Scottish and Irish Peers


The Scottish peerage is entitled to be represented in the House of Lords by sixteen and the Irish peerage by twenty-eight elected representatives.  The former are elected at the beginning of each new Parliament, the latter for life.  These representative peers enjoy all the privileges enjoyed by peers of England.  All other Scottish and Irish peers enjoy all privileges except those of a seat in the Lords and sitting upon the trial of peers.


Actually the representation of both the Scottish and Irish peerage in the House of Lords is substantially greater than would appear from the figures given above, as many holders of peerages in those countries also hold peerages of Great Britain or of the United Kingdom - "Imperial" peerages, as the latter are often termed for the sake of convenience and clarity [1].


The Act of Union between England and Scotland made no provision for additions to the Scottish peerage.  Thus no new Scottish peerages have been created since 1707, and this category is a diminishing one as peerages become extinct for lack of heirs.


The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland did provide for additions to the purely Irish peerage, and, in fact, a number of such creations were subsequently made.  At one time Prime Ministers found it useful as a way of recommending to the Crown a reward for political or other services which did not involve adding to the number of Peers of Parliament.  But the custom fell into disuse, and since 1868, when the Barony of Rathdonnell was created, there has been only one other creation in the Irish peerage.


This was the Barony of Curzon of Kedleston, conferred in 1898 on the then Mr. George Nathaniel Curzon on his appointment as Viceroy and Governor-General of India.  In practice the Governors-General of India were always peers, but Mr. Curzon intended at that time to return to his political career in the House of Commons at the end of his term in India, and it was to allow for this that his barony was created in the peerage of Ireland.  There can be no doubt that this will prove to be the last Irish creation, since the only part of Ireland now remaining under the Crown is Northern Ireland.


It would appear equally certain that it is only a matter of time before Irish peers as such disappear altogether from the House of Lords, for the simple reason that there is now no machinery for electing fresh representative peers in the place of those who die.  The procedure in such cases was last set out in an Act of Parliament passed during the earlier years of Queen Victoria's reign.  This provided that in the event of a vacancy a writ was to be issued to the Chancellor of Ireland directing him to cause writs to be issued by the Clerk of the Crown in Ireland to the peers entitled to vote in the election of a representative peer.


In the Treaty which set up the Irish Free State no provision was made for the election of representative peers under the new regime - whether by design or merely because the point was overlooked has never been made quite clear.  The fact remains that there has not since been a Chancellor of Ireland or a Clerk to the Crown in Ireland and there is thus no legal machinery by which fresh elections can be carried out.


It is more than twenty years since the last election and in the interval the number of representative peers has been reduced to five.  They are the Earls of Drogheda, Roden, and Kilmorey, Viscount de Vesci and Lord Farnham [2].


The question was raised in the House of Commons in May of 1927, and Mr. Baldwin, the then Prime Minister, replied that the Government were advised that "no fresh elections can take place in present circumstances".  There the matter rests and seems likely to rest.


[1]  The passing of the Peerage Act 1963 has completely nullified Heywood's comments about Scottish representative peers.  Section 4 of that Act states:  The holder of a peerage in the peerage of Scotland shall have the same right to receive writs of summons to attend the House of Lords, and to sit and vote in that House as a holder of a peerage in the peerage of the United Kingdom;  and the enactments relating to the election of Scottish representative peers shall cease to have effect.


[2]  Further to Heywood's comments about the Irish representative peers, the last Irish representative peer, the Earl of Kilmorey, died in 1961.  Unfortunately the Peerage Act 1963 did not deal with the general position of Irish peers, and there are currently 69 members of the Peerage of Ireland who do not hold an "Imperial" peerage and the holders of their title have never been a Peer of Parliament in London.  These are all marked with an asterisk (*) in this work.  The whole question of Irish representative peers is now, following the House of Lords Act 1999, purely academic.