Role of the House of Lords Appointments Commission
The House of Lords Appointments Commission was established in 2000. It is independent and separate from the House of Lords.
The Appointments Commission recommends individuals for appointment as non-party-political life peers. It also vets nominations for all life peers, including those recommended by the UK political parties, to ensure the highest standards of propriety. Members can be suggested by the public and political parties. Once approved by the prime minister, appointments are formalised by the Queen.
How a member is appointed
It normally takes several weeks from the time a potential new member is announced, by the government or the House of Lords Appointments Commission, before their actual appointment.
Before anyone becomes a member, a title has to be agreed and legal documents called Letters Patent and Writ of Summons must be prepared.
Letters Patent are issued by the Queen and create a life peerage. Recipients become members when Letters Patent are sealed (marked to show royal approval). They can then be written to at the House of Lords, using their new title of Lord or Baroness. They cannot sit in the chamber or vote until their introduction in the chamber.
The Writ of Summons calls the member to the House and acts as their ‘entry ticket’. A new writ is issued for every member at the beginning of each Parliament (after a general election). A writ accompanies the Letters Patent for a new member.
Becoming a member of the Lords
An introduction, a short ceremony lasting about five minutes, takes place at the beginning of business. There are normally no more than two introductions a day in the Lords. Each new member has two supporters (sometimes from their party or group).
An oath or affirmation to the monarch must be taken by all members before they can sit and vote in the House.
The first speech of a newly introduced member is called their maiden speech. The following speaker congratulates and welcomes the new member. Maiden speeches are normally short and uncontroversial.
Types of peerages
There are special circumstances when members are appointed:
- Some MPs from all parties may be appointed life peers when they leave the House of Commons at the end of a parliament
- When a prime minister resigns, he or she may recommend ‘resignation honours’
- Members can be appointed, on a party basis, on political lists to ‘top up’ each of the three main party groups’ strengths, on the expectation that they will attend regularly and perhaps take on frontbench work as spokespersons or business managers (whips)
- One-off announcements can cover peerages for particular individuals such as someone appointed as a minister who is not a member of the House
- 26 Church of England archbishops and bishops sit in the House. When they retire as bishops their membership of the House ceases and is passed on to the next most senior bishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury is usually appointed a life peer on retirement
- Former speakers of the House of Commons have traditionally been appointed life peers at the request of the Commons
Image: House of Lords 2019 / Photography by Roger Harris