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Johnson resignation honours ‘brought into question’ Lords appointments process

17 Jul 2023 5 minute read
Photo Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire

Boris Johnson’s controversial resignation honours list has “brought into question” the current appointments system for creating new peers, according to a House of Lords report.

A cross-party committee of senior peers said the former prime minister “showed no interest” in reducing the number of peers during his three years in office and that the number of new appointments he made “far exceeded” the target set by the upper House.

The panel also noted that peerages were “granted predominantly to members of his own party” by the former Conservative leader.

In a report published on Monday by the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the size of the House, the peers said: “In recent months, there have been further developments which have brought the appointments system into question.

“Most notably, there was considerable controversy over the size and composition of prime minister Boris Johnson’s resignation list, with over half of initial nominees not being approved by the House of Lords Appointments Commission (Holac).”

The Lord Speaker’s committee has recommended imposing a fixed-term limit, possibly of about 15 years, for service in the Lords and called for a fairer allocation of new appointments that are based on election results.

It said reducing the size of the Lords had become a “second-order issue”, with the priority to introduce a “sustainable” appointments system, ideally via legislation or otherwise by consensus among the political parties.

Peers in 2017 recommended the Lords be capped at 600 to make it smaller than the Commons.

But it has continued to balloon, with the latest report suggesting there are 824 members, making it one of the largest scrutiny chambers in the world.

The committee has reiterated its call for an end to by-elections for hereditary peers to help reduce the overall numbers and provide a better gender balance, given all 90 are men.

Urgency

The urgency around the reforms comes as peers consider the prospect of Labour winning the next general election, which is likely to be held next year, and needing to quickly increase the representation of Sir Keir Starmer’s party in the second chamber due to it being currently outnumbered by Tory peers.

The report follows a storm over Mr Johnson’s exit honours last month in which he appointed seven new peers to the Lords.

Former Tory London mayoral candidate Sean Bailey, who took part in a lockdown-busting Christmas party in December 2020 at Conservative Party headquarters, and Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen were among those given peerages.

Mr Bailey, who has faced calls for his peerage to be blocked, has apologised for his attendance at the party.

More than half of Mr Johnson’s peerage nominations were not accepted by vetting watchdog Holac, with Conservative MPs and close allies such as former culture secretary Nadine Dorries and former Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams thought to have been among those blocked due to rules around not being able to sit in both chambers.

Allies of the ex-premier accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of removing names from the final list but Downing Street denied the claim.

Ms Dorries announced her intention to quit as an MP ahead of the list being published, although she has yet to formally resign.

Mr Johnson and Mr Adams announced their decision to do the same shortly afterwards, with the former premier departing in protest after discovering a Commons probe found he had lied to MPs with his assurances lockdown rules were followed in No 10 during the pandemic.

His honours list was not the first time Mr Johnson had been at loggerheads with Holac.

Tory donor

In December 2020, Mr Johnson overruled the body to push through a peerage for Tory donor Peter Cruddas despite Holac saying it could not support giving him a seat on the red benches.

Addressing a potential change of government, the Size of the House committee said Labour would be placed in a “difficult position” if it were to win a majority at the next election given its 181 party-affiliated peers make up “not much more than 20%”.

Their average age is also 75, seven years higher than the Conservative group.

Labour leader Sir Keir, who has committed to abolishing unelected peers, has remarked on the “imbalance” in the Lords and his spokesman has hinted that it could need to steadily appoint party peers to ensure it can get its legislative agenda through.

The Lord Speaker’s committee said gradual changes to the make-up of the House could ensure a party is not put in the same situation again.

The committee suggested that new appointments should be allocated on the basis of an average of each party’s share of their Commons’ seats and the national vote at the most recent general election.

“This would have a gradual impact on the political balance of the parties, reflecting each party’s electoral fortunes over time while also allowing each party to refresh its own membership,” the six-page report said.

Lords Burns, chairman of the Size of the House committee, said: “The political leadership should focus initially on putting in place a sustainable and fair method of allocating appointments.

“This will set the basis for a cap and a sustainable reduction in the size of the House.”

The Lord Speaker, Lord McFall of Alcluith, said: “This report by a cross-party committee of peers provides recommendations which would reinforce the reputation and effectiveness of the Lords.”


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Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
8 months ago

Mr Bailey, who has faced calls for his peerage to be blocked, has apologised for his attendance at the party” but has made no indication that he intends to do the honourable thing by politely refusing the honour in a manly and gallant way…because he is a dirty rat-b*****d just like the man who nominated him.

Steve Woods
Steve Woods
8 months ago

The disgraced former party-time alleged prime minister has soiled everything with which he’s ever come into contact.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
8 months ago

Quite rightly, there are questions but I believe the main driver of this is that someone they REALLY do not want in there is the MP who resigned with ‘immediate effect’ and who continues to hang around like a bad smell and completely disregard her constituents as she spends all day stamping, screaming and hammering on the door of the House of Lords demanding to be let in. For Gods’ sake and that of the rest of us, please let her in, give her a Mrs Overall pinny and stick her on tea trolley duties.

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