This debate will be on the following motion, tabled by Lord Norton of Louth (Conservative):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to place the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a statutory basis.

What is the role of the House of Lords Appointments Commission?

Only the Prime Minister has the power to recommend to the Queen the creation of a peerage and their appointment to the House of Lords. However, the House of Lords Appointments Commission can advise and make recommendations to the Prime Minister concerning these appointments.

The commission has the following two functions:

  • To make recommendations for the appointment of non-party political members of the House of Lords.
  • To vet all nominations to the House of Lords on their propriety and advise the Prime Minister. This includes nominations put forward by the Prime Minister and the political parties.

The commission does not have a role concerning the total number of appointments or the overall size and composition of the House of Lords.

Who are the members of the commission?

The current chair is Lord Bew (Crossbench). Lord Bew became a member of the commission in 2007 and was appointed as chair in 2018. Previous chairs have been:

  • Lord Stevenson of Coddenham (Crossbench), from 2000 to 2008
  • Lord Jay of Ewelme (Crossbench), from 2008 to 2013
  • Lord Kakkar (Crossbench), from 2013 to 2018

There are six other members of the commission. Of these, three are reserved for political parties (Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat) and selected from members of the House of Lords. The remaining three members are non-party political.

One of the non-party political positions on the commission is currently vacant. This follows the resignation of Charles Moore in November 2019. Charles Moore joined the House of Lords as Lord Moore of Etchingham (Non-affiliated) in September 2020.

How was it created?

The commission was created in May 2000 by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Unlike bodies such as the National Audit Office and the Electoral Commission, it was not created through statute. It was established as an independent, advisory, non-departmental public body (NDPB). NDPBs operate at arm’s length from ministers. Those NDPBs with an advisory function, such as the commission, consist of external, non-civil service, experts who advise ministers on specific issues.

How many non-party political members have been recommended by the commission?

Since its creation, the commission has recommended a total of 74 individuals for appointment to the House of Lords. Most of these were during its first ten years. Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 59 members were recommended by the commission for appointment to the House of Lords as Crossbench peers. Since 2010, 15 members have been recommended and appointed.

In 2012, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, asked the commission to limit the number of recommendations it made to individuals to two per year. In 2018, the commission said that it would continue to limit the number of people it recommended for appointments. The commission said it had made this decision in the light of the first report by the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House. The report recommended several measures to reduce the overall size of the House of Lords to 600 members. This including through limiting the number of new members created.

Crossbench peers may also be nominated directly by the Prime Minister. These nominations are vetted by the commission in the same way as nominations made by the parties.

How does it vet appointments to the House of Lords?

The commission has published the following definition of what ‘propriety’ constitutes in the context of House of Lords appointments:

[…] propriety means:

i) the individual should be in good standing in the community in general and with the public regulatory authorities in particular; and

ii) the past conduct of the nominee would not reasonably be regarded as bringing the House of Lords into disrepute.

The commission states a check on a nominee’s propriety will include checking with relevant government departments and agencies and other organisations, including the Electoral Commission. It also conducts media searches. Once all the evidence has been considered, the commission will either advise the Prime Minister that it has no concerns about the appointment or will draw its concerns to the Prime Minister’s attention. It does not have the power to veto the appointment of members of the House of Lords.

Recent appointments to the House of Lords and the role of the commission

The powers of the Prime Minister to make appointments and the role of the commission have been debated in the context of recent appointments to the House of Lords.

In December 2020, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced 16 new political peerages, in addition to one ministerial appointment. This included the appointment of Peter Cruddas, a businessperson, philanthropist, and Conservative Party donor and former co-treasurer. Prior to his appointment, the commission advised the Prime Minister it could not support the appointment of Mr Cruddas. However, the Prime Minister decided the appointment should go ahead. In his letter to Lord Bew, Mr Johnson said Mr Cruddas had made “outstanding contributions” to the business and charitable sectors. Lord Cruddas joined the House of Lords on 27 January 2021.

In a subsequent letter to the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Lord Bew said the commission had been unable to support individuals nominated by the parties on previous occasions. However, he said this was the first time that the commission’s advice had not been followed.

The former Lord Speaker, Baroness Hayman (Crossbench), has argued the role of the commission should be reformed and put on a statutory basis. She has also argued the commission does not have adequate powers to assess the suitability and capacity of nominees to participate in the work of the House. In June 2021, during an oral question on House of Lords Reform, she asked the Government to accept the case for creating a statutory appointments commission. In response, Lord True, minister of state at the Cabinet Office, said the Government gave the advice of the commission “careful and full weight”. However, he said that responsibility for making appointments to the House of Lords should remain with the Prime Minister with the commission acting in an advisory capacity.

The Government has also been criticised for the number of new appointments made to the House of Lords. In 2020, the Prime Minister announced a total of 58 new life peers. This was the largest number of new life peers announced in one calendar year since 2010. In September 2020, during an oral question on the size of the House of Lords, Baroness Deech (Crossbench) argued the commission needed new powers to vet the suitability of peers and to cap the number of new appointments. Lord True responded by saying members of the House of Lords were unelected and their appointment was for life. He argued this meant the Prime Minister needed to retain existing powers to create new members in order to refresh the membership of the House of Lords.

Writing subsequently in June 2021, Lord Burns, the chair of the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House, also raised concerns about the number of ‘non-affiliated’ peers appointed to the House of Lords on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. He argued this had limited the capacity of the commission to recommend the appointment of new Crossbench members. Since becoming Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has appointed nine ‘non-affiliated’ members to the House of Lords. Two of these appointments were announced in Theresa May’s resignation honours list. These are the first such appointments, based on records dating back to 1958. This excludes appointments from the smaller parties such as the Green Party and the Democratic Unionist Party.

House of Lords (Peerage Nominations) Bill [HL]

During the 2021–22 session, Lord Norton of Louth introduced a private member’s bill entitled the House of Lords (Peerage Nominations) Bill [HL]. This bill would establish a statutory appointments commission. This statutory commission would consider both the size and composition of the House of Lords when making recommendations to the Prime Minister concerning appointments. The bill would also establish new criteria that someone should meet before receiving a nomination. This would include “conspicuous merit” and a willingness and capacity to contribute to the work of the House of Lords. The bill received first reading in the House of Lords on 14 July 2021. A date for second reading has yet to be announced.

Earlier proposals to create a statutory Appointments Commission

The establishment of a commission was proposed in 1998 by the then government. In January 2000, the Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords recommended that the proposed commission should be created by statute. The Royal Commission argued establishing a commission on a non-statutory basis would mean that its role could be altered, or it could be abolished, without reference to Parliament. It also argued this would not afford the commission the proper level of political independence. In 2001, the then government proposed that a new statutory appointments commission should be established. However, these proposals were not implemented.

The role and powers of the commission were also considered as part of the Coalition Government’s proposals for reform of the House of Lords. In 2012, the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill agreed with proposals from the then government that the commission should be placed on a statutory basis. However, the subsequent House of Lords Reform Bill was not passed, and these proposals were never implemented.

There have also been several previous attempts by members of the House of Lords to introduce private member’s bills establishing a statutory appointments commission. These include:

  • In 2000, Lord Kingsland (Conservative) introduced the Life Peerages (Appointments Commission) Bill [HL]. The bill would have placed the function of the commission in statute, including the vetting of nominees for propriety. It was debated at second reading on 14 April 2000. It passed third reading in the House of Lords on 7 July 2000, but did not complete any stages in the House of Commons.
  • In 2010, Lord Steel of Aikwood (Liberal Democrat) introduced the House of Lords (Amendment) Bill, which included a provision that all recommendations for life peerages should be made by a statutory appointments commission. The bill completed all of its stages in the House of Lords but did not complete its stages in the House of Commons. A similar private member’s bill, the House of Lords Reform (No 2) Bill, was introduced during the 2013–14 session. This received royal assent on 14 May 2014, becoming the House of Lords Reform Act. However, this act did not include the provisions concerning placing the commission on a statutory basis.

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Cover image: Copyright House of Lords 2016 / Photography by Roger Harris.