On 22 December 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced 16 new political peerages. Separately, David Wolfson QC was appointed a peer and a minister in the Ministry of Justice on the same day.

The 16 political peerages included:

  • Peter Cruddas, businessperson, philanthropist, and Conservative Party donor and former co-treasurer;
  • Daniel Hannan and Syed Kamall, former Conservative members of the European Parliament;
  • Gillian Merron, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, nominated by Labour Leader, Sir Keir Starmer;
  • Sir Andrew Parker, former Director General of the Security Service, who will sit as a Crossbencher; and
  • Rt Revd John Sentamu, former Archbishop of York, who will sit as a Crossbencher.

In giving a peerage to Peter Cruddas the prime minister overruled the recommendation of the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC), which vets all party political and crossbench nominations. The commission advised the prime minister that it “could not support” the nomination of Peter Cruddas. The prime minister decided that “exceptionally, the nomination should proceed”. In a letter explaining this, Boris Johnson said Mr Cruddas had made “outstanding contributions” to the business and charitable sectors.

Boris Johnson has been criticised by the Lords Speaker, Lord Fowler, for the number of new peers he has created. Since taking office in July 2019, Boris Johnson has appointed a total of 79 new peers. This is almost double the 43 new peers created by Theresa May in the three years that she was prime minister.

Key points

Of the 17 new peers announced in December 2020, eight are Conservatives, five are Labour, and four are Crossbenchers. Five are women (29%) and four are former MPs (24%).

Of the 79 new peers Boris Johnson has appointed since becoming prime minister, 25 (32%) are women and 30 (38%) are former MPs. The graph below shows the party and group affiliation of the 79 peers.

Graph 1: Life peerages created by Boris Johnson by party/group

Graph showing party breakdown of peers appointed by Boris Johnson: Conservative 41; Labour 13; Crossbench 14; Other 11

(Source: House of Lords Library data)

How do Boris Johnson’s peerages compare to those created by previous prime ministers?

Some of the 79 peers appointed by Boris Johnson consisted of Theresa May’s resignation honours. The graph below shows the number of life peers created annually by each prime minister since Tony Blair. The figures do not include Bishops or peerages created for those holding senior positions in the judiciary. The figures include any nominations carried over from previous prime ministers (such as resignation honours).

Both Tony Blair and David Cameron exceeded the number of peers created by Boris Johnson in their first year in office. Both Gordon Brown and Theresa May created significantly fewer peers in every year of their terms of office.

Graph 2: Life peerages created annually, by Prime Minister in power

(Source: House of Lords Library data. Figures cover the period May–April. NB: 2018/19 data for Theresa May covers period May 2018–July 2019. 2019/20 data for Boris Johnson covers period August 2019–July 2020. 2020/21 data is provisional, covering only August 2020–December 2020)

In terms of gender balance, table 1 shows the proportion of life peers created by each prime minister which were women. The definition of which peerage creations are included is the same as for the graph above. The trend shows an increasing proportion of female appointments from Tony Blair to Theresa May, followed by a decrease in the proportion from Boris Johnson. Of the current eligible membership of the House of Lords, approximately 28% are women.

Table 1: Percentage of life peers created which were women, by Prime Minister in power

Tony Blair Gordon Brown David Cameron Theresa May Boris Johnson
% women life peers appointed 23% 29% 34% 40% 32%

(Source: House of Lords Library data)

Reaction to the new peerages

On 22 December 2020, the Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, criticised the number of new peers created by the prime minister. Referring to the prime minister’s decision to override the advice not to appoint Peter Cruddas, Lord Fowler said it may “now be the time to review the role and the powers of the House of Lords Appointments Commission”. In a subsequent article in the Guardian, Lord Fowler called for an inquiry into the appointments system.

The new peerages, and specifically the powers of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, were the subject of a private notice question in the House of Lords on 5 January 2021. Baroness Hayman (Crossbench) asked the Government whether the remit and independence of HOLAC—which is currently an advisory body—should be put onto a statutory footing. Lord True, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, said that the Government had no plans to change the role and remit of HOLAC. He said the Lords “needs refreshing” and the prime minister “is entitled to do that”.

Several members of the Lords were critical of Lord True’s response. He was asked whether the Government was still committed to reducing the size of the House in line with the recommendations of the Lords Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House in 2017. The committee had recommended capping the number of members at 600 and a “two-out, one-in” system of departures to new appointments until that limit had been reached. In response, Lord True said that “this prime minister, nor the previous one, assented to any limit on numbers” in the House of Lords.

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Image: Copyright House of Lords 2019 / Photography by Roger Harris