In a meeting with the House of Lords this Monday, the Viscount Linley, now Earl of Snowdon following the passing of his father in January, has requested for his right to be registered as a Hereditary Peer within the House. This would make him one of ninety-two hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords.
The House of Lords forms the upper chamber of the Houses of Parliament, and its role is to scrutinise and, if necessary, amend acts passed by the elected House of Commons. This provides a necessary check on the powers of the Commons that is independent of the influence of the electorate and theoretically helps to forestall any acts that could prove harmful to the country at large due to whims in public mood.
As was demonstrated earlier this year when Prime Minister Theresa May attempted to pass a Bill announcing Britain’s intent to withdraw from the European Union, the House of Lords can return bills to the Commons with amendments for further review and debate. While it can potentially do so a number of times to delay a bill’s passing — a process informally referred to as “ping-ponging” — it typically only does it once to prevent controversy, and the Lords cannot actively prevent Bills from being passed except in very specific circumstances. Likewise, the Lords cannot propose legislature.
Before the House of Lords Act 1999 passed under Tony Blair’s New Labour Government, the majority of hereditary peers were entitled to sit in the House of Lords. Since then, however, the number of seats allocated to Britain’s hereditary peers has been limited to 92, unless they’ve also been designated a life peer. This measure was supposed to have been temporary, with the ultimate aim of the Act to be the removal of all hereditary privileges from the House of Lords.
David Armstrong-Jones, the 2nd Earl of Snowdon, inherited his position upon the passing of his father, Anthony Armstrong-Jones on the 13th of January 2017. The Earldom was conferred in 1961 by The Queen when the 1st Earl married her sister, Princess Margaret. When the House of Lords Act 1999 was passed, the Earl was given a life peerage so that he could keep his seat.
An earlier form of the title had already existed before this point. A Barony of Snowdon was created by George I and conferred to his grandson, Frederick, the Prince of Wales, which was then passed on to George III when his father predeceased him in 1751. Upon George III’s ascension in 1760, the Barony was merged in the Crown.