Lord Ullswater, who sits in the House of Lords as a Conservative, is one of the very few peers to have succeeded their great-grandfather to their title – the 2nd Viscount having succeeded his extraordinarily long-lived ancestor James Lowther, 1st Viscount Ullswater in 1949 at the tender age of seven.
The 1st Viscount outlived both his son and grandson in his long life, spanning the reigns of no less than five monarchs from his birth in 1855. His son, Conservative politician the Hon. Christopher Lowther, died in 1935, while grandson John Lowther, Private Secretary to Prince George, Duke of Kent, was killed in an air crash with his employer in 1942.
The title was created upon the retirement of the 1st Viscount as Speaker of the House of Commons, a position he had held since 1905, in 1921. He would on to sit on the Royal Commission on London Government (1921–22), the Review Committee Political Honours (1923–24), the Statutory Commission on Cambridge University (1923), the Agricultural Wages Board (1930–40), the Lords and Commons Committee on Electoral Reform (1929–30) and the BBC Enquiry Committee (1935).
After being educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, the 2nd Viscount made his maiden speech in the House of Lords 20th July, 1966, at the age of 24 during a debate on the Reserve Forces Bill.
By 1989 he was made Lord-in-Waiting, the equivalent of a whip in the House of Lords, by Margaret Thatcher’s government before becoming Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Employment in July 1990.
He was retained by succeeding Prime Minister John Major in that role until 1993, when he became Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, the equivalent of Government Chief Whip in Lords, remaining in that role for a year before becoming Minister of State for the Environment, (as well as a Privy Counsellor, in 1994. However, he left the government during a reshuffle in 1995.
From 1998 until her death in 2002, he was Private Secretary to Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. He was then appointed Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order in the special Honours List issued by the Queen following her sister’s death.
As a member of the Royal Household, Lord Ullswater did not partake in active politics and as such was not retained when all but 92 hereditary peers were removed from the House of Lords. However, in 2003, he became the first hereditary peer to win a by-election to the House, due to the death of the 13th Viscount of Oxfuird a month previously – beating the 2nd Viscount Montgomery of Alamein by 151 votes to 116.
At the time, the Daily Telegraph reported the incumbent Labour government appeared to have shelved plans for further reform of the House of Lords and, as such, “there could be many more by-elections for hereditary peers,” despite the fact the procedure was never intended to be used at all. There have since been 18.
The full report, published on 28th March, 2003, is reproduced below;
Ullswater triumphs in by-election for the House of Lords
By Andrew Sparrow, Political Correspondent
12:00AM GMT 28 Mar 2003
Viscount Ullswater became the first person to be elected to the House of Lords under the new by-election procedure for hereditary peers yesterday.
A former Tory chief whip in the Lords, and the former private secretary to Princess Margaret, he beat Viscount Montgomery of Alamein by 151 votes to 116.
More than 400 peers voted in the by-election, which was held to find a successor to the late Viscount of Oxfuird, one of the 90 hereditary peers elected to stay when most of the hereditaries were removed in 1999.
The House of Lords Act included provisions for by-elections to replace any of the 90 who die. The only people allowed to stand are the holders of hereditary titles not already sitting in the Lords.
Lord Ullswater, 61, beat 80 other candidates to win his seat. Peers had to rank candidates in order of preference. Counting took hours because, as the votes were redistributed, the tellers had to carry out 42 separate counts.
Thirty-seven of the 80 candidates did not receive any votes. Another 15 only got a single vote each
Lord Ullswater, who served in government from 1989 to 1995, would almost certainly have stayed in the Lords if he had stood as a candidate in 1999, when elections were used to decide which 90 hereditaries would remain.
But at the time it was judged inappropriate for him to take part because he was Princess Margaret’s private secretary.
Lord Ullswater, who is also standing as a candidate in King’s Lynn and West Norfolk in next month’s local council elections, said that he looked forward to playing an active part in the Lords again.
He originally entered the House in 1964 and, as well as serving as chief whip, was also an employment minister and a planning minister. Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader in the Lords, said: “This was a genuine election under a procedure agreed by the Government and approved by both Houses of Parliament in 1999.
“Contrary to some predictions there was a high turnout, well above the average daily attendance in the House.”
After Lord Ullswater and Lord Montgomery, Lord Grantchester, a Labour candidate, came third in the poll. He attracted 93 votes before he was eliminated and his votes redistributed.
When the House of Lords Act was passed, ministers assumed that the by-election procedure would never be used.
They predicted that the Government would have moved on to full Lords reform by now, making the procedure redundant.
But the Government appears to have shelved plans for further reform, with the result that there could be many more by-elections for hereditary peers.