‘Only one from Wales’: Hereditary peers system under fire for favouring London and South East
The tradition of selecting members of the House of Lords on the basis of their ancestry has been criticised for favouring peers from London and the south-east of England over Wales and other parts of the UK.
Speaking in Westminster’s upper chamber today, Lord Grocott argued that among hereditary peers there was “one Peer from Wales, the West Midlands and the north-east combined and there are 19 from London and the south-east”.
His argument came amid a fresh bid to end the guaranteed representation of aristocrats in Parliament, with a Bill to scrap the practice of hereditary peer by-elections returning. At the moment hereditary peers can be given seats for life through a vote of a handful of other hereditary peers.
There are 92 hereditary peers in the House of Lords, meaning that in 2021, around 11% of the second chamber’s lawmakers are there purely down to the circumstance of their birth.
Lord Grocott’s Bill had its Second Reading in the Lords on Friday, but another Lord present argued that Hereditary Peers were in fact a way of counterbalancing the London-domination of the Lords.
“It is also true that the continued presence of hereditary Peers contributes to a slightly more diverse geographical spread in what is an overwhelmingly metropolitan House,” Viscount Trenchard said during the debate.
“The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, forgot that my noble friend Lord Harlech comes from Wales and that my noble friend Lord Ridley hails from the north-east.”
This year has seen seven new aristocrats elected to the Lords, the most recent being Lord Hacking who took his seat earlier this month.
In July the Viscount Stansgate, son of former Labour MP Tony Benn who famously renounced his peerage, joined the Lords in an uncontested election.
The Electoral Reform Society called for the government to back Lord Grocott’s Bill as a stepping-stone to real reform of the unelected second chamber.
“These by-elections are beyond satire. In the 21st Century a system where we have by-elections for just 92 places in the House of Lords in where only hereditary peers can stand and only peers can vote cannot be taken seriously,” Lord Grocott said.
“There have been seven new peers ‘elected’ this year alone – more than any other year since they were introduced in 1999. I’d love to think that with support, this bill could mean that they will be the last.”
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society said that it was “shocking” that in 2021, hereditary aristocrats were still guaranteed representation at Westminster.
“Unelected Lords given seats for life to vote on our laws because of nothing more than the circumstance of their birth – leaving ordinary voters with no say at all,” he said.
“What’s worse is that repeated attempts to phase this archaic practice out have been blocked by those same unelected, unaccountable and out of touch aristocrats who continue to benefit from it.
“This bill should be uncontroversial – a common-sense reform that would be a small step forward in modernising this our second chamber. Failing to back this modest change would be a spectacular own goal for both ministers and the 800-odd Lords.
“It’s time we got serious about modernising our politics. This bill is a chance for the government to get to grips with this out-of-touch chamber and begin on the path of real reform – scrapping this private members’ club and replacing it with a fairly-elected senate of the whole UK is the only way forward.”