Lords examines House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill

Image of the Lords chamber
18 March 2019

The House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-elections) Bill began its report stage, a further chance to examine the bill and make changes, in the Lords on Friday 15 March.

This is a private member's bill. A private member's bill is a type of public bill (that affects the public). Private members' bills must go through the same set of procedures as other public bills.

Members discussed a range of topics, including the creation of a Hereditary Peers Commission, membership and functions of the House of Lords Appointments Commission and the abolition of the right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords.

There were also two divisions (votes) on proposed amendments (changes) to the bill.

The first vote was on the opening clause of the bill, which summarises the intention of the new law to create a wholly appointed membership of the House of Lords.

Members discussed a proposed addition to the clause to allow for a ‘statutory’ House of Lords Appointments Commission, whose remit and governance would be enshrined in law. The Commission would remain independent of the House of Lords but would be bound to ensure political balance in the House and ensure the continued membership of Crossbench peers.

20 members of the Lords were in favour of the addition to the clause, with 84 against, and so the change was not made.

The second vote concerned a change to the House of Lords Act 1999, which removed the eligibility of the vast majority of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords but allowed for 92 ‘excepted hereditary peers’ to remain. Under the Act, any vacancies are filled by means of a hereditary peers by-election.

This bill proposes the House of Lords Act 1999 be changed so that any further expected hereditary peer vacancies, as result of  death, retirement, resignation or expulsion from the House, are not filled by means of a by-election.

The amendment under discussion suggested an alternative to the bill’s proposal to change the 1999 Act, which would allow for expected hereditary peer vacancies to be filled by an independent Hereditary Peers Commission.

Members voted, with 15 in favour of the alternative and 48 against, so the change was not made.

As second day of report stage is yet to be scheduled.

Lords committee stage day three: Friday 23 November

This final day of committee stage took place in Grand Committee, a room outside the Lords chamber. In Grand Committee, any member can take part and decisions on amendments can be made, but no votes can take place.

Members discussed subjects including the bill's long-term impact in removing hereditary peers in the House of Lords, the right of the Prime Minister to nominate individuals for membership of the Lords, and the recent report of the Lord Speaker's Committee on the Size of the House.

Lords committee stage day two: Friday 7 September

This bill would amend the House of Lords Act 1999 to abolish the system of by-elections for hereditary peers.

Members discussed appointment of hereditary peers from Northern Ireland and Scotland, the age of members being elected and the political balance of the House.

Lord Trefgarne (Conservative)  proposed a motion regretting that the bill has not been brought forward by the government, and proposes piecemeal, rather than wholesale, reform. This was not agreed to.

There were also three divisions (votes) on proposed changes (amendments) to the bill.

The first vote was on a clause to provide a method for ensuring the age of excepted hereditary peers appointed to the House was lower than the average age of the membership overall.

23 members were in favour of the amendment, with 117 against, so the change was not made.

The next vote was on a change which would ensure future vacancies would provide for a fair representation of hereditary peers representing Northern Ireland and Scotland, reflecting the proportion of MP's from Northern Ireland and Scotland in the House of Commons.

19 members were in favour of the amendment with 107 against, so this change was not made.

The final vote was on a clause that would allow the Prime Minister, within a month of a vacancy arising, to confer a life peerage on a person who has the same party affiliation as that of the deceased elected peer.

21 members were in favour with 73 against, so this change was not made.

Lords committee stage day one:  Friday 23 March

Members discussed subjects including the consequence of a wholly appointed second chamber, the right of a political party not to fill a hereditary peer vacancy and the role of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.

Vote on a motion to regret

Lord Trefgarne (Conservative) proposed a motion to regret that the bill is proceeding even though the recommendations in the report of the Lords Speaker's committee on the size of the House have not yet been implemented.

Members of the Lords voted on the regret motion, with 2 in favour and 129 against, so the motion was not agreed to.

Vote on a change to the bill

Following the regret motion, there was a further vote (division) on a proposed change (amendment) to bill.

Members considered a change that would retain the system of by-elections, but would amend the House of Lords Act 1999 so that in the event of a vacancy:

  • any hereditary peer can stand as candidate
  • the method for the by-election, including eligible electors, must not be based on party political affiliation

20 members were in favour of this amendment, with 111 against, and so the change was not made.

Second reading

The House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill had its second reading, the key debate on the draft law's purpose and principles, on 8 September 2017.

Lords news: Private members' bills September 2017

 Further information

Image: House of Lords/Roger Harris 2017

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