Campaigners have called for an end to ‘unchecked political patronage’ as polls have found most people oppose Boris Johnson’s plan to appoint new peers in the final weeks of his premiership.
The Electoral Reform Society has sounded the alarm over a proposal drawn up by CT Group – a political lobbying firm run by Tory adviser Lynton Crosby – for the Prime Minister to appoint up to 50 new Tory lawmakers to push through contentious legislation in Parliament.
The leaked document prompted condemnation from Gordon Brown and led to accusations that the Lords were already ‘full to bursting’, meaning ‘more meaningful checks and balances’ on the appointments were needed.
An Opinium poll found 54% of people are against Johnson establishing a ‘resignation honours’ list that could ennoble key allies who backed him during the final days of his administration and urged to fight. Only 13% supported this decision, while 34% expressed no opinion.
Among voters who supported the Conservatives in 2019, 41% were against the plan while 21% were in favour. There were 2,000 adults surveyed at the end of July and their responses were weighted to be nationally representative.
Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, told the Guardian most people were against ‘prime ministers stuffing the Lords with friends and donors as they head for the exit door’.
He said: “Each new peer created gets a lifetime right to sit in parliament, which means potentially decades of influence on our laws as well as expense to the public. How they are chosen matters.
“With over 800 members, the Lords are already packed, and with more peerages planned, it is clear that we cannot simply rely on the restraint of individual prime ministers to alleviate our bloated second chamber.
“That is why we urgently need to reform the system so that there are meaningful checks and balances governing who is appointed to the Lords.
“At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be up to the Prime Minister to decide who makes and oversees our laws. It is time to end this system of unchecked political patronage and ensure that all of our legislators are elected by the people they serve.
While previous prime ministers appointed peers at the end of their administration, Johnson was accused by former Lord Speaker Helene Hayman of trying to “destroy constitutional standards”. She told the BBC: ‘I’m not sure Boris Johnson understands that having a tough House of Lords actually makes government policy better and legislation better.
Current Lord Speaker John McFall has written to both Tory leadership candidates urging them not to follow suit and inject their own influx of peers. Rishi Sunak would have answered, but not Liz Truss.
Analysis by the Institute for Government found that in just three years Johnson had already made 86 Lords appointments, equivalent to 10% of his current size.
Although the House of Lords Nominating Committee may advise against granting peerages to certain candidates, the think tank’s deputy director, Hannah White, said that “once he leaves Downing Street, Johnson will have even less incentive to exercise restraint”.
A government spokesman said that given the number of peers who were stepping down, some new members were essential to maintain the expertise and perspective of the upper house of parliament and ensure it could continue to scrutinize the legislation. The spokesman added that successive prime ministers had drawn up lists for dissolving or resigning from peerages.
The CT Group said its proposals to strengthen the Lords were a “first working draft” prepared for a think tank to “facilitate discussion”.