The Liberal Democrat Hereditary By-election

The Wetherill amendment, inserted into the House of Lords Act 1999 at an early stage of its passage, requires that 92 Hereditary Peers remain members of the House of Lords. Initially this was only expected to last a short while until a second stage of reform removed them, along with the Life Peers and Bishops, in favour of an elected House. Evidently this has not been the case.

The 92 are made up of 75 excepted party Peers, made up of 42 Conservatives, 28 Crossbenchers, 3 Liberal Democrats and 2 Labour Peers, a further 15 Peers are elected to serve as officers of the House and the remaining two seats are taken up by the Earl Marshall and the Lord Great Chamberlain.

Standing Order No.10 allows for a by-election using the Alternate Vote system each time one of the elected Peers dies or retires. There have been 32 by-elections since 2002, before which, on two occasions, the next highest ranking individual from the original ballot was selected as a replacement.

As in 1999 each party group of elected hereditaries choose their own except for the 15 officers who are elected by the whole House. There have been numerous attempts over the years to end the by-elections, championed most notably by Lord Norton of Louth and Lord Steel of Aikwood, all of which have failed due to hereditary opposition and a lack of government support.

The by-election, one of only two held in 2016, was called due to the death of Lord Avebury in February. Avebury was the Liberal MP for Orpington between 1963-1970, before inheriting his title in 1971 and becoming a leading human rights activist.

3 electors will choose 1 candidate from 7 hopefuls.

3 electors will choose 1 candidate from 7 hopefuls.

The Electors:

  • David Hubbard, 6th Baron Addington – He joined the House in 1986 making him the longest serving Lib-Dem hereditary by quite some margin. His focus in the Lords covers Education and Sport. His title was created in 1887 for John Hubbard, then a Conservative politician and long serving MP.
  • Patrick Boyle, The 10th Earl of Glasgow – He joined the House in 2005 after the death of eminent historian, Earl Russell. His focus in the Lords ranges from Culture to Transport via Cinema and Theatre, an industry in which he spent much of his professional life. The title was created in 1703 for David Boyle who had been a commissioner (MP) to the Parliament of Scotland before the Union. The family seat is at Kilburn Castle.
  • Raymond Asquith, the 3rd Earl of Oxford and Asquith –  He was elected as an Officer of the House in 2014 to replace Lord Methuen but is an elector in this by-election as he takes the Lib Dem Whip. His maiden speech was on the topic of Russia and Ukraine, a subject he can claim authority over having lived and worked in the two countries for over 30 years. The title was created in 1925 for The Rt Hon Henry Herbert Asquith KC who was Prime Minister (1908-1916) and Leader of the Liberal Party from (1908-1926).


The Candidates:

  • John Archibald Sinclair, 3rd Viscount Thurso – He succeeded to the title in 1995. Lord Thurso took his seat in 1995 and became a spokesperson for Tourism in line with his experience as a hotelier. After leaving the House of Lords Thurso became the first Hereditary Peer to be elected to the House of Commons representing the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross from 2001-2015 as no less than five of his ancestors had done. The title was created in 1952 for Sir Archibald Sinclaire who was leader of the Liberal Party 1935-45.
  • David Lloyd George, 4th Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor – He succeeded to the title in 2010. The title was created for famed Liberal politician David Lloyd George who was Prime Minister(1916-1922) for much of the First World War, Chancellor of the exchequer (1908-1915) during the liberal reforms period and later lead the Liberal Party (1926-1931).
  • John Russell, 7th Earl Russell – He succeeded to the title in 2014 on the unexpected death of his brother the 6th Earl. He is active in the charity sector and and is chairman of trustees for the adventure learning charity Wide Horizons. The Title was created in 1861 for John Russell, former Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and two time Liberal Prime Minister (1846-52 and 1864-65). The title also counts amongst its past holders the eminent philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Bertrand Russell.
  • George Howard, 13th Earl of Carlisle – He succeeded to the title in 1994. He unsuccessfully contested the 1987 and 1992 General elections as well as the 1989 European elections. He was unsuccessful in his bid to retain his seat in the Lords in 1999 and failed to be returned via by-election in 2011 to replace Lord Strabolgi. He is an academic and commentator who counts the Baltic states as his area of expertise. The title was created for Charles Howard in 1661, a military man who fought for the Parliamentarian cause against King Charles.
  • Hugh Crossley, 4th Baron Somerleyton – He succeeded to the title in 2012. His area of expertise is business having sent most of his professional life as a restaurateur and hotel owner. The title was created in 1916 for Liberal Unionist politician, Savile Crossley
  • Charles Muff, 3rd Baron Calverley – He succeeded to the title, which was created in 1945 for Labour MP George Muff, in 2010
  • William Young, 3rd Baron Kennet – He succeeded to the title, which was created in 1935 for journalist Sir Hilton Young, in 2009.

As short as this list is it is a very clear example of how the House of Lords, or rather the Hereditary Peerage acts as a kind of library of British history. The continuing involvement of the hereditaries in political life, if not now with a few prerequisites, is I suppose a nod to the past in a very peculiar, though not impossible to justify, sort of way. There is something quite poetic about having the Earl of Oxford and Asquith voting on whether the Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor should take a seat in the Lords given the historic rivalry between their famous ancestors.


Ballot papers of the 3 Peers eligible to vote had to have been returned to the Clerk of the Parliaments by 5pm on Monday 18th April. The Result was announced on Tuesday the 19th and despite speaking out repeatedly in favour of House of Lords reform and not seeking to retain his seat in 1999, Viscount Thurso was elected ot succeed Lord Avebury on the first round having gained all three available first preference votes.


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