Fewer than one-in-four support prime ministers handing out peerages to parachute people into cabinet, poll finds

Fewer than one-in-four people say that is acceptable for prime ministers to create new peers to then appoint them to the cabinet, polling on behalf of the Electoral Reform Society has found. 

A poll of 2,283 UK adults by Savanta [1] found just 23 per cent of respondents said it was acceptable for prime ministers, within a democratic system, to elevate people to the Lords to then parachute them into cabinet positions. More than double (49 per cent) said the practice was not acceptable [2].

The findings come after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently ennobled David Cameron to then appoint him as Foreign Secretary. The last time a great office of state was held from the Lords was four decades ago when Lord Carrington served as Margaret Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary from 1979 until 1982.

The polling also found that 47 per cent want those who sit in the Lords to be elected by the public, in comparison 15 per cent said it should be prime ministers who choose, with another 15 per cent saying they should be chosen by the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) [3].

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director Campaigns for Electoral Reform Society, said: 

“This polling shows the public do not support prime ministers handing out life-long jobs in the House of Lords so they can parachute people into top cabinet jobs.  

“It is clear they feel that voters, not politicians, should be the ones to decide who sits in the upper house of Parliament influencing legislation.  

“The current system, which lets prime ministers appoint friends, supporters and donors to the House of Lords on a whim, has left us with a bloated upper chamber of around 800 members. This makes the Lords the second largest legislative chamber in the world after China’s National People’s Congress. 

“The current appointments system is not fit for a modern democratic country and urgently needs reform. That is why we need to move to a smaller elected chamber where the people of this country, not prime ministers, decide who sits in Parliament shaping the laws we all live under.” 

The polling comes as the Electoral Reform Society releases a report [3] on options for reforming the House of Lords. The report highlights how the current lack of democratic and demographic representation in the Lords restricts the role it can perform in Parliament.

The Electoral Reform Society has long advocated for the Lords to be transformed into an elected chamber and the report outlines the various ways this can be achieved. This includes options for directly and indirectly elected members, which would make the second chamber far more representative of the country as a whole and allow for greater consideration of regional and national issues.

It also shows how outdated and antiquated the Lords is compared to other second chambers around the world, with its seats reserved for 92 nearly all-male hereditary peers making the UK the only country along with Lesotho to combine appointed and hereditary legislators with no elected members. Sixty-five years after women were allowed to become peers, women only make up just 28 per cent of its membership.

It has been more than a century since the 1911 Parliament Act created the current Lords as a temporary arrangement until it could be ‘constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis’. The report urges ‘decisive action’ to ensure we have an upper house of parliament that is designed to represent the people of modern Britain, not the feudal estates of the Middle Ages.