Could the courts shine a light on the revolving door to the House of Lords?

Jon Narcross, former Communications Officer

Posted on the 18th June 2021

We’ve long called for an end to the political nepotism that distorts appointments to the House of Lords. But now, the government is being challenged in the courts over what campaigners are calling an ‘unlawful’ peerage.

Boris Johnson is facing legal action over his decision to give a seat in the Lords to a major party donor.

The appointment was already controversial, as the Prime Minister overruled the House of Lords Appointment’s Commission to award the former party co-treasurer a seat in the Lords. It was reported to be the first time in history that the independent watchdog’s advice had been actively over-ruled (though, as Private Eye has previously reported, many formerly-rejected candidates had still made their way into the second chamber).

But now lawyers acting on behalf of Good Law Project argue that the timing of donations by now-Baron Cruddas to the Conservatives represent ‘bias’ in the process. They point to Electoral Commission records which show that Cruddas gave the Conservatives £500,000 just three days after taking his seat in the upper chamber last February. The half million-pound gift is the single largest donation he has made to date.

Whatever the outcome, the court case is interesting as the first of its kind, and it puts appointments to the House of Lords under the spotlight.

The long history of appointing ex-MPs, advisers, donors and allies has left the Lords looking more like a private members’ club than a serious revising chamber. And that’s before we even get started on the hereditary aristocrats still guaranteed a huge chunk of seats.

But it’s cases like this that show how urgent wholesale reform of the Lords is. It’s laughable that in the 21st century, party donors can be handed seats to vote on our laws for life.

It’s no wonder faith in politics is so low, when we still have hundreds of lawmakers in Parliament that voters cannot remove.

We need a fully elected second chamber, that properly represented all nations and regions of the UK, not just the small elite of Westminster insiders that make up the large majority of the Lords.

If donors or former advisers want to take a seat it should be for the public to decide, based on more than the contents of their chequebook or the loyalty of their politics.

Whether the Good Law Project’s legal challenge will succeed remains to be seen – after all, courts rule based on laws, and our constitutional laws are woefully undemocratic. But what it does show is the case for an elected House of Lords has never been stronger.

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