Leader of the House of Commons

4.7The member of the Government who is primarily responsible for the arrangement of government business in the House of Commons is known as the Leader of the House. The Leader manages the arrangement of business in that House while the programme and details are settled by the Government Chief Whip (see below).

Each week, after a programme of business has been arranged, the Leader of the House states the business for the following week (and provisionally for a further week) in answer to a question, normally from the Shadow Leader of the House, at the end of departmental Questions on Thursdays, and, whenever necessary, makes further business statements from time to time. The Leader may also move procedural motions relating to the business of the House.

In the absence of the Prime Minister, traditionally the Leader of the House has expressed the sense of the House on formal occasions, such as in moving motions of thanks or congratulation. The Leader of the House `has a particular responsibility to the House as a whole in leading and guiding it on procedural difficulties…and…has a general responsibility to safeguard what one may term the decencies and to ensure that Business arrangements have regard to what is right and proper in the interests of the House as a whole.’1

The title does not appear to have become established until about the middle of the nineteenth century2 although the institution is much older. The leadership of the House is not a statutory office, and nor is the Leader of the House formally appointed by the Crown. For these reasons the post has usually been held together with another office; recently this has usually been that of Lord President of the Council. Until 1942 the Prime Minister, if a Minister of the House of Commons, generally also acted as Leader of the House, although the day-to-day duties were frequently carried out after 1922 by an appointed deputy Leader. Since 1942 it has been the regular practice to have a separate Leader of the House, and in recent years it has become usual to appoint a deputy Leader of the House.3

Under the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, s 1, the Leader of the House of Commons, being ‘the Minister of the Crown for the time being nominated as such by the Prime Minister’, is appointed a member of the House of Commons Commission. Under the coalition Government formed after the general election in May 2010, the Leader of the House was for the first time not a member of the Cabinet.4

Footnotes

  1. 1. Herbert Morrison, Government and Parliament: a Survey from the Inside (1964), pp 130–31.
  2. 2. J Redlich and C P Ilbert Procedure of the House of Commons (1908) i, p 120.
  3. 3. See eg HC Deb (25 April 1968) 763, c 77W; official list of Her Majesty's Government, published by the Prime Minister, 12 May 2015. No Deputy Leader was appointed after the 2017 General Election.
  4. 4. The official list of Her Majesty's Government, published by the Prime Minister, 19 May 2010, made it clear that the Leader would attend Cabinet, rather than be a member of it.