Lobbying the Lords: 10 tips for making an impact in the upper house

Recently, the NCVO public affairs consultancy team hosted a breakfast briefing on lobbying the Lords. The aim was to throw a spotlight on the role of the second chamber as an under-used and overlooked campaigning channel. Speakers included Lord Hunt, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Esther Foreman, Director of the Social Change Agency and author of the Peering in report, and Ellen Broome, Acting Director of Policy at the Children’s Society.

The Lords often look to the charity sector for evidence and policy solutions and it’s important that we know and understand how the upper chamber operates to make the most of this. There were a number of insightful points:

  1. Recognise the practical constraints that many peers have – they don’t have an office, or a diary secretary. Letters asking for ‘their office’ to set up a meeting are likely to end up in the rubbish heap.
  2. Pick up the phone – peers are much more accessible than you think and often the best way to get in touch is to pick up the phone and talk. Sending huge swathes of e mails or tweets will only serve to swamp their heavy workloads even further.
  3. Consider collaboration – peers are often inundated with briefings, requests for meetings and invites – presenting a united front will always get you further up the queue.
  4. Think ahead – if peers are working flat out on a Bill, they don’t need general letters stating your position and a request for yet another meeting – what they need is bullet points that can be easily dropped into speeches and draft amendments, preferably yesterday.
  5. Timing – if you’re looking to get a Peer to propose an amendment on your behalf, don’t spend days checking and refining the wording, get it to them as soon as possible and they can work with the clerks in the Table Office to make sure it is fit for purpose.
  6. Understand the hidden hierarchies – some peers are held in higher regard by their colleagues than others; perhaps for the quality of their contributions in debate, for the diligence of their work in select committee, or as a consequence of many years of distinguished service in public office. Getting someone senior and respected on-side will always be worth the effort.
  7. Pick your weapon carefully – for example oral questions are an effective tool for raising an issue quickly and getting a response from a government minister, but if you need the time to explore an issue in more depth its worth thinking about a question for short debate.
  8. Think credible cross-party solutions – the charity sector is generally seen by peers as a credible source of information, and it’s important that we provide well structured, solution focused briefings. But we also need to understand the politics associated with the solution we are proposing – who is likely to support and who is not.
  9. Deference to the elected commons – the House of Lords is a very effective revising chamber, but they are limited in what they can do. They have no powers over money bills and are on shaky ground if amendments have huge funding implications
  10. Don’t be afraid to stroke egos – like their counterparts on the green benches, there’s nothing wrong with signaling why you want to work with that particular peer and what their involvement in your issue can do for their profile.

This event was organised by the NCVO public affairs consultancy team as part of a series aimed at helping our members to lobby and influence in the run up the next election. You can find out more about our election work here.

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Chloe Stables Chloe Stables, External Relations Manager, reflects on the latest political developments affecting the voluntary and community sector.

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