Explanatory Notes to the House of Lords
Bill as brought from the Commons on 17 March 1999 (HL Bill 38-EN)
1. These explanatory notes relate to the
House of Lords Bill as brought from the House of Commons on 17
March 1999. They have been prepared by the Cabinet Office in order
to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on
it. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed
2. The notes need to be read in conjunction
with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive
description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause
does not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given.
3. The House of Lords Bill is the first
part of the Government's step-by-step approach to full-scale reform
of the House of Lords. A Royal Commission has been set up to consider
further, comprehensive reform of the House. For the transitional
House, a new, more independent system for nominating peers will
be introduced. The Government's detailed proposals are set out
in a White Paper Modernising Parliament Reforming the House
of Lords (Cm 4183, January 1999).
4. The Bill's main purpose is to end membership
of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage. It also
removes the existing disqualifications of a hereditary peer to
vote in elections to the House of Commons and to stand as a candidate
for or be a member of the House of Commons.
Clause 1: Exclusion of hereditary peers
5. The main provision of the Bill ends membership
of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage. Once
the Bill is enacted, no present holders of a hereditary peerage
in the peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain or
the United Kingdom, or their heirs, will have the right to sit
and vote in the House of Lords by virtue of that peerage, or to
sit and vote in committees of the House, or to speak in the House,
or to receive a writ of summons.
6. The exclusion from membership applies
to all those who are members of the House by virtue of a hereditary
members of the Royal Family
who have the right to sit and vote in the House (the Prince of
the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of York, the Duke of Gloucester
and the Duke of Kent);
first holders of a hereditary
peerage (of whom there are currently nine);
any holder of a peerage by virtue
of acceleration, being the eldest son of a hereditary peer who
is sitting by virtue of one of his father's peerages while the
father is still alive (of whom there is currently only one in
the House of Lords, Lord Cranborne); and
any holder of a hereditary peerage
by virtue of the termination of a peerage in abeyance (where only
female co-heirs survive to inherit the peerage and one is preferred
by the Crown against another for the peerage).
7. The Bill deprives hereditary peers of
all the privileges of membership of the House of Lords, including
the privileges they enjoy as members of Parliament. Parliamentary
privileges cover various matters, many of which relate to the
House of Lords as a whole (such as punishing improper conduct
within the House itself), but include some that are personal to
individual peers. One of the most important personal privileges
is that no action can be taken against a peer for what he or she
may say in Parliament. Hereditary peers will also lose the right
to be paid allowances and to use the facilities of the House that
are available to members, such as its library, research and restaurant
facilities. The removal of these rights does not prevent the House
from deciding to grant some rights to use the facilities of the
House to a hereditary peer under the exercise of its own authority.
8. Holders of a hereditary peerage will
cease to be excusable as of right from jury service on implementation
of the Bill. (They will no longer fall within Part III of Schedule
1 to the Juries Act 1974, or Part III of Schedule 1 to the Law
Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1980, or Schedule
3 to the Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.)
9. The Bill does not affect the rights of
holders of a hereditary peerage to keep all the other titles,
rights, offices, privileges and precedents attaching to the peerage
which are unconnected with membership of the House of Lords.
10. At 4 January 1999, the House of Lords
was composed of 759 hereditary peers, 510 life peers and 26 Archbishops
and Bishops. The Bill does not affect the position of members
of the House of Lords who do not sit by virtue of a hereditary
peerage: the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England;
retired and existing Law Lords (who are created life peers under
the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876) and life peers created under
the Life Peerages Act 1958.
11. The Bill does not affect the position
of The Queen, who is not a member of the House of Lords by virtue
of a hereditary peerage.
Clause 2: Removal of disqualifications in relation
to the House of Commons
12. Under common law (see in particular
the case of Re Parliamentary Election for Bristol South East
 2QB 257), peers are prevented from voting in elections
to the House of Commons and from standing as a candidate for or
being a member of the House of Commons. Clause 2 abolishes these
disqualifications in relation to hereditary peers.
Clause 3: Repeals
13. As a result of ending membership of
the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage, it is necessary
to make certain consequential repeals, and clause 3 gives effect
to the Schedule to the Bill which contains these repeals.
Clause 4: Commencement and transitional provision
14. The Bill, apart from clause 4(3) and
(4), will come into force at the end of the Session of parliament
in which it is passed. The end of the Session is the time when
the Parliament is prorogued (or, if there is a dissolution and
no prorogation, dissolved). Clause 4(3) and (4) will come into
force on Royal Assent.
15. Those who are members of the House of
Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage will cease to be members
of the House of Lords at the end of the Session in which the Bill
16. Commencing the Bill at the end of the
Session will ensure the validity of all legislation passed during
that Session, including any passed on the final day by the House
17. Clause 4(2) overturns any presumption
that a hereditary peer might have a right or obligation to sit
and vote in the House of Lords for the rest of the current Parliament
by virtue of having already received a writ of summons for this
Parliament. A writ of summons is a document issued by the Crown
under the Royal Prerogative calling the person addressed to attend
Parliament. On commencement of the Bill, no hereditary peer who
has received a writ of summons for the current Parliament will
have any right or obligation to sit or vote in the House for the
remainder of the Parliament.
18. The disqualifications explained above
in paragraph 12 will also be removed at the end of the Session
in which the Bill is passed. However, the qualifying date (10
October) for entitlement to vote in Parliamentary elections might
have been passed before that time, depending on when the Session
ends. Those entitled to vote on the qualifying date are included
in the electoral register which operates from the following February.
If the Session ends after 10 October 1999, existing hereditary
peers will not be entitled to vote on that date and will therefore
not be able to vote in elections until February 2001. If necessary,
it is intended to make an order under the transitional provision
in clause 4(3) of the Bill to enable hereditary peers to vote
in elections from February 2000. Such an order would cover all
hereditary peers, whether resident in the United Kingdom or overseas.
The order can also ensure that all existing hereditary peers will
be able to use their entitlement under the transitional provision
to vote in European Parliamentary elections.
19. The Peerage Act 1963 allows peers on
succeeding to a hereditary peerage to disclaim the peerage for
life. A person may disclaim within twelve months of succeeding
to a peerage, of if he succeeds before the age of twenty-one,
within twelve months of attaining that age. If he applies for
a writ of summons to the House of Lords then he loses the right
to disclaim. Section 2 of the 1963 Act makes special provision
in relation to a person who is a member of the House of Commons
or a Parliamentary candidate when he succeeds to the peerage.
20. The Bill does not remove the right to
disclaim, but it repeals the references to writs of summons. A
hereditary peer will no longer by virtue of being a hereditary
peer be entitled to receive a writ of summons, and the repeal
in section 1(2) of the 1963 Act reflects this. Having removed
the restriction on disclaiming when in receipt of a writ of summons,
the exemption from this requirement in cases prior to the commencement
of the 1963 Act becomes redundant and therefore section 1(3)(b)
can also be repealed.
21. As a hereditary peer will following
the Bill be able to stand as a candidate for, or be a member of,
the House of Commons, there is no need for a special procedure
for him to disclaim if he is a member of the House of Commons,
as provided for in section 2 of the 1963 Act, and therefore section
2 can be repealed.
22. Section 3 of the 1963 Act sets out the
effects of disclaimer of a peerage, one of which is that a person
is not disqualified from membership of, or voting in elections
to, the House of Commons. Since clause 2 of the Bill removes these
disqualifications for all hereditary peers, this will no longer
be one of the effects of disclaimer and therefore the repeal in
section 3(1)(b) removes the reference to membership of, and elections
to, the House of Commons.
23. One of the effects of section 3(2) of
the 1963 Act is to prohibit the issue of a writ in acceleration
to the successor to a disclaimed hereditary peerage. This provision
can be repealed because in future writs in acceleration, which
are a form of writ of summons, will not be issued.
24. Section 4 of the 1963 Act allows all
Scottish hereditary peers to receive a writ of summons to attend
the House of Lords and to sit and vote in the House on the same
basis as a UK hereditary peer. As no peer will by virtue of a
hereditary peerage be entitled to membership of the House of Lords,
section 4 can be repealed.
25. Section 5 covers the same ground as
clause 2 of the Bill, but only in removing the disqualification
of Irish hereditary peers from voting in elections to and standing
as candidates for the House of Commons. Section 5 therefore becomes
redundant and can be repealed.
26. The Bill also repeals section 6 of the
1963 Act. Prior to section 6 a hereditary peeress was unable to
attend or sit and vote in the House of Lords (see Viscountess
of Rhondda's Claim  2AC 339). Section 6 removed this
disability and also placed a hereditary peeress in the same position
as peers regarding disability from voting in elections to, standing
as a candidate for, or being a member of, the House of Commons.
As the Bill ends membership of the House of Lords by virtue of
a hereditary peerage and removes disabilities regarding the House
of Commons, section 6 can be repealed.
27. These will be negligible. The Bill will
reduce the size of the House of Lords, but since many of those
who will be removed attend very rarely, there will not be any
significant savings on Peers' expenses and daily allowances.
28. The Bill will have no effect on public
29. This is a constitutional measure which
has no direct effect on businesses, charities and other voluntary
30. The Bill will come into effect at the
end of the Session in which it is passed, except for clause 4(3)
and (4) which will come into force on Royal Assent.
31. Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998
requires the Minister in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament
to make a statement, before second reading, about the compatibility
of the provisions of the Bill with the Convention rights (as defined
by section 1 of that Act). On 18 January 1999 Margaret Beckett,
President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, made
the following statement:
In my view the provisions of the House of Lords
Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.
Baroness Jay of Paddington, Leader of the House
of Lords, made the same statement on 17 March 1999.
4 Clause 5(1) makes it clear that "hereditary
peerage" includes the principality of Wales and the earldom
of Chester. Back