I’ve been looking at the lists of new peers, announced by 10 Downing Street last week. (The news release naming them is available here.)
Taking the two lists together (both the dissolution list of Gordon Brown, and the list of new working peers), there are six with Scottish connections and two with Welsh ones. Of the Scottish ones, three are former Scottish Secretaries (Helen Liddell, Des Browne and John Reid), one a former First Minister (Jack McConnell). The other two – Tommy McAvoy and John McFall – are long-standing Westminster politicians with Scottish seats. All come from the Labour Party. Only McConnell was not previously an MP.
The two Welsh figures are Don Touhig, a former Labour MP, and Mike German, a former Lib Dem Assembly Member and Deputy First Minister.
The Northern Ireland interest is, of course, the peerage for Rev Ian Paisley; a former MP, MLA and First Minister.
That’s 9 new peers out of 58 with connections with devolved parts of the UK – quite high on population basis (about 16 per cent), if only slightly higher than the proportions of the population living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But the bulk are on the dissolution list, prepared by the outgoing prime minister and traditionally used to reward friends and allies (remember Marcia Williams’s ‘lavender list’?). A Scottish bias in his dissolution list is hardly surprising from a PM whose roots are Scottish. Six of the names are from that, and only three from the new names for working peers. Of those 3, one is from a member of a party in the new coalition, one is a Brown loyalist whose name could have equally been expected to appear as part of the dissolution list (Helen Liddell), and one (Jack McConnell) is also an MSP who does not propose to give up his Holyrood seat (at least until next year’s elections, though it’s not clear whether he indeed plans to stand down then). Given the tight parliamentary arithmetic at Holyrood, it’s questionable how much time he’ll have to take part in the work of the Lords before he does so. (The same, of course, applies to the two Labour MSPs who have also been elected to Westminster, Cathy Jamieson and Margaret Curran.)
The new list was supposed to be part of ‘rebalancing’ the Lords, so its party composition reflects the parties’ share of the vote at the last general election (a commitment made in the Coalition’s Programme for Government). It doesn’t do so. Only 16 names on it are Conservatives, and 9 are Lib Dems (25; 43 per cent – the Conservatives got 36 per cent of the vote, and the Lib Dems 23 per cent). It seems reasonable to expect, on that basis, that there will be another honours list in due course, to bolster representation of the Coalition parties in the Lords and particularly of the Lib Dems. Given the limited number of Conservative or Lib Dem peers from Scotland or Wales on the working peers list, though, it must be questionable how much that will shape the territorial composition of the Lords.
If there is another list of appointees to the Lords soon, it will provide an opportunity to remedy one notable omission from the latest list: Plaid Cymru. Although it has been willing to nominate for peerages since 2006, and the party went through an internal selection procedure to identify its nominees, no Plaid peers have been created. Part of that was due to the Labour UK Government, which deliberately created no new working peers for several years as part of its commitment to more thorough-going reform. Although that reform came to naught, and even though new peers were created toward the end of its term, there remain no Plaid peers. Given the calibre of its nominees, that’s all the more regrettable.
Another interesting provision in what we shouldn’t call an honours list was the names of the new privy counsellors. Both Alex Fergusson, the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, and Carwyn Jones, first minister of the Welsh Assembly Government, are included. The surprise is that this didn’t happen sooner (Fergusson has waited more than 3 years for it), as this distinction has usually been conferred pretty much automatically on holders of both post.