The data in this article is sourced from Parliament’s ‘Members’ names data platform’ and House of Lords Library records.

1. Summary of House of Lords membership

The total membership of the House of Lords was 827 as at 19 July 2023, of whom 784 were eligible to attend proceedings. Members ineligible to attend include those on leave of absence, disqualified from sitting or suspended from the service of the House. Of the 827 total members, 237 were women (29%).

Most of the 784 eligible members were life peers appointed under the Life Peerages Act 1958 (666). There were also four judicial life peers, bringing the total number of life peers to 670. The remaining members included 25 bishops and 89 ‘excepted hereditary’ members; both these categories have a reserved number of places.

Of the eligible membership, the average (mean) age was 71. The oldest member was Lord Christopher (Labour) at 98 and the youngest member was Baroness Owen of Alderley Edge (Conservative) who was 30.

Figure 1 shows the composition of the 784 eligible members by party or group. Conservatives were the largest group, followed by Crossbenchers and then Labour members. The category ‘Other’ includes those affiliated to smaller parties, non-affiliated to a political party, and the Lord Speaker.

Figure 1: Eligible membership of the House of Lords by party/group, July 2023

The figure shows eligible membership of the House of Lords by party/group, July 2023

2. Changes in composition over time

Figure 2 shows the total membership and the eligible membership of the House of Lords at the end of each parliamentary session between 1992–93 and 2021–22. It also shows the average daily attendance in each session.

Figure 2: Size of the House of Lords and average daily attendance, 1992–2022

The graph shows the size of the House of Lords and average daily attendance, 1992–2022

The data shows a significant decline in the total membership following the removal of most of the hereditary peers by the House of Lords Act 1999. Since then, the membership has gradually increased, from around 700 members in 2000 to approximately 800 in 2022. Since 2010, following the formation of the coalition government, average daily attendance increased from approximately 400 to 500. Attendance remained broadly at that level until the 2019–21 session, when coronavirus restrictions placed limits on the number of members who could attend the House in person.

Figure 3 shows the proportion of the different parties/groups in the House of Lords at the end of each parliamentary session between 1984–85 and 2021–22.

Figure 3: Party/group composition as percentage of eligible membership, 1984–2022

The graph shows party/group composition as percentage of eligible membership, 1984–2022

The Conservatives and the Crossbenchers were the predominant groups in the House in the 1980s and 1990s. The proportion of Conservative and Crossbench-affiliated members reduced significantly when most hereditary peers were removed by the House of Lords Act 1999. Labour increased its membership in the late 1990s and the 2000s and overtook the Conservatives as the largest group in the 2005–06 session. However, the proportion of Labour peers peaked at the end of the 2010–12 session. Since then, Labour’s membership has reduced, and the Conservatives and Crossbench groups have regained their position as the largest groupings.

3. Members joining and leaving the House

Most members join the House as life peers. Life peerages are created by the sovereign on the advice of the prime minister. The House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) can advise and make recommendations to the prime minister concerning appointments to the House of Lords. However, the prime minister makes the final decision on whether to recommend that someone be given a life peerage enabling them to sit in the Lords.

A maximum of 90 (plus two places held for the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain) ‘excepted hereditary’ peers are also members of the House. When one of the 90 hereditary peers leaves the House, they are replaced in a by-election of other hereditary peers.

There are also 26 places reserved for the ‘Lords Spiritual’. The Archbishops of Canterbury, York, London, Durham and Winchester automatically become members of the Lords, adding to 21 other places for Church of England bishops. Bishops automatically retire at age 70 and are then replaced in the House by another.

Peers have been able to retire from the House of Lords since 2014, and can also lose their seat due to not attending during the previous parliamentary session (subject to certain exceptions). Previously, members only left the House through death. Members may also be expelled from the House.

Figure 4 shows the number of members, excluding bishops, who joined or left the House in each calendar year since 2014.

Figure 4: Number of members joining and leaving the House of Lords, 2014–23*

The graph shows the number of members joining and leaving the House of Lords, 2014–23

(*Data for 2023 is accurate up to 19 July 2023; however, leavers data for 2023 includes four peers who are due to retire from the House by 27 July 2023.)

The data shows that in 2014 (the retirement provisions were introduced late in that year) and in 2015 (when there was a general election) the number of joiners was greater than the number of those leaving the House. Between 2016 and 2019 leavers outnumbered joiners. In 2020, 2021 and 2022 (during the premiership of former prime minister Boris Johnson) the numbers joining outnumbered those leaving.

3.1 Composition of retirements

The table and graph below show a breakdown of the party/group affiliation of those retiring (excluding bishops) for each calendar year since 2014. Note: data for 2023 includes four peers who are due to retire from the House by 27 July 2023.

Table 1: Retirements from the House of Lords by party/group, 2014–23
Year Conservative Labour Liberal Democrat Crossbench Other Total
2014 0 1 0 3 0 4
2015 13 6 5 8 1 33
2016 6 1 4 7 0 18
2017 8 3 1 7 2 21
2018 3 3 1 5 1 13
2019 5 2 1 6 0 14
2020 6 4 2 9 3 24
2021 5 6 1 3 1 16
2022 12 2 0 3 2 19
2023 2 2 1 3 0 8
Total 60 30 16 54 10 170

Figure 5: Retirements from the House of Lords by party/group, 2014–23

The graph shows retirements from the House of Lords by party/group, 2014–23

4. Concerns over the size of the House

In recent years many members and external commentators have raised concerns about the increasing size of the House of Lords and the way in which members are appointed.

In 2016, the then Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, established a committee to look at the issue. The Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House, chaired by Lord Burns (Crossbench), published a report in October 2017 which made recommendations for how the size of the House could be reduced to a membership of 600 and maintained at that level. For example, it proposed a temporary “two-out, one-in” system of departures and appointments. The committee did not propose any legislation to implement the changes, but it called on the House and the government to work together to achieve the reduction in membership. The report was supported by most speakers in a House of Lords debate in December 2017. The committee has since published four follow-up reports, the most recent of which was published in July 2023 (see below).

Further background on concerns about the size of the House of Lords can be found in section 3 of the Lords Library briefing, ‘Size of the House of Lords: November 2020 update’ (December 2020).

4.1 Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House fifth report, July 2023

On 17 July 2023, the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House published its fifth report on the issue. Summarising developments since its first report, the committee said that former prime minister Theresa May had “responded positively” to their recommendations. However, the committee stated that Boris Johnson “showed no interest in the issue of the size of the House”. It said that although departures from the House during Mr Johnson’s premiership had been “broadly in line” with the committee’s benchmarks, his new appointments “far exceeded” departures and “they were granted predominantly to members of his own party”.

The committee noted that there had been “considerable controversy” over Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list in June 2023. The committee also noted that in June 2023 the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee had launched an inquiry on the size and membership of the House of Lords, with a remit to consider the size of the House, the appointments process and the role of HOLAC. Against that backdrop, and its “awareness that the parties will be in the process of drafting their manifestos” for the next general election, the committee said it was an “opportune moment” to publish a further report.

The committee accepted that the proposals in its first report—for a “two-out, one-in” system to reduce the size of the House to 600—had been “too slow and vulnerable to political events”. The report stated there was “little point in going through a difficult period of reducing the size of the House if the progress is likely to be undone by excessive new appointments subsequently”.

The committee concluded that it would be more effective to “secure a limit on the size of the House and a fair way of allocating appointments before endeavouring to reduce the size of the House or introduce term limits for appointments”. The committee also reiterated the recommendation from its fourth report that by-elections for hereditary peers should be abolished. The committee noted that nearly all hereditary peers and all hereditary peers who are members of the House are men. It said that this “skews the gender balance” of the House and the party balance, as most hereditary peers were either Conservatives or Crossbenchers. The committee said the imbalance was “impossible to justify in a modern legislature”.

To deliver a sustainable reduction in the size of the House, the committee recommended:

  • A cap on the size of the House. The committee said that a cap would “encourage party leaders to give more thought to their nominations”. It would also “prevent ‘leap-frogging’ when governments change”—the process whereby new governments have an incentive to appoint more members from their own party. The committee said the cap “does not necessarily have to be 600”, but the key was to “secure agreement” and ensure that it is enforceable.
  • Fixed term limits. The committee said this would allow “refreshment and rebalancing” of the House. It did not propose a specific term limit. However, it gave the example that in a House of 600 members, 15-year terms would ensure “around 40 leavers a year”, which would “provide room” for new appointments.
  • A fair allocation of new party appointments. The committee said this was necessary to prevent new governments appointing large numbers of new peers to get its legislation through the House. The committee stated that “clearly the government should have the largest share”, but it should not be “so skewed” that the “following government has to respond in kind”. It proposed that new appointments should be allocated based on an average of each party’s share of “(a) Commons seats and (b) the national vote at the most recent general election”.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (Green Party) asked an oral question about the committee’s report in the House of Lords on 19 July 2023. Baroness Jones asked the government what assessment it had made of the report’s conclusion that recent developments “have brought the appointments system into question”. In response, the Leader of the House of Lords Lord True stated that the government would “note” the report, but it was the government’s view that the life peerage system “works well”.

Baroness Jones responded by stating that recent prime ministers had appointed people to the Lords “who have no intention of contributing to our work and probably do not have the skills to do so anyway”. She claimed that the appointments system was “archaic and corrupt”. Lord True said that the Green Party’s policy of replacing the Lords with an elected chamber would “simply replace an accountable appointments system, where prime ministers are openly responsible for who they appoint, with an unaccountable appointments system of lists drawn up by secretive party secretariats”.

Lord Grocott (Labour), who has previously introduced private members’ bills seeking to abolish the by-elections for hereditary peers in the House of Lords, asked the government if it would accept the committee’s recommendation to abolish the by-elections. Lord True said the “government have other legislative priorities”.

Baroness Smith of Basildon, Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, stated that the public had confidence in the work and scrutiny that the House performed, but it was the size of the House and the appointments system that “bring [it] into criticism”. Baroness Smith noted that the committee’s report recommended a range of actions that could be taken with sufficient cross-party agreement. She said “I am ready; are the government?”. Lord True agreed on the important work the House carries out and the breadth of expertise of its members. As for cross-party discussions, he said that he was more concerned about “the role of the House, the way it conducts itself and […] the agreements across the House within the usual channels”. He claimed that the House should focus on the way it functions and it “should worry a little less about the nominal size of the House”.

4.2 Other recent developments

In December 2022 the Labour Party published the report of the Commission on the UK’s Future, chaired by former prime minister Gordon Brown. Among other measures, it proposed:

[…] abolishing the current undemocratic House of Lords […] and replacing it with a democratic chamber that is […] more representative of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.

The report proposed that the new second chamber would “complement the House of Commons with a new role of safeguarding the UK constitution”, but that any new bicameral arrangement would maintain the current primacy of the House of Commons. It said the new chamber “must have electoral legitimacy” and be “markedly smaller than the present Lords”. It said the precise composition and method of election would be “matters for consultation”.

In June 2023, it was reported that the Labour Party was planning to “appoint dozens of peers” to the House if it won the next general election. However, the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, subsequently denied the reports. He told a conference organised by the New Statesman that he “had not promised anyone a peerage, […] this story has come out of nowhere”.

On 19 July 2023, the University College London Constitution Unit and the Institute for Government published a joint report on constitutional reform entitled ‘Rebuilding and renewing the constitution: Options for reform’. It made a range of recommendations for strengthening the UK’s democratic and constitutional institutions, which it divided into three categories. These were “quick wins”, “moderate changes” and “larger, more controversial reforms”. On House of Lords reform, it recommended:

    • Quick wins:
      • The prime minister should commit to “always respect” the recommendations of HOLAC, and give it powers to “manage down” the size of the House and to ensure that “new seats are shared fairly between the parties”.
    • Moderate changes:
      • HOLAC should be put on a statutory footing.
      • New legislation could remove the remaining hereditary peers, either by ending by-elections or through abolishing the remaining seats reserved for hereditary peers altogether.
      • There should be “faster progress” on reducing the size of the House through an “organised cross-party system of retirements” which could either be agreed by the parties or legislated for.
    • More controversial reforms:
      • The report referred to the Labour Party’s proposals to replace the Lords with an elected assembly of the nations and regions. The report said the proposals “do not amount to a detailed blueprint”, and past experience indicated that wholesale House of Lords reform was “extremely politically difficult”. The report stated that Labour’s proposals “require more consultation and negotiation” before being implemented.

5. Read more

Cover image by Roger Harris / Copyright House of Lords 2019.