The Constitution Unit


UKIP has no entitlement to peers: but row demonstrates how Lords appointments badly need reform

7 June 2014

Today's news reports (eg. here and here) include a claim by UKIP for more seats in the House of Lords. Figures were quoted from a Constitution Unit report to support the claim that UKIP is entitled to 23 new peers. It is important to note that our report did not endorse such appointments, and in fact emphasised that such a change was undesirable.

The suggestion of an entitlement to 23 more UKIP peers is based on bringing Lords membership into proportion with 2010 general election votes. The 2010 coalition agreement suggested that this would be done. But our report - which made headlines when published in 2011 - pointed out that the policy was unworkable. Alongside UKIP peers it would also have required an additional 100 Liberal Democrats, 80 Conservatives, 16 BNP, 8 Green peers and at least 50 others, taking the size of the chamber to well over 1000 members.

In response to today's story Dr Meg Russell, the lead author of our report (which was also supported by numerous high profile figures), said: "It would be quite wrong to take the figures in UCL's report as indication that UKIP are due 23 new peers - indeed almost the reverse. Our point was that the coalition's proposal of proportionality would have disastrous consequences for the Lords. Thankfully since the coalition seems to have quietly dropped the idea. Not even Lib Dem numbers have been brought up to proportionality, so UKIP are not being singled out for some kind of unfair treatment".

But Meg Russell continued: "The central argument in our report was the need to 'get a grip' on Lords appointments, and today's row again highlights why this is urgent. There are currently no rules saying how many appointments the Prime Minister can make to the Lords, or how these are shared out between the parties. This stokes claims of unfairness, and risks the size of the Lords getting out of control".

Russell has subsequently made this argument in other forums, and summarised them in a blogpost in 2013, when David Cameron last appointed a block of peers. The Unit plans to publish a report in the coming months setting out in more detail the kind of workable formula that politicians should adopt.

Notes to editors

  • The Constitution Unit is an independent and non-partisan research centre based in the Department of Political Science at University College London.
  • 'House Full: Time to get a grip on Lords appointments' was published by the Unit in April 2011 and supported by Lord Adonis, Graham Allen MP, Baroness Boothroyd, Lord Butler of Brockwell, Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, Lord Dholakia, Baroness D'Souza, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Robert Hazell, Baroness Jay of Paddington, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Lord Norton of Louth, Donald Shell, Lord Steel of Aikwood, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, Baroness Williams of Crosby, Lord Woolf, and Tony Wright
  • Dr Meg Russell is Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit and a Lords expert. Her latest book The Contemporary House of Lords was published by Oxford University Press in 2013. She is available for interview. Contact: meg.russell@ucl.ac.uk