Lord Speaker warns that PM can pack second chamber with unlimited number of unelected peers, ahead of mooted ‘donor list’

Posted on the 1st September 2020

The Speaker of the House of Lords, Norman Fowler, has warned that there is no cap on the number of peers the Prime Minister can pack into the chamber – raising fresh fears the Lords will spiral even further out of control.

Speaking to Times Radio this morning (10:35am) following Boris Johnson’s appointments of 36 additional Lords, Lord Fowler said (full quotes in notes): “The thing that strikes me most of all is there is no maximum to the no of peers that can be appointed…nothing that stands in his [the PM’s] way…I don’t know of any Senate in the democratic world where it is open-ended at the top. The total can go on forever…it is wrong, it costs more [and] I cannot see the point of it.” He added that he had not been consulted about the recent appointments, taking the Lords’ size to well over 800 members.

Democracy campaigners said the latest appointments make a mockery of Lords plans to reduce the size of the chamber (via the Burns Committee proposals [1]). The Electoral Reform Society has long warned the proposals can always be over-ridden by a PM keen to pack the house with ‘donors and cronies’.

The warning comes ahead of a possible extra round of appointments by the PM, in a so-called ‘donor list’ [2]. The Electoral Reform Society says the plans are an outrage which must be stopped, and is urging parties to get round the table to ‘finally overhaul this warped private member’s club’.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“This is a remarkably candid admission from the Lord Speaker: the PM did not even bother to consult the Lords when deciding to pack the chamber with 36 new peers. There is absolutely no requirement for him to do so, under the absolutely discredited House of Lords set-up. This is a play-thing for Prime Ministers, with not even a fig-leaf of legitimacy for the second chamber.

“The Lord Speaker is right when he notes there is no limit on the number of Lords the PM can stuff into our legislature. It is an undemocratic disaster and a recipe for unabetted cronyism.

“There is no second chamber in the world that operates entirely on the whim of the PM, with no upper limit on size. It is a constitutional calamity and a dangerous affront to voters the longer this goes unreformed.

“Rather than scrabbling for tweaks that maintain the status quo, parties and peers need to come together now to put forward concrete changes – to finally overhaul this private members’ club. Without real reform, this situation is only going to spiral out of control: with an ever-growing house of cronies that fails to work for the public.”


Image credit: House of Lords 2016 / Annabel Moeller

Notes to Editors

[1] More info on the Burns Committee’s report here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/parliamentary-briefings/locked-out-of-the-lords-the-state-of-the-second-chamber/

Recent briefing on the 36 new peers: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/parliamentary-briefings/lords-appointments-briefing-august-2020/

[2] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/lords-donors-list-second-wave-of-appointments-must-be-stopped-campaigners-say/

Quotes from Lord Speaker Norman Fowler on Times Radio this morning (10:35-10:50):

On the new appointments: “A House of 830 is too large… the PM has appointed 36 new peers and that is totally contrary to what [former PM] Mrs May was saying only a few months ago, when she said she’d pursue a course of moderation.”

On whether he was consulted by the PM: “I haven’t had that conversation with the PM, and the PM hasn’t had that conversation with me or [Lord] Terry Burns either, which I think is probably more to the point. One doesn’t expect the organisation of the House of Lords to take precedence [but] I think it would have been nice to have been consulted. He and his advisers have got a different agenda of some kind…the time has come that we should look at all this again.

“The thing that strikes me most of all is there is no maximum to the no of peers that can be appointed…nothing that stands in his [the PM’s] way…I don’t know of any Senate in the democratic world where it is open-ended at the top. The total can go on forever…it is wrong, it costs more [and] I cannot see the point of it.

“What is one achieving? The only thing one is achieving…is that you are rewarding supporters…we can’t go on forever doing that…the whole purpose of the House of Lords is that it is a body of experience…I think it should be for some quality that has been exhibited…I’m not sure if we go on this way we’re going to have that kind of criteria.

“It does at times bring the House into disrepute. It is not the members of the House of Lords who are pressing for this sort of thing to happen but governments…It is governments that make the decisions on the House of Lords and who can come in…Prime Ministers in particular.”

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