiritual and those cross-benchers who actually sit on the cross-benches.
It was a strange experience moving places. I decided to sit in the equivalent place on the other side of the House: that is the fourth bench back, below the aisle, and at the end of the row, essentially for the same reasons as I chose my original place: that is, I can see most of the House and I am strategically placed in front of a microphone. It was a strange experience for the first day or so, but by the time I rose to speak in the Queen’s Speech debate I was starting to feel comfortable.
The Liberal Democrats sit behind the Bishops and this has created some pressure of space. I gather the Liberal Democrats would have liked the Bishops to move. It was claimed by some peers that the Bishops had at some point sat on the other side of the House. This caused consternation among the Clerks, who could find no record of it. In any event, the Bishops were not inclined to move and have firmly stayed in place. There was a passing reference to the situation in last Thursday’s Queen Speech debate in the speech by the Bishop of Leicester: ‘My Lords, as has already been observed, much has changed since we last debated the gracious Speech in this House, and not least the elbow room on these Benches from time to time.’
The Liberal Democrats may be in government but they are finding the secular has to give way to the spiritual. Some of the Bishops have powerful elbows.