27 August 2015

David Cameron has just announced his latest list of 45 new peers, exercising his right to choose the number, timing and party balance of appointments to the House of Lords. In the face of heavy criticism, Hannah White examines Cameron’s motives for proceeding with the appointments.

Appointments to the unelected second chamber are one of a Prime Minister’s most significant powers of patronage. The list of new peers includes 26 Conservatives, 11 Liberal Democrats and 8 Labour members.

Since 2010, 50% of party peers appointed by Cameron have been members of the Conservative party. Handing out peerages has enabled Cameron to reward loyal, long-serving former MPs (such as Sir George Young and William Hague) and political allies (such as his deputy Chief of Staff, Kate Fall) for their support.

The rewards offered by a seat in the Lords are not inconsiderable. Not only will new peers gain the status and a formal role in the legislative process, they will also be entitled to claim £300 for every day they attend the House when it is sitting. So despite his assertions before the 2010 election that he wanted to ‘reduce the cost of politics’, the 233 appointments that Cameron has now made since becoming Prime Minister have added nearly £70,000 of potential additional cost to the taxpayer on every day that the House of Lords sits - should they all turn up.

The Prime Minister’s second motive for the new appointments is an attempt to ensure that “the House of Lords more accurately reflects the situation in the House of Commons”.  Cameron’s wish to increase the number of voting Conservative peers has no doubt been reinforced by the relatively high number of defeats suffered by the government in the Lords since the general election - discussed in a previous Institute for Government blog.

But the goal of making the Lords mirror the Commons appears to reflect a new constitutional principle that has not previously existed. What is more, according to the Electoral Reform Society, the Prime Minister would have to appoint 723 more members of the Lords to reproduce the balance of MPs in the Commons.

The House of Lords – now the second largest legislative chamber in the world - is already bursting at the physical seams of the Palace of Westminster, and existing peers complain about a lack of opportunities to engage with parliamentary processes.  The rules have already had to be changed – for example,   by reducing the time limit for service on a Lords select committee from four to three years, to give more peers the chance to participate.

The continued expansion of the upper house is simply unworkable.  Serious thought needs to be given to ways to reduce, or at the very least place an upper limit, on their Lordships numbers.

Comments

Are there any statistics on how much money from the expenses allowance the average peer claims. I know the "£300 a day" figure is used a lot, but that is a maximum, not necessarily a norm (in any case, a peer who had perfect attendance and claimed the full amount every single time would still end up about £10000 below an MP's salary).

With regards to the size, a moratorium seems a bit too blunt, so what about simply a limit on the rate of new appointments - "No more than X new creations per year". It should be noted that, prior to Cameron screwing it up with the belated Dissolution Honours, overall in 2015 deaths and retirements among peers had slightly outnumbered new appointments, suggesting that membership was in slow decline.

I think it overall comes down to Prime Ministers not having enough restraint in terms of ennoblement. Cameron seems certain to surpass Blair fairly soon in terms of the numbers of new peers he adds, and if the Upper House survives past 2020, his successor may create even more. I note also that among Cameron's Barons and Baronesses, only seven were recommended by the Lords Appointments Commission, suggesting that it is still the Prime Minister who holds the bulk of the power over the Letters Patent.

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