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Rights and Privileges of Peers
This is an Opt In Article.
Being a Peer of the Realm comes with the added bonus of certain rights and privileges to differentiate and elevate these people from and above the rest of society.
- They have the right to be tried for treason and felony only in the House of Lords (This privilege extends to wives of peers as well).
- They do not have to serve on ordinary juries (neither do convicted felons, lunatics, or undischarged bankrupts).
- They cannot be arrested for forty days before and after Parliament is in session.
- However, a peer is barred from voting in parliamentary elections and from sitting in the House of Commons (again in the company of lunatics and felons). But the principal right of a peer is to a seat in the upper house of Parliament, the House of Lords.
House of Lords
An English peer (unless she is a woman) sits in the upper house of Parliament -- the House of Lords. When a peer dies and his son inherits, one of the rites of passage he must go through is to "take his seat" in the House of Lords -- he shakes the hand of the Lord Chancellor and then literally takes a seat on one of the benches. There are a few more qualifiers: a peer may not take his seat if he is bankrupt, if he is a lunatic, if he is under the age of twenty-one, or if his peerage is not granted in England, Scotland, or Ireland. Finally, he may not take his seat until the monarch has issued a Writ of Summons to him.
Scottish peers, however, are not automatically entitled to a seat in the English House of Lords. Instead, as Scotland and England were, at this time, still separate countries, they were given seats in the Scottish Parliament.
Irish peers, unlike English and Scottish peers, are not barred from voting in general elections or from being elected to the House of Commons. Like Scottish peers, however, Irish peers are not guaranteed a seat in the House of Lords, but most Irish peers also hold an English or Scottish peerage, often of considerably lower rank, which allow them to have a seat in the House of Lords; for example, the Duke of Leinster (Irish) is also Viscount Leinster in the English peerage.
The eldest sons of peeresses in their own right may sit for their mothers in the House of Lords. See Peeress in Her Own Right.
House of Commons
Heirs and younger sons of peers can sit in the House of Commons. A "commoner" is defined as anyone who is not a peer. In fact, not just anyone could join the House of Commons before this century -- you had to "be somebody." Being the son of a peer was "somebody."
To carry this a bit further, peers usually considered themselves to "own" certain House of Commons seats -- those from the district around their estates, for example -- and often the "election" of their sons or nephews to those seats was mere formality. It is easy to see that with this sort of system, the peers could control House of Commons votes and thereby pretty much control government. This was a major reason for the reforms of the 1830s, and for the "radical" Whigs under Charles James Fox in the 1780s and 90s.