A Hereditary Peer
is a Lord
of the House of Lords
who has inherit
ed their title
through their father. This type of peer
) is a form of the Lords Temporal
(the other type being Life Peer
They are seen as the least democratic part of the UK Parliamentary system since they are not accountable to either the electorate or the representatives of the electorate (the House of Commons). They are not accountable to any one which means that they can do pretty much anything they want and no one can do much about it. However, recently reforms of Parliament (and most importantly the House of Lords) has limited the power of the Hereditary Peers and reduced their number.
Hereditary Peers were appointed by the Monarch (now appointed through the Prime Minister probably) though no Hereditary Peers have been made for a long time. Instead, the Prime Minister (using Royal Prerogative powers) usually appoints Life Peers who are more democratic (though not by much).
As of May 1998 (before New Labour started to cull the Hereditary Peers) there were 759 Hereditary Peers as opposed to 487 Life Peers. In total there were 1,272 peers out of which only 96 were women and most of them were (and are still) white. This seems like a very unwieldy number of peers but it is important to remember that most of these members don't bother to turn up. Between 1997-1998 the attendance was 412 (which is quite good for the House of Lords). These figures only really went up when in the 1950's an allowance was allowed for the Lords' travel and accomodation expenses (though I don't see why many of them needed it, most of them aren't particuly poor). These figures from the House of Lords Information Office
There has been a movement in Britain towards reforming the second chamber because of its undemocratic nature. This has been advanced by the New Labour party who started the reform by abolishing most of the Hereditary Peers. They left only 92 of these Hereditary peers which was part of a deal made with the Conservative party to get the measure through Parliament. The Conservatives agreed to let the bill through if there would remain 92 Hereditary Peers (most peers are Conservative and the Conservatives have a strong strangle hold on the House of Lords which is useful when it isn't in power in the House of Commons).
However, when this agreement was reached, the Conservatives didn't realise that New Labour would do anything else that could annoy them. They were wrong! Tony made the Hereditary Peers vote for their survival. 75 peers where to be elected to stay in the House of Lords (the other 17 had a special reason for remaining, holding certain posts) by the Hereditary Peers themselves. Any of the Hereditary Peers could stand for election but when they did they had to write, in no more than 75 words (sic), why they should remain an Hereditary Peer. This most annoyed the Leader of the Conservative party in the Lords who was outraged (partly because he had to stand for election himself and was having difficulty cutting down his locution). The reason for this word limit was apparently to stop the Lords from writing colossal election manifestos.
I think it was one last gibe at the peers before they left.
The removal of these peers took no more than 7 minutes (according to the Guardian).