Should peers be allowed to vote for MPs?

On Friday, the House of Lords will debate a Private Member’s Bill that has the single purpose of removing the ban on members of the Lords voting in elections for Members of the House of Commons.

In 1699 the House of Commons passed a resolution barring peers from voting: “Resolved, nemine contradicente, that no peer of this Kingdom hath any right to give his vote in the election for any member to serve in Parliament”.  It continued to do so until 1999.  Up to that point, the courts had variously held, as in Earl Beauchamp v Madresfield [1872], that being a peer disqualified one from voting.   The passage of the House of Lords Act 1999 moved the disqualification from existing in common law to one, by implication, having a statutory basis, with the ban no longer applying to peers as such, but only to those who held a seat in the House.  Hereditary peers not elected to sit in the House, and peers who retire from the House under the terms of the 2014 House of Lords Reform Act, can vote in parliamentary elections.

The Lords Spiritual – who sit as Lords of Parliament – are entitled to vote, but usually do not do so.  This has sometimes been expressed as a convention, but it appears that in the past some senior clergy have admitted to voting.

Given than the ban applies to those who already have a seat in Parliament, one can see the argument that they should not also vote for members of the other House.  One already has a voice in Parliament.  It may not be as great as that of an MP, given that the Commons decides matters of taxation, but unlike MPs one’s place is permanent.  There is also the argument that it may not be wise to be seeking greater powers for ourselves.  The votes of peers in a general election are not likely to swing the outcome, but the fact of having the right to vote over and above having a place in Parliament may seem a privilege too far.  (Those who have sat as MPs can vote in parliamentary elections, but during the election period they are not MPs.)   The counter argument, which has been made since the 19th Century – this is by no means a new debate – is that the House of Commons has powers denied the Lords, not least in terms of taxation, and peers – the same as other citizens – should be able to vote for those who do determine taxation.

I would be interested in readers’ views.  Would you support a change enabling members of the Lords to vote in parliamentary elections and, if so, why?  (We do have a vote in other elections and in referendums.)  Or would you prefer to leave the situation as it stands?

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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5 Responses to Should peers be allowed to vote for MPs?

  1. William MacDougall says:

    It’s a non-issue. The Lords sitting in the upper house are small in number (and should be much smaller still – I suggest by drawing lots) and relatively balanced politically, so it’s unlikely to affect any election, so who cares? It’s not worth three sentences to discuss…

  2. tizres says:

    Of course members of the HoL should be allowed to vote in parliamentary elections. Heavens above, the Queen has the right to vote, surely negating arguments over privilege?

  3. Pingback: Magna Carta to Brexit… | The Norton View

  4. maude elwes says:

    The issue of voting and the obvious inequality of rights has to be addressed if the country wish to continue selling the public on a notion of cradle to grave equality as a right of passage.

    There is no such thing on any level of society where equality is fact. And neither should there be. Nature is based entirely on inequality. The human condition is not equal and can never be so.

    However, the Lords have overdone their privilege on voting rights and they must be pulled in. They have become nothing but a nuisance in society as a whole and deserve a severe cut. Thirty percent of Lords are Lib Dems. They have twelve MP’s. They bat way above their mandate. Only twelve should be Lords. A direct comparison on each party is reasonable. No more.

  5. maude elwes says:

    As a result of a very odd by-election, we find ourselves dogged by one more libdem remainer of questionable ability on the meaning of democracy and maths. First, two Brexit parties received more votes to leave than to this remain bleat. The error here was expecting voters to back a candidate of questionable legal record. Why would an expenses cheat be offered a possible seat as a respectable candidate. And more importantly, why would a Conservative PM offer such a person for election and seriously expect the constituents to vote for them? Could it be they wanted another Remain win in order to scupper any Leave possibility. And if so, who decided to pull that trickery?

    Clearly, Leavers were far in front of remain in the count on the question of Brexit. And by quite a large majority. Isn’t that the disputed guff handed out regarding the referendum result? it being too slim to really mean Leave means Leave….?


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