David Cameron has said he intends to press ahead with plans to appoint more Tory peers despite growing calls for further reforms to the House of Lords in the wake of the resignation of Lord Sewel over allegations that he took drugs in the presence of sex workers.
As the Liberal Democrats and the SNP claimed that the upper house was rotten in its current form, the prime minister said he would draw up a list that would expand its size and increase Tory representation.
The prime minister said he regretted that the coalition failed in its bid to reform the unelected chamber during the last parliament after a Tory backbench rebellion. But speaking in Singapore during a trade and diplomacy tour, Cameron said there was no point trying to introduce reforms again as he signalled that he would press ahead with plans to appoint more Tory peers.
“It is important the House of Lords in some way reflects the situation in the House of Commons. At the moment it is well away from that. I’m not proposing to get there in one go. [But] it is important to make sure the House of Lords more accurately reflects the situation in the House of Commons. That’s been the position with prime ministers for a very, very long time and for very good and fair reason.”
His remarks suggest he will soon press ahead with his appointments. There are 226 Tory peers, 212 Labour, 101 Liberal Democrats and 179 crossbenchers. The government has already suffered a spate of defeats in the Lords over devolution, the EU referendum and English votes for English laws.
The prime minister can appoint new peers when parliament is not sitting, but a Downing Street spokeswoman said it was speculation to say that a list of new peers was imminent.
Lady Smith, the shadow leader of the Lords, called on the prime minister to hold fire. “The numbers show that he has introduced more peers – including more government peers – than any prime minister since 1958, when life peerages were first introduced. We have already raised our concerns about increasing the size of the second chamber, as we could be heading towards more than a thousand peers in total by 2020.
Cameron raised the prospect of swelling the House of Lords, which currently has 783 members, as Sewel announced on Tuesday he will resign from the House of Lords immediately and apologised for the “pain and embarrassment” he has caused after the release of a film showing him allegedly taking cocaine with sex workers.
In a change of heart following the launch of a criminal investigation by the Metropolitan police into his alleged conduct, Sewel said he was resigning to avoid damaging an institution “I hold dear”. Sewel, who had declined to apologise on Monday night when he announced he would take a leave of absence from the House of Lords, heeded growing calls for him to quit altogether in letter on Tuesday morning to the clerk of the parliaments, David Beamish.
In a statement, the crossbench peer said: “As a subordinate second chamber the House of Lords is an effective, vital but undervalued part of our political system. I hope my decision will limit and help repair the damage I have done to an institution I hold dear. Finally, I want to apologise for the pain and embarrassment I have caused.”
Lady Stowell, the leader of the Lords, welcomed Sewel’s decision but criticised the crossbencher for taking two days to resign after the Sun on Sunday released a video of him allegedly taking drugs with sex workers. Stowell, who indicated that Sewel faced strong pressure to resign, told the BBC: “I think it is right that he’s decided to resign, I think it is disappointing he didn’t do so sooner.”
Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, called on Britain’s political leaders to agree to hold a constitutional convention to decide on reforms to the lords.
Pete Wishart, the SNP’s shadow leader of the commons, said: “An unelected chamber has no place in a modern society and House of Lords reform has been promised by generations of UK political leaders. The public are growing angrier by the day by the antics of those who inhabit this gold plated, red-upholstered Narnia.”
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