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Hereditary Peers By-election

Volume 820: debated on Wednesday 30 March 2022


The Clerk of the Parliaments announced the result of the by-election to elect a Conservative hereditary Peer, in place of Lord Rotherwick. Thirty-seven Lords submitted valid ballots. A notice detailing the results is in the Printed Paper Office and online. The successful candidate was Viscount Camrose.

My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the returning officer for announcing the result of another thrilling by-election. I thank him as well for arranging for notice of the by-election to be put on the annunciator. It has been there for a few hours now, and I for one have certainly sensed the mounting tension as we awaited the result.

I must also congratulate the winner; not only does it provide him with a seat in the Lords but it admits him to an elite group of people who have picked five new Members of Parliament in less than 12 months—that is, the 46 hereditary Peers in the Conservative group. It is a pretty astonishing business that they have selected five Members of Parliament in less than a year, by a method which is very helpful to the governing party.

Normally in by-elections, the tradition in this country is that it is possible for the governing party to lose. But with the way in which we operate in this House—which is often different from other places—it was quite impossible for the governing party to have lost any of these by-elections because in this particular case all nine candidates were Conservatives and all 46 electors were Conservatives.

That is good for the ruling party. I imagine that it must be the envy of ruling parties across the world. I have found it difficult to find any comparators anywhere in the world—except that there are some similarities with the situation in North Korea.

That brings me to the topical subject of voter identification. As the House knows, the Government are very keen on this. In order to vote in future elections for the House of Commons—general elections or by-elections—it will be a requirement to present some identification, such as a driving licence, a concessionary fare card or a passport; any of those will do. The purpose of this, of course, is to ensure that the person presenting themselves to vote is in fact that person.

I have been thinking about how this might apply to hereditary Peers’ by-elections, where, for example, those in the electorate need to have inherited a title. We are in a situation where the grandson, great-grandson or great-great-great-great-great-grandson—several more greats—of the Earl of this or the Duke of that has to demonstrate that he is the person he is claiming to be. That could present difficulties. I am trying to present this in a sensitive way, but how can we be sure that, over perhaps several hundred years, there have been no shenanigans? All I can say is that I do not think it will help to be able to present to the returning officer as documentary evidence a copy of your driving licence.

These are very important issues that I am raising, which the Government are very keen on—I am not so keen on them, but they want this voter identification. I think the Government should hand this whole very serious matter over to the Electoral Commission to consider.