This Commons Library briefing paper sets out the number of ministers in the House of Lords over recent years. It considers briefly the accountability arrangements for Cabinet Ministers in the Lords and it looks at the appointment of ‘outside’ ministerial appointments.

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Ministerial appointments

In theory a Government minister does not have to be a member of either House of Parliament. In practice, however, convention is that ministers must be members of either the House of Commons or House of Lords in order to be accountable to Parliament.

From time to time, Prime Ministers appoint non-parliamentarians as ministers. In recent years such ministers have been appointed to the House of Lords.

Number of ministers in the House of Lords

In Boris Johnson’s December 2019 administration, there were two Cabinet Ministers in the House of Lords (the Leader of the House of Lords and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport). In all, 24 out of the total 116 ministers in government (21%) were in the House of Lords.

In March 2020, two non-parliamentarians were appointed as ministers.  They were given life peerages and subsequently took their places in the House of Lords.

Concerns about ministerial appointments to the House of Lords

Concerns were raised about ministerial appointments to the House of Lords whilst Gordon Brown was Prime Minister. Gordon Brown had announced his intention to create a ‘government of all the talents’. He appointed two departmental Secretaries of State from the House of Lords, raising some questions about the accountability of such ministers to the elected House. He also appointed a number of ministers directly to the House of Lords; a practice that has also occurred under other recent Prime Ministers.

Concerns were expressed again in December 2019, when following the general election, Boris Johnson announced that Nicky Morgan, who had stood down from the House of Commons, would continue to serve as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, as a Cabinet Minister in the House of Lords. She served as Secretary of State until February 2020.

In response to Gordon Brown’s appointment of secretaries of state to the House of Lords, the Lords introduced additional oral questions. Generally, members of the House of Lords ask questions of the Government. In late 2009, it was agreed that once a month time would be set aside for oral questions to any Secretary of State sitting in the Lords. This procedure was revived in January 2020, and Baroness Morgan of Cotes answered questions on 23 January.

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