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By Baroness Smith of Llanfaes
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Peers Call For Lords Appointments Watchdog To Be Given Statutory Status

3 min read

Cross party and independent peers have issued calls for the House of Lords’ appointments watchdog to be granted statutory status.

In a debate on Monday, peers argued that placing the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) on a statutory basis would be essential for improving “transparency” and “the legitimacy of the House”.  

“How appointments are made is crucial to how the house is seen by the public,” said the Conservative Lord Norton of Louth, who led the debate.

“At present the process falls short, at times mired in controversy,” he added.  

“There is little transparency in the selection of nominees. However worthy the individual nominees may be, their merits are lost in media criticism of the process and public perceptions of the types of people elevated to the peerage.”

HOLAC was formed in 2000 to monitor the propriety of all nominations to the House of Lords, as well as to make independent nominations to the cross benches.

The commission, which comprises seven members, is able to offer advice, however its recommendations are not legally binding.

In December last year Boris Johnson became the first Prime Minister to reject HOLAC advice after he nominated businessman Peter Crudas for a peerage.

Since 2007 Lord Cruddas has donated more than £3 million to the Conservative party, leading critics to accuse the Tories of operating under a “chumocracy”, whereby party donors are rewarded with peerages.

Similar accusations were levelled against former Labour leader Tony Blair during the 2006 cash-for-honours scandal.

Several men nominated for life peerages by the former Prime Minister were rejected by HOLAC after it was revealed they had loaned significant sums of money to the Labour Party.

Speaking in favour of reform at Monday’s debate, Labour peer, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, argued: “Recent appointments to the Lords have been scandalous… many of those ennobled… have hardly spoken since their appointment, they bring this House into disrepute.

“Until HOLAC attains a degree of independence that’s statutory, I fear we’re in for much more of this corruption.”  

Defending HOLAC’s current powers, Conservative peer, Baroness Sheila Noakes, said: “Opinions from the commission on individual appointments for the size or composition of the house should never be binding on the Prime Minister or otherwise inhibit his actions.

“Ironically, the commission itself has provided the best evidence for not changing the existing constitutional arrangements.”

In 2000 the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords officially recommended making HOLAC a statutory body with legally binding decision-making powers.

However, while the report was widely accepted most of its recommendations, including on HOLAC, were not implemented.

Responding to the debate on behalf of the government, a minister said: “The conclusions reached by the commission are considered by the Prime Minister – any Prime Minister – alongside other wider factors on a case-by-case basis.

"Ultimately it is up to the Prime minister to decide which individuals should be appointed to the House of Lords. It is the constitutional position in this country. There’s accountability of a Prime Minister in the way he uses that power."

The government minister also argued that changing HOLAC’s legal status would not even affect the body’s decision making remit and that HOLAC would indeed continue to advise on appointments in the same non-binding way it does currently.

“The Prime Minister, I can assure the House, will continue to place great weight on the commission’s careful and considered advice,” the minister concluded.

"HOLAC has an important advisory role, but it is advice. The government has no plans to change the role and remit of the appointments commission". 

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