The House held a debate yesterday on the role of partnerships between government and civil society in shaping social policy. Introduced by the Bishop of Leioester, it attracted some notable contributions from the Lords Spiritual: five of them spoke in the debate, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop stood, appropriately bathed in sunlight, and gave a short speech. He also managed to break one of the important conventions of the House.
Those who speak in debates are expected to be present for the opening and concluding speeches as well as for the speeches preceding and following their own. The Archbishop said in opening “I must begin with an apology to your Lordships for the fact that an inflexible diary means that I must infringe the conventions of the House by not being able to guarantee that I shall be here at the end of the debate. I am sorry for that but I wish to be here to support my right reverend brother and to congratulate him on securing this important debate, and I am eager to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wei.” Given that both aims could be achieved without speaking in the debate, it is not clear why he risked breaking the convention, which indeed he did – he was not present for the closing speeches.
Failure to be present attracts a black mark. It gets noticed and on the other benches would, I gather, normally attract a word or letter from the Chief Whip or convenor. I’m not sure if someone on the Bishops’ Bench will be having a word with their leader!