With each new election, Britain becomes more politically engaged – the turnout at the 2019 General Election was the second-highest since 1997. In some ways, being able to vote was just as much a milestone to me, as was being able to finally legally buy that cheap bottle of vodka from my local store. Even those that claim they’re not really into politics, always end up voting when the time comes around. Yet not one person in the country voted for the 85 hereditary peers currently sitting in the House of Lords who make decisions that affect every single one of the 66 million people living in the UK. 

Hereditary peers are part of the House of Lords, which along with the House of Commons, makes up the UK parliament. While the members of the House of Commons are voted in by the public in elections, the members of the House of Lords have not been chosen by the public. The majority of members (called Life Peers) are chosen on the advice of the Prime Minister – who is voted in by the general public – however, 85 of the Lords are only there because of the family they were born into. These are called Hereditary Peers.

Because of the title they inherited from their father – Duke, Earl, Viscount, Baron, etc – hereditary peers are eligible to take one of the reserved places on offer in the House of Lords. They can only be appointed by other hereditary peers in a closed by-election that only uses candidates from an exclusive Register of Hereditary Peers – it’s like the worst sort of high school clique where no one new has joined for 1000 years. 

The number of hereditary peers in the House of Lords has been significantly cut since then-Prime Minister Tony Blair brought in The House of Lords Act of 1999. However, there are still 92 seats available in the House of Lords for hereditary peers to sit in.

And since the House of Lords is responsible for making and shaping laws – covering vital areas such as welfare, health, and education – these unelected hereditary peers are making decisions for every single citizen in the UK, despite not one of these citizens ever actually voting them in.

On top of being unelected officials with the same parliamentary powers as their elected counterparts, studies have shown how hereditary peers are also logging in outrageous expense claims to exploit the taxpayer who, chances are, had no idea these hereditary peers even existed.

Simply put, the system of hereditary peers is elitist, racist, and sexist. It doesn’t belong in a country that has undoubtedly been made better for its diversity.

The system of hereditary peers is elitist, racist, and sexist. It doesn’t belong in a country that has undoubtedly been made better for its diversity.

On the UK Parliament’s official website, the House of Lords is described as offering a ‘diverse experience’ – something that sounds to me like utter horse shit. The current hereditary peers are all men, all white, nearly half went to Eton, the average age is 71, and they own at least 170,000 acres of land between them. Ah yes, diversity. 

In a country with a capital city where 40% of the population are from a Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) background, it’s utterly deplorable that the parliament these all-white hereditary peers are part of is said to represent a diverse Britain. It also doesn’t take a genius to realize there are no BAME families in this long list of inherited titles and lands, and since hereditary peers are only chosen from an exclusive register, there will only ever be hereditary peers from white backgrounds making decisions for a country where almost 14% of the total population are not. 

The UK is also known for making waves in the modern feminist movement and fighting hard for women’s rights and gender equality, yet all 85 of the current hereditary peers in the House of Lords are male – and this is no coincidence.

Hereditary peers still follow a system of primogeniture, The Peerage Act of 1963 claiming that female peers could claim their hereditary titles, as long as they didn’t have any brothers to claim it instead. To put this into context, even the British Royal Family got rid of the primogeniture system over a decade ago.

Many of the bills that the House of Lords debate are about women’s rights. This means that the 33.82 million women in the UK, are having decisions on issues such as sexual and reproductive health and domestic abuse, decided for them by 85 men who were only eligible for their job because their fathers were born male as well.  

Female protestors marching for a woman's right to walk home safely at night.
[Image description: Female protestors marching for a woman’s right to walk home safely at night.] Via Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

As of now, the process of rewarding those lucky dukes, earls, viscounts, and barons that were fortunate enough to be born into that family with an automatic seat in the House of Lords, shows no sign of stopping. However, a Bill by Labour Life Peer, Lord Grocott, that seeks to phase out hereditary peers by scrapping by-elections, and instead not replacing the current office-holders when they die, resign, or are expelled, has since passed its Second Reading.

But don’t get excited just yet. This is the third time Lord Grocott’s Bill has been put forward as the first and second attempts were blocked by enough of the Lords to pass – can you guess which Lords they were? 

I should note that hereditary peers aren’t universally bad. Nonetheless, they still shouldn’t be sitting in the House of Lords because no one voted them in. And with hereditary peers blocking any attempts from others to remove them, it’s likely the House of Lords will be able to continue functioning as a private members’ club for an elite few for a little while longer.

That is, the elite few lucky enough to be born into the wealth and privilege that represents no part of the Britain I know or love at all. 

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  • Tilly Brogan

    Part-writer, part-booktuber, Tilly is an Editorial Fellow at The Tempest. She loves writing about current affairs and women’s rights, but also passionately defends YA books and considers herself a regular in most YA fandoms. She can pluck her eyebrows without wincing and sink enough vodka shots to raise the Titanic.