On 17 October 2013 the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons (PCRC) published its report, House of Lords Reform: What Next?1 The Friends of the Hereditary Peerage (FHP) would like to address that part of the report which directly affects the future of the excepted hereditary peers in the House of Lords.
The FHP takes issue with the PCRC’s conclusion that there is “broad-based and significant support” for ending by-elections to fill vacancies amongst the number of excepted hereditary peers in the House of Lords.2
The PCRC took evidence from 14 witnesses and written evidence from 25 interested parties. Only 11 of those who gave evidence were peers of the realm3 (or 1.4% of the total membership of the House as of 10 July 2013).4 We believe that the size of this sample, however august its members, and its views, can in no way or form be considered indicative nor representative of “broad-based and significant support” for the PCRC’s conclusion.
We point to the the fact that in the by-election held in July 2013 following the death of Lord Reay, 334 peers voted to elect his successor, or 44% of the 753 peers eligible to vote.5 The surest and easiest way for peers to indicate their lack of support for the principle of by-elections would have been not to participate. Even if the entire hereditary electorate is subtracted from those who voted, it is clear that a sizeable proportion of the House membership validated the principle by voting in July.6 This is but one example.
In light of the PCRC’s failure to substantiate its conclusion, we categorically reject its recommendation that “hereditary peers should not be replaced in the House of Lords when they die.”7
Simon Harley, Chairman,
Friends of the Hereditary Peerage.
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1 House of Commons. House of Lords Reform: What Next? HC 251. Session 2013-2014.
2 House of Lords Reform: What Next? p. 35.
3 House of Lords Reform: What Next? pp. 46-47.
4 House of Lords: The Grey Book: Who Does What in the House of Lords. p. 72.
5 House of Lords: Whole-House Hereditary Peers’ By-election, July 2013: Result.
6 The secret ballot of course precludes knowledge of the division of votes cast between hereditary or life peers.
7 House of Lords Reform: What Next? p. 35.