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In the United Kingdommarker, 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 entitle the holders to seats in the House of Lordsmarker, presuming they meet qualifications such as age and citizenship. 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 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.) (See also Wensleydale Peerage Case .)

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 Commonsmarker. 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 Kingdommarker 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 is 21 years of age, is not suffering punishment upon conviction for treason and is a citizen of the United Kingdommarker, or the Republic of Irelandmarker 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. "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 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.

"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". 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, nor have John Major or Tony Blair yet taken 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 hereditary peerage to be offered outside the Royal Family. While Lloyd-George also waited a similar time 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.

The number of life peers

Peerage Dignities Created Under
the Life Peerages Act 1958
Prime Minister Party Tenure Peers
Harold Macmillan Conservative 1957–1963 48
Alec Douglas-Home Conservative 1963–1964 14
Harold Wilson Labour 1964–1970 123
Edward Heath Conservative 1970–1974 56
Harold Wilson Labour 1974–1976 80
James Callaghan Labour 1976–1979 57
Margaret Thatcher Conservative 1979–1990 200
John Major Conservative 1990–1997 141
Tony Blair Labour 1997–2007 357
Gordon Brown Labour 2007– 29
Total 1105
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 Kingdommarker.

The rate of creation of life peerages under the Life Peerages Act has not shown a consistent pattern of increase, but former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, caused the creation of life peerages at a high rate.

In 1999, there were 172 Conservative and 160 Labour life peers in the House of Lords, and on 4th November 2009, there were 141 Conservative and 208 Labour life peers in the House of Lords. The hereditary element of the House of Lords, however, was much less equal. In 1999, for example, immediately before most hereditary peers were removed by the House of Lords Act, there were 350 Conservative hereditary peers, compared with 19 Labour peers and 23 Liberal Democrat peers.

Forms of address

Life peers, such as the actor Sir Laurence Olivier, typically have achieved wide fame prior to being ennobled. Because they have done this while still being known as Firstname Lastname, there is a strong tendency, after their ennoblement, to refer to them as Lord or Lady Firstname Lastname. However the formal style is "The Rt Hon The Lord/Baroness X" and referred to as "Firstname, Lord/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.

See also


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