If you watched the beginning of the second reading debate on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Lords, you may have noticed Theresa May watching the debate from the steps of the throne. Although Prime Ministers rarely venture there, the steps of the throne are frequently occupied when the House is in session. But why do so many people hang out there?
The steps of the throne serve as a sort of spectators’ gallery. However, the right to sit there is restricted to a curious gallimaufry of individuals, including:
- members of the House of Lords;
- hereditary peers who were removed from the House of Lords pursuant to the House of Lords Act 1999;
- eldest sons/daughters of member of the House of Lords;
- Irish peers;
- Church of England bishops;
- the Dean of Westminster Abbey; and
- Privy Counsellors.
The practice of sitting on the steps of the Throne began as a way for the eldest sons of peers to gain experience of the House before they inherited their seats. Eventually, that right was extended to the eldest sons of life peers, and later on, the eldest child of any peer in the House regardless of gender. Hereditary peers who were removed from the House in 1999 got the right to sit on the steps as a sort of consolation prize.
Nowadays, many of the people on the steps are serving peers who wish to watch its proceedings but don’t have time to stay for an extended period of time. If you’re watching a debate in the chamber itself, you’re expected to stay for the whole thing, so sitting on the steps of the Throne can be a great alternative if you’re pressed for time.