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Peers Have Donated Over £50m To Parties Who Appointed Them To Lords

(Alamy)

6 min read

Almost a quarter of House of Lords appointees over the last decade were party donors, and almost half have a political connection to party appointees, analysis by PoliticsHome shows.

In that time, House of Lords appointees have donated over £50m to the parties that nominated them, leading to criticism from Lords reform campaigners of “18th-century-style patronage” and “China’s National People’s Congress”.

PoliticsHome analysed every one of the 276 appointments made to the House of Lords since 2013. Nearly half (128) were former politicians, former election candidates, or former staffers for senior politicians. If you don’t include the 46 crossbenchers appointed, who are recommended by the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) rather than party leaders, the share rises to almost 55%.

The vast majority of those appointments were made by the ruling Tories (154) but 41 were made by Labour, 27 by the Liberal Democrats, five by the DUP, two by the Greens and one by the SDLP. 

All Lords nominations are checked by HOLAC to assess if they breach rules that govern appointments, before then advising the prime minister on whether appointments should be approved. 

Political parties are not banned from appointing donors or party insiders to the House of Lords, and there is no evidence any of the donors in PoliticsHome's analysis has paid for access. But the apparent commonality of appointing donors to the House of Lords has exacerbated concerns about whether wealthy individuals could be paying for access to political power and influence, first raised during the 2006-2007 Cash for Honours scandal, when parties were allegedly giving peerages in exchange for secret loans from rich businessmen, leading to multiple arrests. Then-prime minister Tony Blair was questioned by police over the issue, but no-one was ever charged.

Just under a quarter of all appointees (64), were listed as party donors either before or after their appointment, or both. Many party donors had also held senior party positions, including as councillors, MPs and party treasurers, though they were counted as donors for the analysis to avoid double counting and focus on those with financial links to parties.

Most of the donations were in the tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds, but 10 Tory appointees donated over £1m to the party that put them forward for the Lords.

Labour peer William Haughey donated £2.05m to the party. Liberal Democrat peer Rumi Verjee donated £1.96m to the party.

At least two of the ten millionaire donor Tory nominations were subject to objections or blocking from the House of Lords appointments commission in the past, but still eventually made it into the upper house.

Anthony Bamford, scion of the JCB empire, was initially rejected for a Peerage in 2010 by HOLAC over concerns about his tax affairs, but was subsequently approved by the committee and appointed to the Lords in 2013.

Boris Johnson, meanwhile, forced through the appointment of Peter Cruddas to the House of Lords in 2021, despite HOLAC recommending against the appointment.

Previous analysis by Byline Times found over half of the Conservatives’ biggest donors since 2010 have received an honour or title.

PoliticsHome’s analysis did not include those who allegedly benefited from social links to the Prime Minister, such as Charles Moore, who isn’t a Tory donor or politician but worked with Johnson when Moore was editor of The Telegraph

The new findings have reignited concerns among Lords reform campaigners that the upper house, which is nominally supposed to be composed of impartial experts to scrutinise Commons policy, is being filled with unsuitable “crony” appointments at the taxpayers’ expense.

"Appointments to the House of Lords are clearly in disarray,” said Green Party peer Natalie Bennett, who despite being a member of the upper house, has repeatedly called for the abolishment of the Lords.

“The distinguished individuals who arrive as experts or after long public service are essentially serving as fig leaves for a system that delivers 18th-century-style patronage.”

In December last year, Labour published a report by former prime minister Gordon Brown, which called for the House of Lords to be replaced with an elected chamber of the nations and regions of the UK, which would, among other things, allow for a more neutral, democratically-accountable upper chamber by removing prime ministerial appointments.

Despite having promised to follow the report’s guidelines and abolish the House of Lords, Labour last week announced plans to appoint dozens of peers to the House of Lords if it wins the next election in an attempt to wrestle control of the upper chamber from the Tories.

The Lords currently has 263 Tory Peers versus Labour’s 174, 244 unaffiliated or crossbench Peers and 97 from the other opposition parties.

Concern over Peers allegedly gaining preferential access to lucrative government contracts has become a growing controversy in recent months after The Guardian reported that Tory Peer Michelle Mone and her three adult children received £29m in profits made by the firm PPE Medpro on government Covid contracts that Mone allegedly leveraged her government connections to receive. In December, Mone announced a leave of absence from the House of Lords, in order to “clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly levelled against her”. She denies any wrongdoing. 

Willie Sullivan, senior director of campaigns for the Electoral Reform Society said the figures identified by PoliticsHome “throw into sharp relief just how crony-laden the Lords’ appointments system has become”.

“Who gets to sit in Parliament influencing legislation should not be decided by how much money someone has given to a political party or their proximity to a prime minister.

“The result of this undemocratic system is an ever-expanding Lords, which now has around 800 members and is the second largest legislative chamber after China’s National People’s Congress.

“This is not a fit way to choose legislators in a modern democracy and it is clear the upper chamber is in urgent need of reform. The current bloated and unelected Lords needs to be replaced with a smaller democratic chamber where the people of this country, not prime ministers, decide who shape the laws we all live under.”

A government spokesperson said: "Volunteering and supporting a political party is part of our civic democracy and contributes to public life. 

"Peers are members of the legislature and therefore it is reasonable that they can be drawn from those with a political background and past political involvement to further contribute to public service in Parliament.

 "Peerages also reflect long-standing contributions to civic life and a willingness to further contribute to public life as a legislator in the Second Chamber."

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