It is fascinating to see which Prime Ministers are at the top of the table and which are at the bottom. The creation of life peerages began in 1957 and so the first Prime Minister who was able to achieve this was Harold Macmillan who between 1957 and 1963 appointed 47 people (one can assume they were mostly men). So that represents and average of 7.8 people a year. Prior to Boris Johnson arriving as Prime Minister the person who introduced the largest number of Lords was David Cameron who appointed 245 people during his six years and this represented 40.8 people a year. Now of course the challenge with comparing these statistics with the action that Boris Johnson took last year is that if he suddenly started sacking people from the House of Lords or even if he just slowed down his actions that his average would change dramatically. On the other hand if he has only just got going, then last year when he appointed 52 people as members of the House of Lords, that number could be the low end of his overall average. It is clearly vital that such activity is not just seen in numerical terms. After all if he had introduced 52 people from across the nation who were not party political and who were able to introduce understanding into the location, then our Parliament would be dramatically improved. Sadly they were nearly all political supporters or ex MPs and MEPs and perhaps more disturbingly than that, one of them was someone who was rejected by the independent agency that seeks to assess how appropriate members of the House are.
The organisation is called the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) which is an independent, advisory, non-departmental public body. Separate from the House of Lords or Commons, it was established in May 2000 to ensure some transparency in the process of appointments, as part of a series of reforms enacted by the then Labour government. It is made up of seven members, including a chair, with three members representing the main political parties, while the others are non-political members, independent of government, appointed by the Prime Minister following open recruitment. As it turned out Boris Johnson was the first person to overrule HOLAC’s advice regarding the suitability of a person to enter the Lords. The Commission stated that, after carrying out its vetting, it could not support the nomination of Peter Cruddas, a Conservative Party donor and former co-treasurer who resigned after having been involved in a ‘cash-for-access’ scandal in 2012. The Prime Minister, however, rejected the body’s advice on the grounds that these were ‘historic concerns’ and that ‘accusations levelled at the time were found to be untrue and libellous’. Now of course all of us can review activity and for some people 8 years is a huge length of time and for others it is not long enough.
The fascinating aspect that goes beyond the issue of Johnsons disregard of the judgement by HOLAC is that back in November 2019 so just before the last General Election, that Charles Moore resigned from HOLAC. Now Charles Moore is one of the 52 people appointed and although he is not sitting as a Conservative Peer his views are certainly supportive of the Party. The other six people who are still members of HOLAC and who made the judgement they did are
The members of the Commission are:
- Lord (Paul) Bew (Chair)
- Rt Hon and Rt Rev Lord Richard Chartres KCVO
- Vacant – following resignation of Charles Moore in November 2019
- The Lord-Lieutenant of Belfast, Mrs Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle CBE DL
- Lord (David) Clark of Windermere (Labour)
- Baroness (Angela) Browning (Conservative)
- Baroness (Kate) Parminter (Liberal Democrat)
The Commission has two main functions:
- to recommend individuals for appointment as non-party-political life peers
- to vet nominations for life peers, including those nominated by the UK political parties, to ensure the highest standards of propriety.
So the question has to be how many Peers will be appointed this year by Boris, will any will be opposed by HOLAC and when will Boris appoint a replacement for Charles Moore. Perhaps much more importantly will Boris and his chums ever bother to respond to the report by Burns which was published back in November 2017 and which called for the House of Lords to be reduced to 600 people. The 52 people who Johnson appointed last year has ensured that there are now more than 800 members of the House of Lords and there has been no reference to the Burns report in the House of Commons since it was published!