Life peerages created under the Life Peerages Act 1958 are conferred by the sovereign on the advice of the prime minister in their capacity as the monarch’s most senior adviser. 

HOLAC, established as an independent, advisory, non-departmental public body in May 2000, vets nominees for new life peerages for propriety. It interprets propriety in this context to mean: 

  • An individual should be in good standing in the community in general and with the public regulatory authorities in particular.
  • The past conduct of a nominee would not reasonably be regarded as bringing the House of Lords into disrepute.

However, prime ministers may disregard commission advice that a nominee does not meet these criteria if they choose to do so. 

The commission’s other main function is to recommend individuals to the prime minister for appointment as non-party political (crossbench) life peers. To date, the commission’s recommendations have led to 74 crossbench appointments

Unlike bodies such as the National Audit Office, the Electoral Commission and the Judicial Appointments Commission, HOLAC’s mandate and functions are not currently set out in legislation. 

The bill would put HOLAC on a statutory basis, in line with the earlier recommendations from groups including the Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords and the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill. It would also strengthen HOLAC’s role by requiring the prime minister to wait until the commission had advised on whether a nominated individual met specified criteria before recommending them for a life peerage. The principal criteria would be “conspicuous merit” and a “willingness and capacity to contribute to the work of the House of Lords”. 

The prime minister would also be required to have regard to three principles when determining whether to recommend individuals for new life peerages. These would be that at least 20% of the membership of the House of Lords must comprise members who are independent of a registered political party; that no one party may have an absolute majority of members; and that the membership of the House of Lords must be no larger than that of the House of Commons. 

Other provisions in the bill would set rules regarding the commission’s membership and require transparency from party leaders in how names of nominees are selected.

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