Don't Dismiss a Hereditary Peer – Yet!

Baroness D'Souza

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The hereditary principle may be unpopular and outdated and the 1999 reforms certainly addressed this.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.

6 comments for “Don't Dismiss a Hereditary Peer – Yet!

  1. Bedd Gelert
    13/05/2008 at 10:17 am

    Baroness D’Souza,
    “Sadly a much respected peer, who was wheelchair bound, died a couple of months ago..” Remind us who this person was, or it will feel like we are glossing over their contribution.

    “The competition is fierce.. I have invited the contenders to an informal meeting tomorrow…it would be great to have a youngster of let us say 50?”

    The way you write this makes, and your reference to ‘contenders’ makes me think you have set them up for a one-off ‘Gladiators Special’, and it will be the ‘survival of the fittest’ over a specially designed assault course.. No doubt there will be the usual ‘thumbs up / thumbs down’ element to give it the much desired ‘interactivity’.

    Please keep us posted with the outcome. I am looking forward to you saying ‘And today’s winner of a place in the Lords is xxx, the rest of you leave with nothing ! Join us again soon in the Battle of the Hereditaries !’

  2. Senex
    13/05/2008 at 11:14 am

    Splendid! This is akin to the PPC selection process for MPs.

    It seems to be widely accepted that hereditary peers in the House are in some ways akin to appointed peers in terms of what they bring to the House in knowledge and value.

    They know how to back a winner and the House of Lords is certainly a winner at the moment. You are going to be busy! As to appointing somebody under the age of eighty, perhaps somebody over the age of 35, one might not want too much passion upsetting a quiet and contemplative sitting.

    It is felt that there are perhaps too many political peers in the House? I am not sure why this should be the case because they are an essential interface to the Commons in terms of networking.

    Good editorial, topical, well presented.

  3. ladytizzy
    13/05/2008 at 2:47 pm

    If you uncover a political bias, do you have the power to throw them off the list of contenders?

    How many are eligible to vote? On the following link, it states there are 28 eligible cross-bench hereditary peers:
    http://www.parliament.uk/directories/house_of_lords_information_office/analysis_by_composition.cfm

    while this link:
    http://www.parliament.uk/directories/house_of_lords_information_office/by_elections.cfm
    states
    ‘The voters in this by-election will be the 27 surviving elected Crossbench hereditary Peers, plus the two Crossbench hereditary Peers (Lord Ampthill and the Countess of Mar) who were elected in 1999 by the whole House to serve as Deputy Speakers.’

    Is counting based on FPTP, or PR of one sort or another?

    Are you protected against the age-discrimination laws on a public blog – she says with tongue firmly in cheek!

    Tiz

  4. baronessdsouza
    14/05/2008 at 8:19 am

    Bedd Gelert, I’m afraid it was a bit gladiatorial – despite the jolly banter and immense courtesy shown by all. Each of the 17 who turned up had three minutes to state their case – some performing outstandingly. There WERE a few youngsters too! The age range was from 28 to mid-70s.

    Lord Darcy de Knayth has succeeded his much loved and greatly respected mother, Baroness Davina Darcy de Knayth DBE.

    The purpose of the meeting was to allow contenders an informal platform in what is otherwise a really formal procedure. I think it worked, everyone has a better idea who is who, where political sympathies lie, what kind of commitment will be made.

    Senex, yes to too many PARTY political peers but no to selction against passion. Passion in all areas of endeavour is the stuff of life,is it not? Not least in politics – the alternative being a luke-warm and transparently insincere adherence to the party line?

  5. Senex
    15/05/2008 at 8:47 pm

    I entirely agree with you about passion but its the British way or at least in a stereotypical sense not to show any, especially under pressure. Passion on these terms is just a bit too Latin for the model aspired to.

    When I made the remark about a minimum age I was aware of an age restriction in becoming an American senator, that of being 30, see qualification in the link below:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Senate#Qualifications

    I don’t really know why its like this but even 30 a little too early for my own liking.

    There are things to do in life that are more important at 30 than being a senator or a peer. Things like establishing ones career, falling in love, getting married, building a home and having children.

    Its only when you have done with all of this, subjectively around 55, that you have the free time to start a career with an upper house. There is also dignity of office to consider too. Too much passion can lead to distractions that may raise an eyebrow or two if ill considered.

  6. baronessdsouza
    16/05/2008 at 4:52 pm

    Senex – I think I could bore you with a book length answer on this but the short one is yes, I entirely agree. A career politician is by definition one who knows a lot about how politics works, who has fought hard at local and national politicking, has pressed the flesh endlessly, has spent evenings and week-ends at local political events, who has written countless articles on policy topics but may not actually have lived any sort of a life beyond this.

    The life of politics is absorbing and one only has to observe the excitement a true politician will display if a vote is in the offing or if there is a spat between a couple of politicians.

    However, I do think that the House of Lords given its main functions of scrutinising and revising legislation and holding the government to account benefits from quite a large section of non-politicians! The kind of expertise which emerges when there are highly technical debates – medicine, science, engineering, or arms proliferation, cluster bombs is remarkable and a huge education for anyone sitting and listening.

    I think we need this if we are to change legislation for the better. The other day a group of us visited the Bromley by Bow centre in East London to see an incredible and very successful experiment in social entrepreneurship. The centre was started by Andrew who is now Lord Mawson more than 25 years ago and has succeeded in transforming a corner of what was a depressed area.

    Lord Mawson, from his hands on experience, now speaks with great authority in the House on social regeneration and has a particular interest in ensuring that there will be a proper legacy following the investment for the Olympic Games in 2012 – the site being yards from his centre.

    He is listened to in the House of Lords not because he is a politician but because he is an expert with extraordinary experience and knowledge.

    Enough said?

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