CAMPAIGNERS have renewed calls for the scrapping of the “absurd” and “unacceptable” system which allows hereditary peers to take a seat in the House of Lords, ahead of new members being elected this week.

Four vacancies are being contested with by-elections resuming after being suspended in March last year due to Covid.

It’s an elite election where the only candidates are titled aristocrats and landowners and the voters a tiny pool of fellow earls, dukes, viscounts and barons.

The selection process means candidates are invited – but not required – to submit a written statement of up to 75 words, for a role which comes with a £300 daily allowance and the right to shape and vote on the laws of the land.

Campaigners have branded the elections a “mockery of voters” and say legislation to end hereditary peer by-elections must be introduced as a step towards replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber of parliament.

Willie Sullivan, director of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said: “The fact that in 2021, hereditary aristocrats are still guaranteed representation in our parliament is beyond baffling. Even the Lord Speaker accepts that this is just unacceptable in a modern democracy, and it needs to change now.”

Labour peer Lord Bruce Grocott has attempted to introduce a bill to abolish the system a number of times, but it has been repeatedly filibustered in the House of Lords.

Sullivan added: “Ministers and peers need to back legislation – which is ready to go – to end this absurd practice. At the moment, a handful of aristocrats are picking who can vote on our laws and claim expenses for life, on the basis of birth-right. Voters should decide who votes on our laws. Ending these absurd by-elections must be a first step towards ensuring we have real democracy in the UK – with a revising chamber that is fit for purpose, and accountable to the public.

“At the moment, it looks like a mockery of voters, rather than the Mother of Parliaments we deserve.

“It’s time for a proportionally-elected second chamber, to replace this private member’s club at last.”

Legislation introduced in 1999 removed the entitlement of most of the hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords under reforms by then Prime Minister Tony Blair. But in a deal struck with the Conservatives, Labour agreed that 92 hereditary peers could stay, with by-elections held to fill a vacancy arising from retirement or death.

Twenty-one candidates have put their names forward for three Conservative hereditary peer seats in a ballot taking place tomorrow to replace the late Earl of Selborne, who retired last year, and Lord Denham, who retired this year after 71 years in the House of Lords. Another vacancy has arisen after Lord Selsdon lost his seat under rules which means those who do not attend the House of Lords during a session of six months or more cease to be a member.

The retirement of the Scottish hereditary peer Countess of Mar – who was Britain’s only female hereditary peer – means there is also a cross-bench vacancy, with 10 candidates registering to stand in a by-election being held on June 15 and 16.

A House of Lords spokesperson said it is a “busy and effective” chamber, adding: “All members, including those elected to serve as one of the remaining 92 hereditary peers, take their role very seriously, shaping and voting on laws that affect all of us.”