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The House of Lords Act 1999 ended the centuries-old linkage between the hereditary peerage and membership of the House of Lords. The majority of hereditary Peers left the House of Lords in November 1999, but under a compromise arrangement, 92 of their number, known as ‘excepted’ hereditary Peers still sit in the House today. Since the 1999 Act, there have been numerous proposals put forward for a second stage of major reform of the House of Lords, and for smaller incremental reforms which would end the practice of hereditary by-elections, but to date none of these has succeeded.

This Note examines the role of hereditary Peers in the House of Lords since the 1999 Act. It begins by providing a very brief history of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords. It considers the passage of the 1999 Act through Parliament, and the impact it has had on both the composition and the behaviour of the House of Lords. It contains information about the elections and by-elections through which the excepted hereditary Peers have been chosen, as well as details of hereditary Peers who sit by virtue of a life peerage, female hereditary Peers in their own right and a statistical profile of hereditary members of the House today. The Note also outlines proposals for small and large scale reforms put forward by Labour, the current Government and in private members’ bills since 1999.


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