On Friday, when I got home to Weymouth and opened the post, I found a House of Lords Notice. I ignored my usual irritation at the waste of money sending post rather than email, and extracted the green notice from its plastic wrapper. With great amusement I read the headline:
Hereditary Peers’ By-election
To many this may be confusing. Many would only know the Lords as an undemocratic house of Parliament made up of political life appointees, like me. Others may also think the Blair government got rid of the hereditary peers fifteen years ago. So what is this by-election, and how come those who are there by birth are also elected?
The green notice opens by saying:
“The death of Lord Methuen on 9 July 2014 has created a vacancy among the expected hereditary peers who sit in the House of Lords. Under Standing Order 10, this vacancy is to be filled by means of a by-election.”
This all goes back to the deal that was done under Lords reform back in 1999. The Labour government wanted to get rid of all the hereditary peers, but needed to persuade them to vote for their own abolition. The compromise was that 92 were allowed to remain, as long as the rest lost their seats.
Now you might think that was an elegant solution; that the Grim Reaper would then slowly reduce that number down over time until all the Hereditary Peers literally died out. But you would be wrong.
The compromise also included the deal whereby if one of the 92 passed away then their place would be filled by a by-election, hence this procedure to give someone the right to make law in this country.
So who can vote and who can stand?
“All Members of the House … are entitled to vote in this by-election.”
So that is clear, the voters are the Lords themselves and polling day is on 21st October 2014.
On who can stand, there is some boring detail but in this case:
“Those eligible to stand are all those hereditary peers whose names are listed in the register of hereditary peers wishing to stand for election as members of the House of Lords.”
So the hereditary peers were not abolished at all. The larger pool of hundreds lost their right to sit and vote but they, and their successors, are on stand by to get elected when there is a vacancy.
Which is why, in this eccentric country we know and love, the only people elected into our second house of Parliament are those that are there by birth!
PS There are also elections to Labour’s NEC. For those that are interested, I have voted for Luke Akehurst, Johanna Baxter, Crispin Flintoff, Florence Nosegbe, Ellie Reeves and Peter Wheeler