Is there a retirement age in the House of Lords?

There is no formal retirement age for members of the House of Lords.

However, bishops are required to retire at 70, with those sitting in the House of Lords required to vacate their seats upon retirement. There is nothing to prevent bishops being reappointed to the House as a life peer though, and this has happened in several cases. Former archbishops of Canterbury usually return to the House as a life peer, such as Lord Williams of Oystermouth (Rowan Williams).

Can members retire if they want to?

Members can voluntarily retire from the House of Lords.

Upon retirement, Members are disqualified from attending the proceedings of the House and cease to receive a writ of summons. However, they do not lose their title.

The ability for members to retire is a recent innovation, brought about by the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. Prior to this, the House introduced an informal retirement scheme in 2011. However, in practice, this would have allowed members the legal right to return if they changed their minds. The 2014 Act brought legal certainty to their retirement. In addition, five members took the option to resign from the House in 2010 under temporary resignation provisions provided by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The Act required members of both Houses of Parliament to be considered “ordinarily resident and domiciled in the United Kingdom” for tax purposes and gave members of the Lords a three month window to resign from the House if they wished to avoid this requirement.

The House of Lords Reform Act 2014 also allowed members to be permanently disqualified from the House due to non-attendance for an entire session (subject to certain conditions) and if they were convicted of a serious offence.

Why was the retirement scheme introduced?

Before the retirement scheme was introduced, members would retain their membership of the House until their death. Although members could take a leave of absence, this only restricted their participation in House proceedings. They could give notice of their intention to return whenever they wished. Therefore, they would still be members of the House. 

Considering this issue in 2011, a House of Lords committee recommended the introduction of a voluntary retirement option for members. For example, it stated:

It is clear that for some members of the House, for whom the practicalities of continued participation in the work of the House might begin to be burdensome, an honourable and dignified means of retirement would be desirable. Other personal factors which might influence a member’s view of his or her role in the House include a change in family circumstances, a change in location which makes regular travel to London difficult, or an awareness that the professional or public experience on which the member has drawn in contributing to the work of Parliament is no longer sufficient to enable a full part to be played.

The committee also believed the measure may allow the House to better control its size. With no retirement provisions, the size of the House of Lords could only be reduced through the death of members.

Most members welcomed the change. However, the committee did note that a small number of members opposed the principle of retirement because being granted a peerage was a lifetime obligation to serve the House ordained by the Queen: “They hold that a peer, having received an honour bestowed by the monarch for life, is bound by that until death”.

How many have retired so far?

As at 1 July 2020, 114 Members had retired under the retirement provisions of the Act.

The following table shows the number of members who retired under the 2014 Act’s provisions in each full calendar year since it passed.

Year 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 (as at 1 July)
Number of retirements 33 18 21 13 14 11

In addition, four Members retired in 2014.

A full list of retired members can be found on the Parliament website. However, the list includes bishops and members who resigned or retired under provisions other than the House of Lords Reform Act 2014.