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In the United Kingdom, Life Peers are appointed members of the Peerage whose titles may not be inherited (those whose titles are inheritable are known as hereditary peers). Nowadays, life peerages, always of baronial rank, are created under the Life Peerages Act 1958 and carry with them, presuming the recipient meets qualifications such as age and citizenship, seats in the House of Lords.
Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are created under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 to exercise the House of Lords' judicial functions; they, too, sit in the House of Lords. Lords of Appeal in Ordinary retire, potentially at the age of seventy and necessarily by the age of seventy-five, but continue to sit in the House for life. By convention, the Lords do not participate in the political business of the House, instead confining themselves to hearing cases.
The Crown, as fount of honour, has the undoubted right to create peerages, whether hereditary or for life. In the early days of the Peerage, the Sovereign had the right to summon individuals to one Parliament without being bound to summon them again. Over time, it was established that once summoned, a peer would have to be summoned for the remainder of his life, and later, that the peer's heirs and successors would also be summoned, thereby firmly entrenching the hereditary principle.
Nevertheless, life peerages lingered. From the reign of James I to that of George II (1603–1760), eighteen life peerages were created for women. Women, however, were incapable of sitting in the House of Lords, so it was unclear whether or not a life peerage would entitle a man to do the same. For over four centuries, no man had claimed a seat in the Lords by virtue of a life peerage. In 1856, it was determined necessary to add a peer learned in law to the House of Lords (which exercised and continues to exercise certain judicial functions), without allowing the peer's heirs to sit in the House and swell its numbers. Sir James Parke , a baron (judge) of the Exchequer, was created Baron Wensleydale for life, but the House of Lords concluded that the peerage did not entitle him to sit in the House of Lords. Lord Wensleydale was then compelled to take his seat as an hereditary peer. (Ironically, Parke had no sons, so his barony did not pass to an heir despite the ruling of the Lords.)
The Government then introduced a bill to authorise the creation of two life peerages carrying seats in the House of Lords for judges who held office for at least five years. The House of Lords passed it, but the bill was lost in the House of Commons. In 1869, a more comprehensive life peerages bill was brought by John Russell, 1st Earl Russell. At any one time, twenty-eight life peerages could be in existence; no more than four were to be created in any one year. Life peers were to be chosen from senior judges, civil servants, senior officers of the British Army or Royal Navy, members of the House of Commons who had served for at least ten years, scientists, writers, artists, peers of Scotland and peers of Ireland. (Peers of Scotland and Ireland did not all have seats in the House of Lords, instead electing a number of representative peers.) The bill was rejected by the House of Lords at its third reading.
Appellate Jurisdiction Act
In 1873, William Gladstone's government passed the Judicature Act, which reorganised the court system and abolished the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords in respect of English appeals. In February of the next year, before the Act came into force, Gladstone's Liberal Government fell; the Conservative Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister. In 1874 and 1875, acts were passed delaying the coming-into-force of the Judicature Act. In 1876, the Appellate Jurisdiction Act repealed the provisions rescinding the jurisdiction of the House of Lords. Additionally, the Act provided for the appointment of two persons to be Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, who were to sit in the House of Lords under the dignity of baron. Originally, though they held the rank of baron for life, they served in Parliament only while holding judicial office; eleven years later, however, an act was passed allowing Lords of Appeal to continue to sit and vote in Parliament even after retirement from office.
Life Peerages created under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, as aforementioned, are always of the rank of baron, and may be created for both men and women. To be appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, an individual must have been a practising barrister for a period of fifteen years or must have held a high judicial office—Lord Chancellor, or judge of the Court of Appeal, High Court or Court of Session—for a period of two years. Lords of Appeal in Ordinary serve for life under the style of baron, and may vote in non-judicial matters, though they normally do not elect to exercise this right. The two most senior Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are designated the Senior and Second Senior Lords of Appeal in Ordinary respectively.
The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are joined by the Lords of Appeal, who include members of the House of Lords, not necessarily created under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, who hold or have held high judicial office. Additionally, every Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, upon reaching the age of seventy, becomes a Lord of Appeal. Lords of Appeal retain their titles for life, but, except for the serving Lord Chancellor, are incapable of hearing cases after the age of seventy-five. Only Lords of Appeal in Ordinary receive salaries: for 2004, the salary for the Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary is £185,705, and for other Lords of Appeal in Ordinary £179,431.
Life Peerages Act
The Life Peerages Act sanctions the regular granting of life peerages, but the power to appoint Lords of Appeal in Ordinary under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act was not derogated. No limits were placed on the number of peerages that the Sovereign may award, as was done by the Appellate Jurisdiction Act. A peer created under the Life Peerages Act has the right to sit in the House of Lords, provided he is twenty-one years of age, is not suffering punishment upon conviction for treason and is a citizen of the United Kingdom, of the Republic of Ireland or of a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Life baronies under the Life Peerages Act are theoretically created by the Sovereign, but in practice, none is granted except upon the proposition of the Prime Minister. Individuals may be created after retiring from important public offices, such as Speaker of the House of Commons or Prime Minister. From time to time, Working Peers' Lists are published. "Working peers" do not form a formal class, but represent the various political parties and are expected to regularly attend the House of Lords. Additionally, individuals may be created peers in various honours lists as rewards for merit; these peers are not expected to be regular attendees of the House of Lords, but are at liberty to do so if they please. The New Year Honours List, the Birthday Honours List (to mark the Sovereign's official birthday, the second Saturday in June), the Dissolution Honours List (to mark the dissolution of Parliament) and the Resignation Honours List (to mark the end of a Prime Minister's tenure) have all been used to announce life peerage creations. Now, however, non-partisan peers are not announced in the various honours lists, but are rather created upon the recommendations of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
Harold Wilson was the first Prime Minister to receive a life barony.
Life peerages may be awarded to certain important public functionaries upon retirement. Every Archbishop of Canterbury who has retired since 1958 has also been created a life peer. Life Peerages have been granted to Speakers of the House of Commons upon retirement (as well as, occasionally, hereditary peerages in the form of viscountcies).
Important cabinet officials have generally been created life peers upon retirement from the House of Commons. Many Prime Ministers, including Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher, have been created life peers following their retirement from the House of Commons. Neither Edward Heath nor John Major has been made a peer, while two Prime Ministers —Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan— were given hereditary titles as Lord Avon and Lord Stockton. Other important cabinet officials, including Chancellors of the Exchequer, Home Secretaries, Foreign Secretaries and Defence Secretaries, retiring since 1958 have generally been created life peers. Some, such as William Whitelaw, were created hereditary viscounts. Others, like Kenneth Clarke and John Major, were not granted any peerages.
High judicial officers have sometimes been created life peers upon taking office. All Lord Chief Justices of England and Wales have, since 1958, been created life peers under the Life Peerages Act, with the exception of the present Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, who was already a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary before becoming Lord Chief Justice.
Life peerages may in certain cases be awarded to hereditary peers. After the House of Lords Act 1999 passed, many hereditary peers of the first creation, including Toby Low, 1st Baron Aldington , Frederick Erroll, 1st Baron Erroll of Hale , Frank Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford, 1st Baron Pakenham and Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, were all created life peers, as they did not inherit their titles but would still be excluded by the House of Lords Act 1999. None of the peers of the first creation who were members of the Royal Family were granted life peerages. Life peerages were also granted to former Leaders of the House of Lords, including John Julian Ganzoni, 2nd Baron Belstead, Peter Carington, 6th Baron Carrington, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, Viscount Cranborne (Lord Cecil of Essendon by virtue of a writ of acceleration), George Jellicoe, 2nd Earl Jellicoe, Malcolm Shepherd, 2nd Baron Shepherd and David Hennessy, 3rd Baron Windlesham.
In most cases, peers are created on a partisan basis. Normally, the Prime Minister chooses only peers for his own party, but permits the leaders of opposition parties to recommend peers from those parties. The Prime Minister may determine the number of peers each party may propose; he may also choose to amend these recommendations, but by convention does not do so.
Individuals who have not served in public office may also be created peers on a non-partisan basis. Formerly, the Prime Minister determined which peers could be created on the basis of merit, but that task has now passed to the House of Lords Appointments Commission, established in 2000. The Commission both scrutinises these recommendations and nominates non-partisan candidates on the basis of merit. The Commission includes a Chairman, three non-partisan peers, one Conservative peer, one Labour peer and one Liberal Democrat peer. The Prime Minister may determine the number of peers the Commission may propose, and also may amend the recommendations. Again, by convention, no amendment is made to the recommendations of the Commission.
Unlike Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, life peers created under the Life Peerages Act do not, unless they also hold ministerial positions, receive salaries. They are, however, entitled to allowances for travel and accommodation.
The number of Life Peers
The Appellate Jurisdiction Act originally provided for the appointment of two Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, who would continue to serve while holding judicial office, though in 1887, they were permitted to continue to sit in the House of Lords for life, under the style and dignity of baron. The number of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary was increased from time to time—to three in 1882, to four in 1891, to six in 1913, to seven in 1919, to nine in 1947, to eleven in 1968 and to twelve in 1994. The Administration of Justice Act 1968 allows the Sovereign to make a Statutory Instrument, if each House of Parliament passes a resolution approving a draft of the same, increasing the maximum number of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary.
There is no limit on the number of Lords of Appeal (peers who hold or held high judicial office, and retired Lords of Appeal in Ordinary) who sit in the House of Lords. There are, as at the beginning of 2004, thirty-one Lords of Appeal. Twenty-three of those Lords of Appeal were formerly Lords of Appeal in Ordinary.
The rate of creation of life peerages under the Life Peerages Act has not shown a consistent pattern of increase, but the present Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has caused the creation of life peerages at an unprecedented rate. The number of Conservative and Labour life peers has in recent years been approximately the same; in 1999, there were 172 Conservative and 160 Labour life peers in the House of Lords, and at the beginning of May, 2004, there were 158 Conservative and 178 Labour life peers in the House of Lords. The hereditary element of the House of Lords, however, does not reflect such an equality. In 1999, for example, immediately before most hereditary peers were removed by the House of Lords Act, there were 299 Conservative hereditary peers, compared to nineteen Labour peers and twenty-three Liberal Democrat peers.
See also: List of Life Peerages, List of Law Life Peerages
- Boothroyd, D. (2004). "Life Peerages created under the Life Peerages Act 1958."
- Cox, N. (1997). "The British Peerage: The Legal Standing of the Peerage and Baronetage in the overseas realms of the Crown with particular reference to New Zealand." New Zealand Universities Law Review. (Vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 379-401).
- Farnborough, T. E. May, 1st Baron. (1896). Constitutional History of England since the Accession of George the Third, 11th ed. London: Longmans, Green and Co.
- Life Peerages Act 1958. (6 & 7 Elizabeth 2 c. 21). London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
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- "Peerage." (1911). Encyclopędia Britannica, 11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press.