Press release 03rd Apr 2024

Seats for sale? New research reveals worrying scale of political donors awarded seats for life in the House of Lords

A new report from Transparency International UK calls for actionable reforms to appointment and conduct rules of the House of Lords aimed at reducing corruption risks in the second chamber.

Transparency International UK research found almost a quarter of all nominations from political parties were political donors. 68 out of 284 nominations from political parties between 2013 and 2023 were political donors – handing over £58 million to various parties.

Twelve of the appointments had given over £1 million or more with £54 million coming from these ‘super donors’ representing 92 percent of all donations from peers during this period. Ninety-one percent of these contributions by value (£53.4 million) went to the Conservative Party.

Although it is against the law to 'sell' peerages [1], there is a striking correlation between those donating to political parties and those awarded lifetime appointments in the House of Lords.  This gives rise to the perception of, and valid concerns about, the sale of peerages as a reward for substantial contributions to political parties.

The UK’s anti-corruption organisation is now proposing a number of reforms to rules around the appointment of new political and non-political peers, and rules regarding conduct and disciplinary processes for sitting members.

The position paper also sets out proposals for strengthening transparency under alternative systems of selection should the House of Lords be reformed to become directly elected in the future.

Ending perception of cash for honours

Recommendations on appointments include removing the unlimited power of patronage from the Prime Minister, strengthening the role of the House of Lords Appointments Committee (HOLAC) to allow it to veto appointments and fully vet both political and non-political appointees as well as capping political donations to remove the power of big money in politics and remove the perception of its influence in political decision making.

Analysis also found that of the 50 sitting peers who have never contributed more than five times to proceedings in the House of Lords, 74 per cent (34 out of 50) were political appointments. By contrast, only 6 per cent (3 peers out of 50) are those nominated by the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC).

Daniel Bruce, Chief Executive, Transparency International UK said:

“It should be deeply concerning that all too often those donating large sums of money to our political leaders are then handed jobs for life, making our laws in Parliament. This is inconsistent with the spirit of laws intended to protect the integrity of the upper house.

“With the absence of meaningful checks on political appointments, combined with the limitless ability of the Prime Minister to appoint supporters and allies to the House of Lords, it is now increasingly clear that this patronage is bringing the second chamber into disrepute.

“To mitigate corruption risks at the heart of Westminster, the House of Lords Appointments Commission should be strengthened, and the Prime Minister’s discretion over appointments should be greatly reduced.”

Strengthening rules for sitting peers

The paper also proposes important changes to the rules overseeing members of the House of Lords once they take their seats.

Recommendations include harsher sentences for rule breaking including powers to withdraw titles where members engage in egregious misconduct, term limits, and closing the loophole which allows peers taking a leave of absence to bypass parliamentary rules that require them to register their financial interests while retaining their titles and access to the parliamentary estate.

Rose Whiffen, Senior Research Officer, Transparency International UK said:

“Those responsible for making our laws should uphold the highest standards and be held accountable when they fall short. Regardless of whether parliamentarians are appointed or elected, there should be robust mechanisms to investigate and sanction those who have broken the rules.

“Currently, sanctions only focus on curtailing a Lord’s ability to participate in the chamber, but attention should also be given to the other privilege a peerage bestows – that of the title – and the circumstances in which this should be revoked.”

Full Recommendations

  • Recommendation 1: Parliament should legislate to end the Prime Minister’s unfettered power to make appointments to the House of Lords, and scrap resignation honours.
  • Recommendation 2: The UK Government should bring forward legislation to put the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) on a statutory footing
  • Recommendation 3: HOLAC should have the power to veto nominations they deem unsuitable or improper.
  • Recommendation 4: There should be a ring-fenced number of crossbench nominations that HOLAC can make per Parliament.
  • Recommendation 5: HOLAC should have the ability to vet all nominations (political or non-political) for suitability and propriety.
  • Recommendation 6: The independence of HOLAC’s membership should be protected in law.
  • Recommendation 7: When a person is nominated to the House of Lords, political parties and HOLAC should state why they have been nominated. Likewise, the person nominated should also make a statement outlining how they would contribute to the House.
  • Recommendation 8: Political spending and donations should be capped to end the corrosive influence of big money in politics.
  • Recommendation 9: There should be a cap on the size of the House of Lords.

Corruption risks in systems with alternative selection methods

  • Recommendation 10: Parties should ensure selection processes for candidates are transparent.

Addressing corruption risks once a member is in the chamber

  • Recommendation 11: Parliament should introduce a new process in law for withdrawing peers’ titles where they engage in egregious misconduct.
  • Recommendation 12: Those taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords should continue to be subject to its rules and reporting requirements.
  • Recommendation 13: The Lords’ Commissioner should impose harsher sanctions for serious breaches of the code of conduct.
  • Recommendation 14: HOLAC should have a role in re-assessing peerages where Lords have committed serious wrongdoing that would have triggered a recall petition were they an MP.
  • Recommendation 15: Parliament should adopt the Lord Speaker’s Committee’s recommendation to introduce 15-year term limits for peers.


Notes to editors:

[1] Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 and Bribery Act 2010