This afternoon Downing Street announced the appointment of 55 new Peers, which when added to the three new Peers appointed by David Cameron as Government Ministers, makes a total of 58. When they all take their seats (plus the two newly “elected” hereditary Peers), there will be 767 members of the House of Lords.
The announcement today is in fact an amalgam of three lists:
- a list of “working” Peers, nominated by the political parties, that has been working its way through the system for some time. This comprises sixteen Labour; ten Conservatives (including one of the new Ministers); and six Liberal Democrats. This list was completed well before the General Election and should have emerged months ago.
- a list of ex-MPs who were not standing in the General Election – the “dissolution” list, which traditionally appoints former senior Ministers and leading Parliamentarians to the Lords. This comprises thirteen Labour; six Conservatives; three Liberal Democrats (one of whom – Richard Allan – retired five years ago and now works for Facebook); and one Democratic Unionist (Ian Paisley).
- one individual appointed as a Cross-bencher in recognition of having held a significant post in public life (Ian Blair).
I am told that the out-going Prime Minister had been sitting on the list of “working” peers for some time, along with the nomination of Sir Ian Blair, who was sacked by Mayor Boris Johnson/resigned the Metropolitan Police Commissionership to pursue other opportunities in October 2009.
Still to come is the normal “resignation” list of nominees by the outgoing Prime Minister (Tony Blair’s list is also still outstanding) and a list of peerages for any senior ex-Ministers or Parliamentarians defeated in the General Election.
This, of course, also excludes the “gerrymander” list of 100-200 new Peers that the Coalition has promised itself to avoid any risk of being voted down in the House of Lords.
Despite the extra Peers announced today, the Coalition’s case for bolstering its position remains extremely weak.
When the new Peers are in place the make-up of the House will be:
- 204 Conservatives
- 239 Labour
- 80 Liberal Democrat
- 218 Cross-bench and others
- 26 Archbishops and Bishops.
The coalition will have 284 members of the House out of a total of 767. This is 37% of the House and is in practice a working majority as the Crossbenchers and the Bishops do not vote in a bloc (usually splitting on either side of the argument) and in practice they do not attend and vote as frequently as the Party representatives.
The outgoing Labour Government never had more than 30% of the membership of the House and was virtually always defeated if the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted together.
And the accepted principle had been that the Government of the day should not have a working majority in the House of Lords.
There is, of course, another reason why there should be no more Peers appointed for a while after the announcement today. The House is now bursting at the seams. In the Chamber it is frequently now standing room only and the Liberal Democrats have encroached onto the Bishops’ benches (encircling any Bishop present). A note has gone round to many Peers telling them that they can’t have both a desk and a locker. And it won’t be long before Peers have to share coathooks.
A constitutional outrage by trying to gerrymander the second Chamber is one thing; sharing coathooks is quite a different kettle of fish.