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 , 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?