Background on Hereditary Peers By-elections

Posted on the 28th June 2017

Jess Garland, Research Advisor, Electoral Reform Society July 2017

The result of the most recent hereditary peer by-election will be announced on Wednesday 19 July.

This by-election was called following the retirement of Lord Walpole. As a Crossbench Peer, his replacement will be selected by hereditary peers of the Crossbench group – 31 in total.

Eligible candidates are drawn from the Register of Hereditary Peers held by the Clerk of Parliaments. This list contains any hereditary peer who has expressed an interest in standing in a by-election.

Peers can join or leave the list at any time and the list is published annually. Available here.

There were 10 candidates in this Crossbench group by-election (and 31 eligible voters). On the basis of recent turnout, around 25 Peers will decide which aristocrat remains in Parliament to vote on our laws, for the rest of their lives.

Here are some of the statements for this by-election:


The 1999 House of Lords Act removed all but 90 of the hereditary peers (plus holders of the offices of Earl Marshall and Lord Great Chamberlain) – 92 in total. 667 hereditary peers lost their right to sit in the Lords in these reforms.

Subsequently, vacancies that result from death (or retirement, resignation or exclusion since the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 and House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015) are filled by by-election.

By-elections take place within party groups (except for 15 hereditary peers, originally elected to serve as office holders, whose successors are elected by the whole house). These party groups reflected the proportion of party affiliation at the time of the 1999 reforms. There are 49 Conservative hereditary peers, 4 Labour, 4 Liberal Democrat and 31 Crossbench hereditary peers (1 UKIP, 1 non-affiliated). See full breakdown here.

Where are the women?

There is only one female hereditary peer currently sitting in the House of Lords (The Countess of Mar). 

Three of the original five female hereditary peers that remained following the 1999 reforms have since died and one retired in 2014. All four were replaced by male peers and there is only one female hereditary peer listed on the register of future candidates (June 2017). No female hereditary peer has been admitted to the House of Lords by by-election.

Previous hereditary by-elections

Elections to the House of Lords use the Alternative Vote

  • The first hereditary by-election was held in 2003 following the death of Viscount Oxfuird
  • The average turnout for by-elections is 82%. Three by-elections have had 100% turnout (all of which have had an electorate of 4 or fewer).
  • At its highest, the electorate was 803, at its lowest just 3.
  • Four by-elections have had more candidates than electors. Including the only by-election within the Labour group of hereditary peers for which there were 11 candidates and only 3 voters.
Previous Peer Reason ceased to be a
Electorate Date of result No of
candidate s
No of voters Turnout (no.) Turnout % Winning candidate
Earl Ferrers Died Conservative
06/02/2013 27 48 46 96 Viscount Ridley
Lord Reay Died Whole
17/07/2013 23 753 334 45 Lord Borwick
Lord Moran Died Crossbench
09/04/2014 13 29 27 93 Lord Cromwell
Lord Methuen Died Whole
22/10/2014 15 776 283 36 Earl of Oxford and
Viscount Allenby of
Died Crossbench group 10/12/2014 18 27 25 93 Lord Russell of
Lord Cobbold Retired Duke of Somerset
Lord Chorley Retired Crossbench group 03/02/2015 18 28 26 93 Lord Thurlow
Lady Saltoun of
Retired Earl of Kinnoull
Viscount Tenby Retired Crossbench
07/07/2015 19 28 25 89 Lord Mountevans
Lord Luke Retired Conservative
16/09/2015 16 48 41 85 Duke of Wellington
Viscount Montgomery of
Retired Crossbench group 20/10/2015 17 29 26 90 Lord Trevethin and Oaksey
Lord Montagu of
Died Conservative
24/11/2015 14 48 44 92 Lord Fairfax of
Lord Avebury Died Lib Dem 19/04/2016 7 3 3 100 Viscount Thurso
Lord Bridges Non-attendance Crossbench group 12/07/2016 17 31 27 87 Earl of Cork and Orrery
Lord Lyell Died Whole
21/03/2017 27 803 346 43 Lord Colgrain

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