2 No longer replacing hereditary peers
in the House of Lords when they die |
10. Under the 1999 House of Lords Act the vast majority
of hereditary peers were removed. However, as a result of a political
deal made at the time between the then Conservative leader in
the Lords and the then Labour Prime Minister, 92 hereditary peers
in the House of Lords remain in place.
Under the agreement, often referred to as the Weatherill amendment,
this group of hereditary peers was to remain until a second phase
of large-scale reform was agreed upon. As a result, when a hereditary
peer dies, a by-election is held to fill the vacancy. Only hereditary
peers are eligible to stand for election and only peers from the
group in which the vacancy has occurred are entitled to vote.
Although the by-election system was initially introduced in the
belief that it was unlikely to be used because the second stage
of reform was pending, in practice the lack of progress on wholesale
reform has meant that by-elections have become established practice
in the House of Lords.
11. Only a small number of those who provided evidence
argued that hereditary peers should continue to be replaced in
the House of Lords when they die. The Campaign for a Democratic
Upper House stated that no longer replacing them "would remove
the rationale for the [...] Weatherill amendment in 1999, which
saw 92 hereditary peers remain as a form of guarantee of further
Hunt of Wirral also cautioned against unravelling the political
deal secured in 1999. He told us that, although incremental reform
was possible, it should not be allowed to impede larger-scale
a number of witnesses rejected these arguments. Dr Ballinger of
Exeter College, Oxford University commented: "we have moved
on and the House has moved on [since 1999]. I would like to see
any of them argue that a Parliament can bind its successors and
that a Government of one complexion can bind a Government of another
complexion." He continued: "there is no constitutional
bar at all to their removal by legislation and it is a question
of whether it is worth a candle in terms of the political fallout
[...]. Alan Renwick
also said that: "advocates of major reform should not insist
that the hereditary peers be retained until a complete overhaul
of the chamber's composition occurs: Lords reform is only ever
going to happen through small steps."
12. The vast majority of evidence strongly supported
the idea of no longer replacing hereditary peers, although this
was for a variety of reasons, few of which were based on reducing
the size of the House.
Both Dr Meg Russell, the Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit,
University College, London, and Alan Renwick referred to the "indefensibility"
of a hereditary route into the Lords.
Lord Howarth was also clear that "the principle of hereditary
membership of the legislature should come to an end". He
noted: "hereditary peers have given great service in Parliament
over the centuries, but there is no rationale in today's society
for anyone to have a place in the legislature by virtue of who
their ancestors were".
There was support, too, from Dr Barber, of London South Bank University,
who said that ending the replacement of hereditary peers when
they die was "an essential step".
Dr Ballinger thought that it would amount to a "desirable
tidying-up of the 1997 Government's agenda",
while Dr Michael Gordon of the University of Liverpool stated
that the non-replacement of hereditaries when they die represented
"the most attractive of the options" discussed in our
13. For others such as Lord Norton and Lord Cormack,
the presence of the hereditaries is less of an issue than the
means by which their presence is maintained, namely through the
Lord Cormack told us that the issue "is not with the Weatherill
amendment and the numbers of people involved; it is with what
people perceive to be the absurdity of the by-elections. This
is the problem."
Under current arrangements, contained in the House of Lords'
Standing Orders, only 15 of the 92 peers (who would serve as Deputy
Speakers or other office-bearers) are elected by the whole House.
Two peers are elected by the Labour hereditary peers, 42 peers
are elected by the Conservative hereditary peers; three peers
elected by the Liberal Democrat hereditary peers and; 28 peers
are elected by the Cross-bench hereditary peers. Lord Norton referred
to the "embarrassment" many peers felt "that you
might have three Lib Dems choosing one person to come in."
Dr Russell described this as a "crazy system"
and said that every time a by-election took place it "risked
exposing the chamber to ridicule".
Lord Howarth argued that no longer having by-elections would lead
"gradually and decently, to the expiry of the hereditary
system in our politics".
14. There was thus support for abolishing by-elections
from two quarters: those who perceived the current system as problematic
and wanted to see it replaced by a fairer system, and those who
wanted to abolish by-elections altogether in order to end the
practice of replacing hereditary peers in the House of Lords when
they die. However, even though there was strong support for abolishing
by-elections, some of the experts we heard from were sceptical
that consensus could be secured, not least because of what
Dr Russell described as a "small but vocal minority"
in the House of Lords who oppose not replacing hereditary peers
when they die. Lord
Norton told us that he thought that among peers "there is
a majority but not unanimity" for ending the by-election
system. Mark Ryan,
of Coventry University, also thought that an end to by-elections
"would not be without controversy in some quarters"
as it would be perceived by some as breaching the 1999 agreement.
15. A previous attempt to end the hereditary system
proposed by Lord Steel in his House of Lords (Cessation of Membership)
Bill [HL] 2012-13 was dropped after a small number of peers submitted
several hundred amendments to the clauses relating to hereditary
peers. The proposal has since been revived in Baroness Hayman's
Private Member's House of Lords Reform Bill in the form of an
amendment to the 1999 House of Lords Act which states that "any
vacancy resulting from the death of an excepted person [hereditary
peer] occurring after the coming into force of the House of Lords
Reform Act 2013 shall not be filled."
16. Dr Russell noted that even a Government Bill
would face opposition and that the Government "would have
to be prepared to face that down and see it through."
This view was echoed by the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy
Committee which stated that "the trenchant opposition in
the Lords to the version of Lord Steel's Bill which contained
this apparently simple reform shows that even such an apparently
straightforward change will be difficult, and will not command
In contrast, Lord Steel told us that "most hereditary peers
accept that the by-election system is now indefensible".
Baroness Hayman added that objections of the sort previously mounted
against Lord Steel's Bill could be neutralised "if that change
was endorsed by the House of Commons".
17. In the event that consensus on abolition of the
by-elections was difficult to achieve, Dr Russell suggested that
it may be worth considering whether there is anything that can
be done to make the hereditary by-elections "less bad"
by changing the Standing Orders to enable all peers to vote in
18. Finally, it is worth noting that although there
was strong support for the idea of no longer replacing hereditary
peers when they die, there was also an acknowledgement that doing
this would not lead to a large reduction in the size of the House.
The youngest elected hereditary peer is currently 42 years of
age and peers tend to live longer than the national average.
As Lord Tyler observed: "the problem is that the hereditaries
[...] do not die quick enough. They are too young. [...]. The
hereditaries keep going and, on the present actuarial analysis,
it will be 30 to 40 years before they have all gone [...]."
19. The evidence we received on no longer replacing
hereditary peers in the House of Lords when they die showed that
there is broad-based and significant support for this idea and
that this could be realised by ending the by-election system which
perpetuates the current system. We accept that doing this would
not have a large or swift impact on the size of the House but,
as a means of gradually reducing numbers we conclude it would
be worthwhile. It would also serve to reduce the reputational
risk to the House which results from the existence and use of
the current by-election system. We do not believe that taking
action on this issue would preclude further, wholesale reform
taking place in the future, if that is what political parties
favour. Therefore, we recommend that hereditary peers should
not be replaced in the House of Lords when they die and we welcome
the provisions contained within Baroness Hayman's Private Member's
Bill which seek to achieve this goal.
16 Ev w14 Back
The full arrangements are detailed in House of Lords' Standing
Order No. 10 Back
Ev w40 Back
Ev w29; See also Ev w6 Back
Q 199 Back
Q 132. See also Ev w46; Q 199 [Lord Richard] Back
Ev w25 Back
See for example Ev w10 [Ryan]; Ev w14 [Prof McLean] Back
Ev w40 Back
Ev w16 Back
Ev w4; See also Ev w2; Q 11 [Lord Steel] Back
Ev w45 Back
Ev w22 Back
Q 89 ff Back
Q 202 Back
The 92 hereditaries also include any peer holding the office of
Earl Marshal or performing the office of Lord Great Chamberlain. Back
Q 90 Back
Q 132 Back
Ev w40 Back
Ev w20 Back
See also Ev 45 [Dr Ballinger] Back
Q 66 Back
Ev w9 Back
Q 132 Back
Ev w6 Back
Q 29 Back
Q 29 Back
Q 132 Back
Ev w45 Back
Q 64. See also Ev w14 [Prof McLean] Back