Alistair Lexden’s appointment as a Deputy Speaker was announced recently. On 23 November, he presided for the first time over a debate in the Lords chamber, sitting on the famous Woolsack. The subject of the debate was “the case for maintaining United Kingdom defence forces at a sufficient level to contribute to global peace, stability and security”. Each speaker was limited to four minutes; no problems arose; and so the new Deputy Speaker had a very easy time.
The Woolsack dates back to the fourteenth century when Edward III commanded that his chief minister, the Lord Chancellor, should sit on a wool bale when in council, symbolising the immense importance of the wool trade to the economy of England in the middle ages.
In 1938, it was discovered that the Woolsack was stuffed with horsehair. When it was remade, it was re-stuffed with wool from the Commonwealth as a symbol of unity.
The Woolsack has no arms or back, but there is a back-rest in the centre.