The new leader of the commission for appointing members to the House of Lords has suggested that a more thorough evaluation process be implemented in response to concerns from the public about individuals being chosen based on their financial contributions or personal connections to those in positions of authority.
Ruth Deech, a prominent legal expert and scholar who was selected by the government to head the commission, expressed her desire to advocate for peers to undergo not only a background check for ethics but also an evaluation of their qualifications, to determine if they are deserving of their appointment.
She refused to name any particular individuals who may not be suitable for a position in the House of Lords. However, during a public administration committee meeting, she expressed concern about individuals who may lack the necessary qualifications but were nominated due to their significant donations or connections to those in power.
Boris Johnson nominated several past advisors, donors, and political associates to be appointed to the House of Lords. He also advocated for the granting of a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of a newspaper and son of ex-KGB agent Alexander Lebedev, despite initial worries about security that were ultimately retracted.
There has been some disagreement about Johnson’s decision to nominate Charlotte Owen and Ross Kempsell as peers, as they are among the youngest ever to receive this honor. Owen is a former junior aide at No. 10, while Kempsell is a senior official in the Conservative party and a former journalist.
There is likely to be controversy in the upcoming weeks regarding the list of peerages proposed by Liz Truss, who served as prime minister for seven weeks.
During her testimony to the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, Deech shared her evaluation of the difficulties that the House of Lords appointments commission may encounter. The committee approved her for the position on Thursday.
She expressed to the Members of Parliament, “I believe it is important to evaluate every nominee’s suitability, not just their propriety. While propriety is essential, it is not sufficient. It may be a challenging goal, but I believe every nomination should undergo thorough scrutiny, regardless of their position as a bishop or hereditary peer.”
Deech proposed that both the nominator and nominee provide a statement explaining why they should have a seat in the House of Lords. She emphasized the importance of transparency regarding their actions and future goals, stating that this information should be made public for interested individuals to access.
When asked about factors that could determine suitability, she proposed following the Nolan principles of public life. Along with this, she mentioned past accomplishments, honesty, not just creating policies but also following through with them, contributions to the public, and the skill of persuasive speaking referred to by Sir Keir Starmer as “oracy.”
The new chairperson stated that she shares the same view as a past chairperson that large donations should not be a requirement, but also believes that simply making a large donation is not sufficient. Instead, one must also consider other qualities.
Regarding the size of the House of Lords, Deech stated that it was not her responsibility to address, but she did express her belief that 26 bishops were not essential.
Recognizing the constraints of the commission’s authority, she proposed that it could be feasible to clearly communicate and ensure that all nominees are expected to fulfill their duties, refrain from taking lengthy leaves of absence, and periodically report on their contributions and attendance.