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Hereditary Peers By-election

Volume 830: debated on Wednesday 14 June 2023


The Clerk of the Parliaments announced the result of the by-election to elect a hereditary Peer, in place of Viscount Falkland.

Two hundred and twelve Lords submitted valid ballots. A notice detailing the results is in the Printed Paper Office and online. The successful candidate was Earl Russell.

—as is traditional on these occasions, I thank the returning officer for his work; it was more complicated this time, because there were quite a few voters. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Russell, as the winner; I am sure he will do a good job in this House. I must also congratulate the Liberal Democrats on successfully retaining this seat. I suppose I should explain to anyone who does not follow these things closely that they were greatly assisted in that endeavour by the fact that all three candidates were Liberal Democrats. It is an unusual system in western democracies.

The electorate was 777 Peers; all of us were able to vote. But, unlike in by-elections in the House of Commons or in local government, for example, in our case when we were about to vote, we were not required to present our driving licences or passports. We coped without voter ID.

This now brings to a total of 53—the figure is obviously going up all the time—the number of Peers who have been successful in by-elections since this temporary measure, as it was intended to be, was introduced quarter of a century ago. Of those 53, the vast majority are Conservatives and Cross Benchers; Lib Dem by-elections are very rare occurrences. For anyone who is relatively new to the House, the last occasion of a Lib Dem by-election was the mother and father of all of them, in that there were seven candidates and three voters—twice as many candidates as voters. At least turnout was 100%. I tried to calculate the turnout for this election from the figures that we have been given and I think it was about 25% or thereabouts.

As a final point, this by-election was done entirely online. I found that slightly restricted my powers as a democrat, because I did try to spoil the ballot paper. It was probably my technological incompetence but I found it impossible to spoil. You simply could not forward it without filling in an answer—so that is a bad development. But at least we can now say that, unlike in any other election, when we elect a hereditary Peer in this country, it is done entirely electronically—so who can accuse the House of Lords of not moving with the times?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Grocott for raising this issue with his customary good humour, used to make a very serious point. We all welcome our new colleague, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to his membership of your Lordships’ House and we will make him welcome. But that does not mean that we approve of this method of entry into your Lordships’ House. The laughter around the Chamber as my noble friend outlined the process of coming here was testament to how we all think it is pretty ridiculous. There have been some elections when there have been more candidates than voters.

This House has said on numerous occasions that we wish to end the hereditary Peer by-elections. As my noble friend Lord Grocott said, they were a temporary measure. They really should be ended. I say this to the Government, notwithstanding any criticism of any Members who come to this House: when we are here, we are all of the same status and all Members of your Lordships’ House. But the time when we would elect a hereditary Peer from a very small electorate has long gone. We have voted against such by-elections on many occasions. If the Government do not act, I assure the House that we will.

My Lords, I confess that I have not always been a great fan of the hereditary by-elections, but we must surely all acknowledge that the process has brought some people of quite exceptional talent and ability to this House who would not make it through the conventional appointment process.

My Lords, I always find it very confusing that we have these speeches condemning hereditary by-elections when all the rest of us are appointed by an extremely obscure system which very few of us really understand. The problem is the appointment of so many Members of this House, not the election, albeit by a small electorate, of the few who come in as hereditary Peers.

Can we express the hope that we will have no more resignation honours Peers in this House? We had seven too many last week, although each will of course be made welcome, but 40 days and 40 nights or thereabouts in Downing Street should not qualify anyone to nominate anyone to anything.