New life members of the House of Lords – known as life peers or Lords Temporal for life – are appointed by the King on the advice of the Prime Minister.

This Insight looks at the process for creating new life peers. A different process exists for excepted hereditary peers or Lords Spiritual (bishops).

Nomination and vetting

Life peers are statutory appointments under section 1 of the Life Peerages Act 1958. This act provides that the Monarch can by Letters Patent (a legal document) “confer on any person a peerage for life”. This entitles them to “receive writs of summons to attend the House of Lords” where, until they die or resign, they can sit and vote. Long-standing custom is that the Prime Minister advises the King on peerage appointments, although this is not specified in the act.

There are several different categories of nomination for life peerages:

  • Direct ministerial: the government can nominate someone to allow them to become a government minister (for example, Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton was created a life peer so he could serve as Foreign Secretary)
  • Party political: the Prime Minister can nominate members of the governing party to sit on their benches in the Upper House. When nominating members of other parties, by convention the Prime Minister takes advice from the leaders of those parties
  • Dissolution honours: parties may also nominate MPs who are leaving the House of Commons as members of the Lords
  • Resignation honours: an outgoing Prime Minister can nominate colleagues (including aides) for appointment as life peers
  • Public service: the Prime Minister can nominate up to 10 candidates in any Parliament for crossbench peerages “based on their public service”
  • Crossbench: the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HoLAC) considers self-nominations from individuals to become non-aligned peers

In each case, the numbers nominated are at the discretion of the Prime Minister. All nominations are vetted by HoLAC to ensure high standards of propriety. HoLAC cannot veto a Prime Ministerial nomination, nor is there a limit in the 1958 act on the number of peerages that can be created.

This is only the beginning of an appointments process which can take several weeks.

Royal approval

All nominations must be submitted by the Prime Minister to the Monarch for approval. Initially, the Monarch informally approves any list of nominees, which is then announced on the Number 10 Downing Street website (in New Year, King’s Birthday, Resignation, Dissolution or ad-hoc Honours Lists).

These will state that the King “has been graciously pleased to signify His intention of conferring Peerages of the United Kingdom for Life upon” an individual or individuals. Nominees cannot yet call themselves “Lord” (Baron) or “Lady” (Baroness).

Agreeing style and title

At this stage, Number 10 will inform Garter King of Arms, the Monarch’s principal adviser on heraldry, who will then meet nominees at the College of Arms (the official heraldic authority for England, Wales, Northern Ireland) to agree a title. If the nominee has a Scottish surname or wishes to have a Scottish placename as part of their title, then Garter confers with the Court of the Lord Lyon.

The Life Peerages Act 1958 provides that peers will “rank as a baron under such style as may be appointed by the letters patent”. “Style” means a new peer’s title.

Subject to rules agreed in 1965, a nominee agrees with Garter both the title by which they will be known as a peer, and a territorial designation. If they choose to use their surname and it, or any name pronounced in a similar way, has never been used as a peerage title before, then the title will be just that surname.

If there has already been a peerage of that name at any point, then it must be qualified by adding a place of an “appropriate size” for the rank of baron. Garter communicates the agreed title to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Formal approval of a new peerage

The Prime Minister then makes a formal submission to the King, that an individual be created a “Baron [or Baroness] for Life” by the “style and title” of whatever has been agreed. The King indicates his acceptance by writing “Approved” on this submission.

A “giving effect” letter is then sent to the Crown Office, informing the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery of the King’s approval for the title and territorial description. This letter is a request from the Prime Minister that the “necessary steps” be taken to give effect to the King’s “commands”.

Letters Patent

The Crown Office is responsible for these necessary steps. A Royal Warrant (a legal document) is prepared and sent to Buckingham Palace (or another royal residence) for the King’s signature. This directs the Lord Chancellor (who countersigns the warrant) to seal the vellum Letters Patent with the Great Seal.

Once this has been done, the new life peer has been “created” and can use their title for the first time. They are allowed to retain their Letters Patent (which reference the Life Peerages Act 1958) following their introduction to the Lords.

New peerage creations are recorded in The London Gazette and added to the Roll of the Peerage. This is maintained by the Crown Office (within the Ministry of Justice) and published by the College of Arms.

Writ of Summons

A new life peer, however, can only take their place in the House of Lords upon receiving a Writ of Summons from the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. This writ (another legal document) acts as their “entry ticket” by calling the new peer to the Upper House.

A writ accompanies the Letters Patent for a new member, while a new writ is issued for every existing member of the Lords at the beginning of a new Parliament (following a general election).

Introduction of new peers to the Lords

The Companion to the Standing Orders of the House of Lords describes the introduction ceremony for a newly created peer. The peer (who carries their Writ of Summons) and two “supporters” (all wearing parliamentary robes) process from the Peers’ Lobby to the Lords Chamber with Black Rod and Garter (who carries the peer’s Letters Patent).

At the Bar of the House, each member of the procession bows in turn to the Cloth of Estate, which sits above the throne. Garter hands the new peer’s Letters Patent to the Reading Clerk, then the peer hands the same clerk their Writ of Summons. The Reading Clerk reads the Letters Patent and administers the oath of allegiance or the solemn affirmation of allegiance to the new peer. The peer then signs the Test Roll and an undertaking to abide by the House of Lords Code of Conduct (a combined document).

The new peer and their supporters again bow to the Cloth of Estate. On proceeding to the Woolsack, the new peer shakes hands with the Lord Speaker and the Leader of the House. The procession then passes into the Prince’s Chamber, after which the new peer and one or both of their supporters return to the Lords Chamber (without robes) so that the peer can take their place on the benches.

As with MPs, the first contribution of a newly introduced peer is called their maiden speech.

Life peers can retire from the House of Lords under section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014, or be expelled or suspended under section 1 of the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015. In both cases their title is unaffected, something which could only be revoked under an Act of Parliament.

Further reading

House of Commons Library, The royal prerogative and ministerial advice

About the author: Dr David Torrance is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in monarchy and the constitution.

Image credit: Copyright House of Lords 2019

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