Peers Say Lebedev Is “Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back” In Fresh Plea For Lords Appointments Reform
Parliamentarians have renewed calls for the House of Lords’ appointments watchdog to be granted statutory status following reports that Boris Johnson intervened with the process of awarding a peerage to media baron Evgeny Lebedev.
Prominent peers have told PoliticsHome the Lords has reached “a cross-roads” for implementing reform, with the case of Lebedev’s accession to parliament's second chamber in 2020 being the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.
The peers want to see the House of Lords Appointments Commission (Holac), which was formed in 2000 to monitor the propriety of all nominations to the Lords, given statutory power so its recommendations become legally binding. Currently the commission, which comprises seven members, is able to offer advice, however its recommendations are not legally binding.
Last week The Sunday Times reported that Boris Johnson “pushed ahead” with nominating Lebedev, who owns the he Evening Standard and Independent newspapers, for a peerage in 2020, despite security services raising concerns that the son of a former KGB officer and billionaire oligarch could pose a national security threat.
Based on intelligence reports supplied by Mi6 and Mi5, Holac also wrote to Boris Johnson, in March 2020, to recommend against Lebedev’s accession.
Against the commission’s advice, in July 2020 Lebedev was awarded a peerage anyway.
“It's become scandalous the way appointments are awarded,” the former minister and Labour peer Lord Foulkes of Cumnock told PoliticsHome.
“The way of stopping these kinds of appointments is taking away the ultimate responsibility for appointments away from the Prime Minister,” he added.
Foulkes described Lebedev’s peerage as “outrageous, not just in terms of cronyism but also in terms of security”.
Granting Holac statutory power is an idea supported by parliamentarians across the Lords.
However, some believe the change should form part of a wider package of reforms aimed at clamping down on peers on “who might make an amazing maiden speech and then disappear”.
Baroness Smith of Basildon, leader of the opposition in the Lords, told PoliticsHome that “the old fuddy duddies” in the Lords want to see reform, and momentum to make it happen is strong.
It is government, Smith insisted, who are against the idea.
“If the government is standing in the way of change, leave it up to the House of Lords and there will have been significant change already,” the baroness said
In a Lords debate on whether Holac should be given statutory status in September last year, speaking on behalf of government a minister clarified: "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.”
Baroness Helen Hayman, the first ever Lords Speaker, told PoliticsHome she has “always” supported Holac being made statutory and has been involved in private member’s bills seeking to force through reform of the commission.
Hayman said presently the body’s powers are “too limited”, but peers across the House want this to change “as soon as possible”.
“Overall, the house is in favour of reducing its numbers and reforming the process of appointment,” the cross-bench peer said.
PoliticsHome understands that for the first time ever, the Association of Conservative Peers and the Coordinating Committee of Labour peers have been holding monthly meetings.
Two meetings have taken place so far, with topics discussed including how the Lords operates procedurally.
PoliticsHome understands that at the next meeting of the groups the topic of next steps for making Holac statutory is likely to be discussed.
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