On 31 July 2020, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced the creation of 36 new life peers. The peerages were included in a dissolution honours list and a political peerages list.

The new peers included:

  • Kenneth Clarke and Philip Hammond, two former chancellors;
  • Ruth Davidson, former Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party;
  • Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Gisela Stuart, Ian Austin, and John Woodcock, five former Labour MPs who will sit as non-affiliated or Crossbench peers;
  • Ian Botham, former England cricketer;
  • Michael Spencer, Conservative Party donor;
  • Evgeny Lebedev, owner of the Evening Standard and the Independent;
  • Charles Moore, former editor of the Telegraph;
  • Claire Fox, former Brexit Party Member of the European Parliament;
  • Nemat Minouche Shafik, Director of the London School of Economics.

Key points

Eleven of the new peers are women (31%). Eighteen are former MPs (50%). In addition, Ruth Davidson is a current Member of the Scottish Parliament and will reportedly take her seat in the Lords when her term in Holyrood ends.

Table 1 shows a breakdown of the new peers by their party/group affiliation.

Table 1: Life peerages created by Boris Johnson, July 2020, by party/group

Conservative 19
Labour 5
Democratic Unionist Party 1
Crossbench 4
Non-affiliated/other 7

(Source: Prime Minister’s Office, ‘Queen confers Peerages: 31 July 2020’, 31 July 2020)

Impact on Lords party strengths

In terms of party balance in the House of Lords, the new peerages will consolidate the position of the Conservatives as the largest party group. As at 2 November 2020, 32 of the new peers had taken their seat. On that date, the total eligible membership was 798. The Conservatives had 256 members (32%). The second largest group were the Crossbenchers, with 182 members (23%). Labour had 178 members (22%).

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

In Boris Johnson’s first year as Prime Minister (from July 2019 and including the peerage announcements in July 2020) he created 61 life peers. Some of these consist 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 the appointment of Bishops or peerages created for those with 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 1: Life peerages created annually, by Prime Minister in power

Graph showing the number of peers created annually by each Prime Minister since 1997.

(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. Boris Johnson’s data covers period August 2019–July 2020)

In terms of gender balance, table 2 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 2: 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% 33%

(Source: House of Lords Library data)

England cricket captains

Press coverage has noted the inclusion of former cricketer Ian Botham, who sits as a Crossbencher. He is not the first former England cricket captain to be given a life peerage. Colin Cowdrey, men’s captain intermittently 1959–69, was created Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge in 1997 and sat as a Conservative. David Sheppard was men’s captain in 1954, created Lord Sheppard of Liverpool in 1998. He was a Labour peer. Rachael Heyhoe Flint was women’s captain 1966–78, created Baroness Heyhoe Flint in 2011. She sat as a Conservative.

Reaction to the new peerages

The Lords Speaker, Lord Fowler, said that the appointments were “a lost opportunity” to reduce the size of the House to its target of 600 members. In 2017, the House of Lords endorsed the recommendations of the Lords Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House, which had recommended a “two-out, one-in” system of departures to new appointments. Following the publication of the committee’s report, the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, said that she would “continue with the restraint which I have exercised to date” in making new appointments. The Lords Speaker said that the new appointments by Boris Johnson were “a massive policy u-turn”, representing the “abandonment of an established policy” to reduce the size of the House.

Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit at UCL, was an adviser to the Lords Speaker’s committee on the size of the House. Reacting to the announcement of the new peerages, she said that the committee had sought to find a “non-legislative solution” to the issue of the size of the House and the committee’s principles “should immediately be reiterated in the Lords, by key parliamentary committees, and by other party leaders”. If this was not achieved, she said the only way to control the size of the House would be to “legislate to remove the Prime Minister’s unfettered power” to create peerages.

The Government has said that it remains committed to reducing the size of the House to the 600 member target.

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Image by Roger Harris from House of Lords Flickr. Copyright House of Lords 2019.

This In Focus was updated on 3 November 2020.