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House of Lords Appointments

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 25 November 2021

2. If the Government will conduct a review of the process for appointing peers to the House of Lords. (904346)

The Government do not currently plan to conduct a review. The constitutional position in this country is that the Prime Minister is responsible for advising Her Majesty on appointments to the House of Lords. The House of Lords Appointments Commission offers the Prime Minister probity advice and can make Cross-Bench recommendations concerning these appointments.

About half the peers in the House of Lords have been ennobled since 2010, with most—I am being charitable—not for their sheer luminosity of talent but the generosity of their bank balance. Does the Minister not see that having a Chamber of cheque writers undermines the credibility of not just the House of Lords but the entirety of Parliament? Is it not time that we just got rid of it?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s final point is no. Peerages reflect long-standing contributions to civic life and a willingness to further contribute to public life. In Britain, taxpayers do not have to bankroll political parties’ campaigning. We must be transparent about donations, but those who oppose party fundraising need to explain how many millions they want taxpayers to pay for state funding instead.

The Minister may deny that the House of Lords is crony-stuffed, but 15 of the last 16 Tory treasurers gave £3 million to the Tory party to get a life peerage and 80% of the UK public think that corruption is fairly or very present in our politics. Does he agree that abolishing the House of Lords—this is another chance—would send out a clear anti-corruption message by ensuring that friends of a sitting Government are never again given life power over our democracy in exchange for their donations?

I have a lot of time for the hon. Lady, but we will not be abolishing the House of Lords any time soon. Peerages, as I said, reflect long-standing contributions to civic life and give these people an opportunity to put something back and contribute to public life.

At last week’s Liaison Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) asked the Prime Minister if he would

“stop sending big-value donors to the House of Lords”.

The Prime Minister replied:

“Until you get rid of the system by which the trades union barons fund other parties…we need to continue with the system by which public-spirited people give donations.”

Mr Speaker, I believe that the Prime Minister’s answer comes dangerously close to an admission of selling peerages, in direct contravention of the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925, and is worthy of further investigation. Will the Minister undertake that investigation or does he think it is sufficiently serious to involve the Metropolitan police?

Again, the answer is no. One of the most valued aspects of the House of Lords is the experience that Members bring to their work. The idea that successful businesspeople and philanthropists who contribute to political causes should be disqualified from sitting in the legislature is nonsense. There is no link between party donations and nominations to sit in the House of Lords. [Laughter.] The law has been followed at all times. The police have said that there is no evidence that the law has been broken.

I admire the Minister’s ability to say that with a straight face. It is disappointing but not surprising that he appears to believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with the system. Maybe he can take this opportunity to explain why, since 2010, no fewer than 22 of the Tories’ biggest backers, who have donated a total of £54 million to their coffers, have been elevated to the House of Lords. Will he explain why he believes that stuffing the House of Lords full of wealthy donors, cronies, political allies and those unwilling or unable to be elected somehow enhances and improves our democracy?

Again, successful businesspeople should not be disqualified from sitting in the legislature. The hon. Gentleman made a point about the number of people who have been appointed since 2010. I gently point out that there are just over 800 Members of the House of Lords and 408 of them were appointed by the Opposition when they were in power between 1997 and 2010.

It is good to have a bicameral Parliament, but is not the fundamental problem with the House of Lords simply that it is too large and not enough of them turn up? There are 800 peers compared with 650 MPs, and in the Divisions this month, the average turnout was 378, which is 47%. Will the Minister consider reducing the size of the House of Lords?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, but given retirements and other departures, some new Members are essential to keep the expertise and the outlook of the Lords fresh. We continue to support and encourage the policy of Members of the House of Lords retiring. The Government’s 2019 manifesto, of which he will be aware, committed to looking at the role of the Lords, but any reform needs to be considered carefully and not done on a piecemeal basis.