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Parliament: Deferred Peerages

Volume 825: debated on Wednesday 16 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to recommend the conferring of deferred peerages on sitting Members of Parliament.

My Lords, it is a common-law principle that Members of the House of Lords cannot sit as MPs and, as such, would need to stand down from the House of Commons. The Government are aware that there is some precedent for individuals delaying taking up their seats, but this is limited and largely related to their personal circumstances.

Well, my Lords, we are all grateful for that Answer as far as it goes, but perhaps I might suggest to my noble friend that these rumours and stories in the press—which have the real sniff of authenticity—could, to mix my metaphors, be nipped in the bud. Does my noble friend agree that it would be very wrong for the Government to place the monarchy in an invidious position, and that it would be very wrong to create what would, in effect, be a precedent: to have a list consisting of a number of Members of the other place? Would my noble friend come forward later with a much more emphatic Answer that does indeed put an end to all the speculation?

I will start by saying that we do not comment on leaks and rumours—but I agree that it is a core constitutional principle that the monarch is never drawn into party politics. I think we all very much agree on that. As far as individual proposals and speculations are concerned, no list has been confirmed and I will not go any further in adding to the speculation.

My Lords, it is one thing, as the Minister says, when someone, for personal reasons, genuinely cannot take up a seat in the House of Lords that they have been awarded, but will she recognise that it is completely unacceptable, if the rumours are true, to create a situation where four Members of Parliament hang onto their seats in the other place but can jump into this House at a time of their choosing, or at a time that is more convenient for their political party? The Prime Minister could stop this in its tracks: will he?

I do not think I can add to what I have said already. It is very important not to believe what you read in the newspapers; sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong. A list has not been confirmed, and it is not appropriate or fair for the Government to speculate—or encourage speculation—on names that may or may not have been nominated or vetted. We need to be fair to those being considered.

My Lords, in the last manifesto that the Conservatives came up with, there was a commitment for a commission on the constitution to consider questions such as the future of the House of Lords and the next stage of reform. By the time of the coming election, there will be room for another 20 to 30 net Conservatives being nominated, so clearly the House would become unbalanced again.

I mean unbalanced in favour of the Conservatives, of course. What does the Minister think might be in the next Conservative manifesto about the next stage of necessary reform of the House of Lords?

I cannot even speculate on the next Conservative manifesto, but I can of course point out that, in spite of winning elections since 2010, the Conservative voice is still underrepresented in the Lords.

As of November 2022, the Conservative party still has only 34% of the seats and recent appointments have not moved the dial. Indeed, I should point out that, when lists are brought forward, potential Peers from other parties are also considered, as was the case when they were included on the recent list, and I am very happy to welcome some of these fresh faces to our Chamber to help with our debates.

My Lords, I have nothing whatever to do with whether there are too many of which party in the House. If the Minister cannot comment on the future, perhaps I can go back over the history of, say, the last 25 years. Has the time perhaps come when the exercise of the royal prerogative by the Prime Minister should be subject to some sort of legislation? If it is not subject to some sort of legislation, who on earth is ever going to control him or her?

The way this works is that the Prime Minister, of any colour, is democratically accountable and appointments to the House of Lords are a matter on which he or she advises His Majesty the King. In my view, and this is the Government’s view, appointments should not be decided by, for example, an unelected body.

My Lords, when Caligula appointed his horse as a consul, it was in order to discredit the institution. Is there not a danger that this is happening here?

My noble friend always comes to my rescue in the most extraordinary way. Of course, we are grateful for the views and exchanges being expressed today, but I come back to my first point: it is important not to speculate on what is put forward in newspapers and so on. I always remember when I was in the newspapers because I was going to be appointed director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, when I had not even put my name forward. There is a matter of fairness and appropriateness that we need to take into account—despite the fun we are obviously having in debating this today.

My Lords, this is a serious legislature; this is not a playground for former friends of former Prime Ministers to come here at a moment of their convenience. We have had the Burns report and know that we should be smaller to do our job properly. Will the Minister ask the Prime Minister to meet the Burns committee—I have not asked committee members whether they would be willing—to concentrate on the important thing, which is enabling us as a serious legislature to do our job properly, with fewer Members, rather than having people waiting to come in after the next election?

The Burns committee did of course report and the Prime Minister of the day, Theresa May, decided not to sign up to its recommendations—although, as has been said, there was a manifesto commitment to look at the role of the Lords, with any reform needing careful consideration and not being piecemeal. We obviously also have the very important House of Lords Appointments Commission. Upon taking office, it is the normal thing for the Prime Minister of the day to meet the chairman of HOLAC, as he or she values the advice of the commission, which obviously includes Members of this House.

My Lords, can the Minister explain this concept of “deferred peerages”, which is completely baffling to me? The position is surely that you become a life Peer only when Letters Patent are issued. If you are a sitting MP, Erskine May declares quite clearly that you have to give up and cease to be an MP from the moment that Letters Patent are issued. Is it simply the case that this furore is because a Prime Minister has said to various colleagues, “You’ll become a Peer at the next general election, whenever that might be”? If that is the case, surely there is no obligation whatever on any incoming Prime Minister to abide by a decision a previous Prime Minister has made?

It is for the Prime Minister of the day to advise the sovereign on proposals for peerages, as the noble Lord has said. If the House will bear with me, I could mention two obvious precedents if that would be helpful. One was my noble friend Lady Davidson of Lundin Links—

She was an MSP—but the point is that she was nominated in Boris Johnson’s Dissolution List of 31 July 2020 and her Letters Patent, to respond to the noble Lord, were issued on 16 July 2021. She was introduced to the House later that month.

The point I was making right at the beginning, which I will reiterate, is that the Government are aware that there are some precedents for individuals delaying taking up their seats. However, this is limited and related, as in this case, to particular circumstances.