18 Jan 2013

Cameron promises to cram yet more peers into the Lords

David Cameron will shortly announce yet another list of new appointments to the House of Lords.  That was confirmed in his interview with Paul Waugh for the House magazine yesterday.

“I will be making some further recommendations,” he said.

“I think it’s important to keep refreshing the talent in the House of Lords and obviously it’s important that we do so in line with what we said in the coalition agreement.”

When Waugh pressed him on whether that meant the new list would be announced this year, or even this summer, Cameron said it would be “sooner” than that.

This is what the coalition agreement says about making new peerages: “Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”

The trouble is that that pledge implies a substantially bigger chamber, and indeed the House of Lords has already grown significantly since David Cameron became prime minister.

(Cameron has appointed 125 peers so far – a rate of almost 50 a year, faster than any prime minister in history.)

To ensure that the distribution of seats between the three main parties in 2010 was perfectly reflected in numbers of peers for each party would require 67 new Conservative peers, and 88 Liberal Democrats – 155 in all.

That would give the Tories 297, Labour their current 224, and the Liberal Democrats 178.

That would mean a Lords with 915 working members, a huge number which would probably make the chamber unworkable.  (The current number of peers qualified to sit is 760, with 50 further peers either on leave-of-absence or temporarily disqualified through being judges or peers).

But this assumes that Labour doesn’t get any new peerages at all in Cameron’s forthcoming list, which seems very unlikely.  If there are some new Labour names, that further boosts the number of extra Conservatives and Lib Dems which would be needed to reflect the 2010 result.  Very roughly, for every five new Labour peers, there would have to be another six Conservatives and four Liberal Democrats.

And this also assumes the coalition agreement pledge applies only to the three major parties (which, you’ll see sbove, it doesn’t actually say).  What about us? the smaller parties could quite reasonably ask.

Currently smaller parties are very poorly represented in the Lords, as follows:

Democratic Unionists  4

Ulster Unionists             3

Ukip                                     3

Plaid Cymru                     2

The Greens, the BNP, and the SDLP have no peers at all, despite each getting above the 100,000 vote mark in 2010.  The SDLP also got three MPs, and the Greens one.  The Scottish Nationalists decline to serve in the Lords, as of course do Sinn Fein.

If all of these smaller parties (except the SNP and Sinn Fein) were to be given new peerages to reflect their “share of the vote … in the last general election”, then it would mean a lot more appointments.  I calculate that these should be:

Ukip                           21 (on top of their current three)

BNP                            15

Green                         7

DUP                              1 (on top of their current four)

Plaid Cymru             3 (on top of their current two)

SDLP                            3

Ulster Unionists      (entitled to two, but already have three)

English Democrats  2

That would entail another 52 peers.

So if the coalition is really to fulfill its 2010 pledge, David Cameron will need to appoint 206 more peers overall, and the House of Lords would burst, with a total of 966 members.

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