Life peer

Life peer

In the United Kingdom, life peers are appointed members of the Peerage whose titles cannot be inherited. (Those whose titles are heritable are known as hereditary peers.) Nowadays life peerages, always of baronial rank, are created under the Life Peerages Act 1958 and entitle the holders to seats in the House of Lords, presuming they meet qualifications such as age and citizenship. Life peers are not considered to be members of the nobility.[citation needed] The legitimate children of a life peer take the privilege of children of hereditary peers, being entitled to style themselves with the prefix the Honourable.


Before 1876

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 (between 1603–1760), 18 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 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.) (See also Wensleydale Peerage Case (1856).)

The Government then introduced a bill to authorise the creation of two life peerages carrying seats in the House of Lords for judges who had 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, 28 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.

Finally the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 allowed senior judges to sit in the House of Lords as life peers, known as Lords of Appeal in Ordinary. This ended with the creation of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in 2009.

Life Peerages Act 1958

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 or she is 21 years of age, is not suffering punishment upon conviction for treason and is a citizen of the United Kingdom, or the Republic of Ireland[citation needed] or of a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, and is resident in the UK for tax purposes.

Life baronies under the Life Peerages Act are created by the Sovereign but, in practice, none are granted except upon the proposition of the Prime Minister.

Life peers created under the Life Peerages Act do not, unless they also hold ministerial positions, receive salaries. They are, however, entitled to daily allowances for travel and accommodation on signing in each day, though there is no requirement to take part in the business of the House.

Life peerages may be awarded through a number of different routes.

"Working peers"

From time to time, working Peers' Lists are published.[1] "Working peers" do not form a formal class, but represent the various political parties and are expected to regularly attend the House of Lords. Most new appointments of life peers fall into this category.

Normally, the Prime Minister chooses only peers for his or her 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 or she may also choose to amend these recommendations, but by convention does not do so.

"People's peers"

Peers may be created on a non-partisan basis. Formerly, nominations on merit alone were made by the Prime Minister, but this function was transferred to a new, non-statutory House of Lords Appointments Commission in 2000. Individuals recommended for the peerage by the Commission go on to become what have been described by some in the British media as "people's peers".[2] The Commission also scrutinises party recommendations for working peerages in order to ensure propriety. 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.


Individuals may be created peers in various honours lists as rewards for achievement; 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. Since the establishment of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, the various honours lists have no longer been used to announce life peerages. Partisan appointments are, however, still sometimes announced in this way.

Public offices

Creations may be made for individuals on retirement from important public offices, such as Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Commons or Archbishop of Canterbury or York.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who had renounced his hereditary title of the 14th Earl of Home on becoming Prime Minister, was the first former occupant of the office to receive a life barony. Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher all took life peerages following their retirement from the House of Commons. Edward Heath chose not to become a peer. John Major or Tony Blair have yet to have taken a peerage. It is unclear whether Gordon Brown, who remains a member of the House of Commons, would accept a peerage. Harold Macmillan declined a peerage on leaving office, but over 20 years after retiring accepted a second offer of the customary, hereditary earldom for retiring Prime Ministers, as Earl of Stockton; this was the last earldom to be offered outside the Royal Family. While Lloyd-George also waited a similar period, most offers have been made and accepted shortly after retirement such as the Earls of Oxford and Asquith, Baldwin, Attlee and Avon.

Many Cabinet members, including Chancellors of the Exchequer, Home Secretaries, Foreign Secretaries and Defence Secretaries retiring since 1958 have generally been created life peers. William Whitelaw was created a hereditary viscount on the recommendation of Margaret Thatcher. Viscount Whitelaw died without male issue, as did the only other viscountcy, for the former Speaker of the Commons and Secretary of State for Wales George Thomas as Viscount Tonypandy.

Life peerages have been granted to Speakers of the House of Commons upon retirement; Speakers had previously been entitled by custom to an hereditary peerage as a viscount.

The Prime Minister continues to recommend a small number of former public office-holders for peerages. This generally includes Chiefs of Defence Staff, Secretaries of the Cabinet, and Heads of the Diplomatic Service. Every Archbishop of Canterbury who has retired since 1958 has been created a life peer, as have most recent Archishops of York on retirement. A small number of other bishops – such as David Sheppard of Liverpool and Richard Harries of Oxford – were ennobled on retiring. The Lord Chamberlain must be a member of the House of Lords and so is ennobled on appointment (if not already a peer), while most retiring Private Secretaries to The Queen have also become peers.

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 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, several hereditary peers of the first creation, who had not inherited their titles but would still be excluded from the House of Lords by the Act, were created life peers: Toby Low, 1st Baron Aldington; Frederick James Erroll, 1st Baron Erroll of Hale; Frank Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford and 1st Baron Pakenham; and Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon. None of the peers of the first creation who were members of the Royal Family was granted a life peerage. 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, 7th Marquess of Salisbury (better known as Viscount Cranborne and Lord Cecil of Essendon, having attended the Lords by virtue of a writ of acceleration); George Jellicoe, 2nd Earl Jellicoe; Malcolm Shepherd, 2nd Baron Shepherd; and David Hennessy, 3rd Baron Windlesham.

As part of the celebrations to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Life Peerages Act, Gareth Williams, Baron Williams of Mostyn was voted by the current members of the House of Lords as the outstanding life peer since the creation of the life peerage.[3]

Number of life peers

Peerage dignities created under
the Life Peerages Act 1958[citation needed]
Prime Minister Party Tenure Peers Per year
Harold Macmillan Conservative 1957–1963 48 9.6*
Alec Douglas-Home Conservative 1963–1964 14 14.0
Harold Wilson Labour 1964–1970 123 20.5**
Edward Heath Conservative 1970–1974 56 14.0
Harold Wilson Labour 1974–1976 80 40.0**
James Callaghan Labour 1976–1979 57 19.0
Margaret Thatcher Conservative 1979–1990 200 18.2
John Major Conservative 1990–1997 141 20.1
Tony Blair Labour 1997–2007 357 35.7
Gordon Brown Labour 2007–2010 34 11.3
David Cameron Conservative 2010- 116[4] 116
Total 1,226 23.2
* Macmillan's average calculated for the 5 years under the Act.
** Wilson's combined average is 25.4 life peerages per year.

Life peerages conferred on hereditary peers (from 1999 onwards) are not included in the numbers.

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 11 in 1968 and to 12 in 1994. These provisions were repealed by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 which created the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

The rate of creation of life peerages under the Life Peerages Act has not shown a consistent pattern. Current prime minister David Cameron has been creating life peerages at the highest rate. Conservative Prime Ministers have created on average 20 life peers per year in office, Labour Prime Ministers an average of 27.2 per year. In absolute terms, Labour (in 24 years) created 1.2 times the number of life peerages created by the Conservatives (in 29 years). - On the other hand, Conservative Prime Ministers (especially Macmillan) created the vast majority of the about 50 hereditary peerages still created since 1958.

In 1999, there were 172 Conservative and 160 Labour life peers in the House of Lords, and by 4 January 2010, there were 141 Conservative and 207 Labour life peers in the House of Lords. The hereditary element of the House of Lords, however, was much less balanced. In 1999, for example, immediately before most hereditary peers [5] were removed by the House of Lords Act, there were 350 Conservative hereditary peers, compared with 19 Labour peers and 23 Liberal Democrat peers.


The 2011 Coalition Government draft proposal for Lords reform "provides that a person who holds a life peerage may at any time disclaim that peerage by writing to the Lord Chancellor. The person [and their spouse and children] will be divested of all rights and interests attaching to [that] peerage."[6]

Forms of address

The formal style for life peers is "The Rt Hon The Lord/Baroness X" and referred to as "Firstname, Baron/Baroness/Lady X", or less formally, "Lord/Baroness/Lady X". X is often the holder's surname at the point of ennoblement, but it need not be.[7] Life peers who, like the actor Laurence Olivier, have achieved wide fame under their original name "Firstname Lastname", are often referred to as Lord or Lady Firstname Lastname after their ennoblement, though this is formally incorrect.[8]

Most life peers take a title based on their surname (e.g. Baron Hattersley, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws) but there are exceptions, such as with Ian Paisley who opted for the title of Baron Bannside, and John Gummer who chose the title of Baron Deben.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ BBC (2002-04-25). "'People's peers' under scrutiny". CalTech. London. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  3. ^ "Former Lords leader honoured with award". Yahoo/Epolitix. Retrieved 2008-07-20. [dead link]
  4. ^
  5. ^ Hereditary Peerage Assoc
  6. ^ House of Lords Reform Draft Bill (Clause 62)
  7. ^ News article from the BBC remarking on the custom, on the occasion of Tony Banks taking the title Baron Stratford instead of the more conventional Baron Banks
  8. ^ Burke's Peerage; only the daughters of earls, marquesses and dukes, and the younger sons of marquesses and dukes are properly referred to by the courtesy title of Lord or Lady Firstname Lastname.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • life peer — life peers N COUNT In Britain, a life peer is a person who is given a title such as Lord or Lady which they can use for the rest of their life but which they cannot pass on when they die. He was made a life peer in 1991 …   English dictionary

  • life peer — n someone who has the rank of a British ↑peer (=lord or lady) but who cannot pass it on to their children …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • life peer — life′ peer′ n. brit. a British peer whose title ceases at death • Etymology: 1865–70 …   From formal English to slang

  • life peer — (or peeress) ► NOUN ▪ (in the UK) a peer (or peeress) whose title cannot be inherited …   English terms dictionary

  • life peer — noun a British peer whose title lapses at death • Hypernyms: ↑peer * * * noun : a British peer whose title is not hereditary the bill … calls for the creation of life peers both men and women Associated Press * * * Brit. a peer whose title ceases …   Useful english dictionary

  • life peer — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms life peer : singular life peer plural life peers a British peer whose family cannot keep the title after he or she dies. Peers who can pass their title to their children are called hereditary peers …   English dictionary

  • Life Peer — Dieser Artikel oder Abschnitt ist nicht hinreichend mit Belegen (Literatur, Webseiten oder Einzelnachweisen) versehen. Die fraglichen Angaben werden daher möglicherweise demnächst gelöscht. Hilf Wikipedia, indem du die Angaben recherchierst und… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • life peer — noun Date: 1869 a British peer whose title is not hereditary • life peerage noun …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • life peer — (or peeress) noun (in the UK) a peer (or peeress) whose title cannot be inherited. Derivatives life peerage noun …   English new terms dictionary

  • life peer — /ˈlaɪf pɪə/ (say luyf pear) noun a peer holding a title which lapses at death. –life peeress, feminine noun …   Australian-English dictionary

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