May vows to end automatic peerage for senior public roles

House Of Lords

Theresa May has said she will end the “automatic entitlement to a peerage” for holders of high office in public life such as senior figures from the judiciary, police, military and civil service.

The prime minister also urged peers to “embrace retirement” at the appropriate time, as she promised to oversee “continued restraint” when making new appointments.

The Conservative leader made the promise in a response to the Burns report, which recommended cutting the size of the House of Lords from almost 800 members to 600.

In a letter to the Lord Speaker, Norman Fowler, May claimed that: “Peers on the Conservative benches have a strong record in embracing retirement at the appropriate time, but achieving the sort of change outlined by Lord Burns and the committee will require that peers from all sides of the House to do the same.”

She pointed out that while her predecessor, David Cameron, placed 13 Tories in the Lords through his controversial resignation honours list, she had opted for just three ministerial appointments.

They came alongside five cross-bench recommendations, including the lord chief justice, former bishop of London, former Met police commissioner, former chief of the defence staff and former private secretary to the Queen.

Their appointments came as 23 peers decided to retire following the House of Lords Reform Act, two were removed for non-attendance, and 16 had “sadly died”.

Overall, May said there had been a net reduction of 20 members since she became prime minister, adding: “I am keen to maintain that trajectory.” However, at that rate it would take almost 15 years before the Lords was reduced to the numbers recommended by the Burns report.

May is also planning to put forward a list of political appointments imminently, which could include former cabinet ministers such as Eric Pickles and Peter Lilley.

Moreover, the prime minister is likely to face accusations of kicking some of the Burns recommendations into the long grass.

In her letter, she wrote that the report had divided its recommendations into two key areas: taking steps to reduce the size of the Lords and then establishing mechanisms to maintain it at a “steady and smaller state”.

On the second aim, May said that further, careful thought by the House of Commons was required before taking any action.

However, the prime minister did say that it should “not preclude us taking actions now”.

The idea of automatic entitlement for some very senior public roles is not a legal mechanism but a convention that has resulted in a number of figures entering the Lords if they wanted to. Sources made clear that automatic entitlement would go in the case of judges, police officers and civil servants, but said bishops were a distinct case and had a separate process.

Former cabinet ministers have also tended to move into the upper chamber, although that has not been the case in some cases such as Jack Straw, following controversy around allegations of inappropriate lobbying, which were denied.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Anushka Asthana Political editor, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 20th February 2018 15.51 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010