The independent crossbench peers number about 200 and include about 30 hereditary peers. As some will remember the reforms of 1999 threw out the vast majority of hereditary peers (about 700) but a last minute deal allowed 92 to remain in the House of Lords until the second phase of reform (more about this another time – watch this space).
Sadly a much respected peer, who was wheelchair bound, died a couple of months ago leading to arrangements to elect a replacement hereditary peer, over 150 of whom have been waiting in the wings since 1999.
The competition is fierce – something like 30 peers have put their names forward for election. This will take place on 22nd May and is conducted under the strictest possible rules supervised by the Electoral Reform Services. Those eligible to vote are the existing hereditary peers in the Crossbench grouping.
Meanwhile I have invited the contenders to an informal meeting tomorrow morning in order to give them a chance to say why they want to return to the HoL and what they will contribute. This will also give us, the Independent Crossbenchers, an opportunity to ask some searching questions. We will be interested in finding out what kind of time commitment potential candidates are willing to set aside for parliamentary business, what specialist knowledge would they be able to offer, and most of all how far are they able to demonstrate a degree of political independence.
It is easy to assert a lack of political bias – but if the candidates have previously applied for vacancies arising on the Tory, Labour or LibDem benches – then we are entitled to be a little sceptical? And many, so anxious to return to this Chamber, have indeed previously registered as Tory or LibDem supporters.
We are also keen that someone below the age of 80 elected! The average age of peers in the HoL is 68 years and it would be great to have a youngster of let us say 50?
The hereditary principle may be unpopular and outdated and the 1999 reforms certainly addressed this. But this is not to say that individual hereditary peers elected by fair and free means cannot bring to the House of Lords some specialist professional competence and genuine impartiality. This is what keeps the Indpendent Crossbench Peers going.