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Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill [HL]: Briefing for Lords Stages

Published Tuesday, January 28, 2020

This House of Lords Library Briefing provides background information on the Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill [HL], ahead of its second reading in the House of Lords on 7 February 2020.

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The bill is a private member’s bill sponsored by Lord Naseby (Conservative). Its single substantive clause states:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a Member of the House of Lords shall not be disqualified by virtue of that membership from voting in elections to the House of Commons.

This would overturn the status quo, in which peers who are current Members of the House of Lords are prohibited from voting in general elections. In practice, the bill would permit all Members of the House to vote in UK general elections; provided they were registered to vote and unless they were otherwise disqualified. The provision would come into effect twelve months after royal assent.

The principle that peers sitting in Parliament cannot vote in elections to the House of Commons has a long history. Between at least 1699 and 1998, the House of Commons passed a sessional order at the beginning of each session to the effect that no peer had any right to elect a Member of Parliament.  Furthermore, the exclusion has a longstanding basis in common law, notably confirmed in a judgment issued in 1872 and upheld in subsequent judgments issued in the twentieth century.

The prohibition has been reinforced by legislation passed over the past 20 years that has extended the right to vote in general elections to former Members of the House. The House of Lords Act 1999, which removed the majority of hereditary peers from the House, provided for a holder of a hereditary peerage to be able to vote in elections to the House of Commons if they were no longer sitting in Parliament. It also explicitly disfranchised hereditary peers who remained Members of the House. More recently, the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 and House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015 extended the right to vote in general elections to peers who ceased to be Members of the House in a way other than under the 1999 Act; for example through retirement, non-attendance, conviction of a serious offence or expulsion. 

Bills with the same aim have been considered on a number of occasions in recent years. Successive governments, whether Labour, Coalition or Conservative, have not supported the measure.

Lords Library notes LLN-2020-0034

Author: Thomas Brown

Topics: Electoral franchise, House of Lords, Members of the Lords

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