Boris Johnson’s push for more Tory peers in House of Lords will ‘trash constitutional norms’

Boris Johnson is attempting to swell the ranks of peers in the House of Lords when he leaves Downing Street - Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street
Boris Johnson is attempting to swell the ranks of peers in the House of Lords when he leaves Downing Street - Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street

Boris Johnson was accused of trying to “trash constitutional norms” over reports he is considering appointing dozens of Tories to the House of Lords when he leaves Number 10.

The Prime Minister is said to want to swell the size of the Upper House yet further as part of a controversial political honours list to be published in September.

But Baroness Hayman, the former Lords Speaker, said the plan could lead to “all sorts of grave consequences”, while her successor Lord Fowler said it was “potentially disastrous” and could help “bring the whole system into some kind of contempt”.

On Saturday, both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss were urged by the current Lord Speaker not to take the same approach as Mr Johnson to appointing members of the House of Lords.

Lord McFall of Alcluith warned in a letter that any attempt to swell the ranks of peers “undermines public confidence in our parliamentary system”.

Baroness Hayman told the BBC’s World This Weekend: “The proposal is part of a trend to trash constitutional norms. So, in that sense, I think it’s a very bad idea.

“It has all sorts of grave consequences. And I’ve actually been surprised at how much anger there is across the House, basically, to put a large number of predominantly Tory peers into the House now.

“The House of Lords has provided difficulties for the Government. No Government likes that. Most prime ministers understand that it’s actually good for democracy for that to happen.

“I’m not sure Boris Johnson understands that having a challenging House of Lords actually improves Government policy and improves legislation.”

Baroness Hayman speaks during the debate on the Assisted Dying Bill in the House of Lords last year - ROGER HARRIS
Baroness Hayman speaks during the debate on the Assisted Dying Bill in the House of Lords last year - ROGER HARRIS

Asked onTimes Radio about the plan to create a large number of peers, Lord Fowler said it was “potentially disastrous”.

“The aim of those of us in the House of Lords, by which I exclude the Government, is to reduce the numbers in the House of Lords,” he said.

“And what are we getting from Boris, in his last hurrah is to increase.

“I think we’ve got to this stage when we are having to ask whether the appointment system in the House of Lords is fit for purpose.”

He added: “It just, I think, brings the whole system into some kind of contempt. People don’t like seeing this, because what is happening is that you’re getting peers who are being appointed.

“Peers are being appointed, because they’ve made contributions, financial contributions to the party, and all kinds of other reasons.

“It’s really no way to run the House of Lords. And most of all, it brings the House of Lords into some contempt.

“I think at the moment, the chances are that it hasn’t got the respect of the public and we should be as the country rather concerned about that.”

Lord McFall, who in the letter praises the “exercise of restraint” shown by Theresa May, the former prime minister, in her approach to Lords appointments, is critical of Mr Johnson for not following suit.

‘Quality, not quantity’

He continues: “The current Prime Minister has taken a different approach to his predecessor, choosing not to exercise that same restraint, and making a significant number of appointments during his tenure - 86 in total, so far, which is far more than the committee recommended.

“As a result, despite the high number of retirements, there has been little progress in reducing the size of the House, which currently has over 800 members.”

Asking the pair to address the size of the Lords when one of them takes office, he tells them: “I am sure you agree that public trust in politics and in our Parliament and constitution is crucial going forward.”

Lord Norton of Louth, one of the foremost experts on Parliament and the British constitution, told the BBC that the creation of new peers should be about “quality, not quantity”.

He has a Private Member’s Bill that would grant statutory powers to the House of Lords Appointments Commission, preventing future prime ministers from appointing new peers before the commission advises on their suitability.