Events to restart on East Devon District Council land

Events can soon return as East Devon District Council (EDDC) has announced it will allow booking of its owned land.

The relaxation of lockdown rules and new guidelines from the government has enabled EDDC to reopen the process for hiring its land from August, 3.

The council facilitates more than 300 events across East Devon parks, gardens and beaches every year and these range from local community events, markets, live theatre, fun fairs and weddings.

As part of their application to rent, event organisers will all be required to adhere with Covid-19 secure guidelines to ensure their event is safe to take place and permissions will be subject to any future changes in guidance.

Organisers can contact the EDDC events team who can offer advice on the safety measures they may need to undertake for their event to take place and a specific Covid-19 risk assessment which shows how social distancing, hand sanitising and the safety of attendees is maintained will need to be completed by all event organisers before permission is given for an event to take place.

Councillor Geoff Jung portfolio holder for coast, country and environment said: “Our district is renowned for its beautiful countryside.

“Our pretty parks, gardens and beaches offer the perfect location for hosting memorable events with their stunning backdrops and historic sights and many are situated within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).”

“Our main events spaces are spread across East Devon.

“We have active communities throughout the District and our events programme aims to support them in delivering and participating in local events, promote health and wellbeing opportunities, encourages and improves visitor experience and positively increases tourism by attracting new businesses and events to the district.”

Further information about booking at event on East Devon District Council land can be found on the website here: and any potential event organiser who would like to hold an event should contact the events team by emailing to discuss their plans.


Green light for huge solar farm in East Devon countryside

Proposals for a huge solar farm in the East Devon countryside –  that will provide power for 5,000 homes –  have been given the green light. 

District council planning committee members unanimously backed the 15MW scheme on land south of Rockbeare Hill, Marsh Green, writes Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Clark.

Permission will last for 40 years and, at the end of the solar farm’s, the plot will be returned to agricultural use.

Councillors heard that, while 55 per cent of the site is good-quality farmland, it is not currently used for crop production.

Sheep grazing will continue to be possible while the solar farm is in operation.

Recommending approval, East Devon District Council (EDDC) development manager Chris Rose said: “It is considered that the benefits of the scheme outweigh the temporary loss of agricultural land.”

One of the fields where the solar farm will be located in land south of Rockbeare Hill, Marsh Green, in East Devon. Image shown to the EDDC Planning Committee

Plans for the solar farm on land south of Rockbeare Hill, Marsh Green, in East Devon. Image shown to the EDDC Planning Committee

Councillor Philip Skinner : “If we are going to drive the climate change agenda, applications like this need to be given the right weight, and renewable energy and clean energy like this is something I can get behind and support.”

Cllr Geoff Pook added that two issues that concerned him – the negative visual impact, which would be mitigated, and the loss of the agricultural land.

He said: “The loss of agricultural land is more of a concern to me, but it is not in perpetuity and there is going to be grazing on there anyway.

“I think the important thing is, with solar sites, they’ve got limited opportunity where they can be sited and they have to be somewhere, relatively close to a major substation.

“Although it’s nice, good land, there’s many more opportunities for food production than there are suitable places for solar sites.

“Personally, I’m not in favour of the industrialisation of the countryside and this is.

“I consider this sort of an industrialisation and urbanisation, but when you look at environmental concerns and the carbon neutral targets and considerations, I will be supporting it.”

Cllr Tony Woodward added: “Sometimes we have to make sacrifices, but the benefits will outweigh them and we have to make the right decision to approve this.”

West Hill and Aylesbeare ward member Cllr Jess Bailey said she was not convinced officers had drawn the correct balance between the need to retain the best quality and diverse agricultural land with the environmental benefits of the solar farm.

The committee agreed with officer recommendation and unanimously granted planning permission.

Elderly may be asked to stay at home under ministers’ blueprint to avoid new lockdown

Most of East Devon could effectively be on indefinite lockdown under these plans.

By Edward Malnick, Sunday Political Editor 

Elderly people and others considered to have an increased risk from Covid-19 could be asked to stay at home under radical plans being drawn up to avert a second national lockdown, the Telegraph can disclose.

Boris Johnson has asked officials to prepare a suite of possible measures that could help avoid shutting down the economy for a second time, after he said that he wanted to avoid another lockdown.

The options include a programme of “enhanced” or “differential” shielding, as part of which vulnerable people would be asked to remain at home while the rest of the population continued to move around freely. One proposal is for the shielded group to be allocated specific times of the week to have exclusive access to some services and shops.

The potential measures also include imposing a city-wide lockdown on London if infection rates spike in the capital and tightening quarantine restrictions on those flying into the UK.

A fourth measure comprises “harder” local lockdowns than the restrictions imposed on parts of Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and West Yorkshire, where people from different households were barred from meeting indoors.

The disclosure comes after the Prime Minister announced that he was postponing the planned easing of lockdown measures due to take place this weekend amid heightened concerns about a possible second wave of infections.

Last month Mr Johnson told the Telegraph that the option of a second national lockdown was now akin to a “nuclear deterrent”, saying he “certainly” does not want another blanket shutdown, “and nor do I think we will be in that position again”.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, who helps lead the World Health Organisation’s pandemic response team, urges countries not to reimpose national lockdowns in an attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19 due to the health, social and economic repercussions.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph discloses warnings by government advisers that hairdressers and barbers could be inadvertently transmitting Covid-19 to their customers as a result of “inadequate” official guidance stipulating that they should wear visors rather than masks.

Officials from the Cabinet Office’s Covid-19 unit are understood to have suggested an enhanced shielding programme as part of a series of possible alternatives to a national lockdown.

Mr Johnson has now sanctioned the team to develop the options into formal policy proposals.

A senior Whitehall source said: “We are hopeful that fast action, regional lockdowns and quarantines will stop the need for any more substantive action. However we prepare for all scenarios, and officials are currently drawing up an array of policy options to present to the Prime Minister.”

More than two million people in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland who faced the highest risk of being hospitalised by Covid-19 has been asked to shield in their homes until Saturday, to avoid contracting the virus. In Wales, the advice remains in place until August 16.

Under the proposals, a greater number of people would be asked to take part in the shielding programme, based on their age or particular risk factors that have been identified since March.

Government research has found that, among people already diagnosed with Covid-19, people aged 80 or older were 70 times more likely to die than those under 40. Officials have also stated that people with diabetes, heart disease and dementia all appear to be at higher risk of death.

A Government source said: “The shielding list was binary, you’re either on it or you’re not. Now we know more, we can be more sophisticated about it.”

Any proposal to ask people to remain in their homes on the basis of their age would be likely to prompt a significant backlash. Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court judge, has stated that shielding the old and vulnerable until a successful vaccine is developed would amount to “a cruel mockery of basic human values”.

An option believed to be under discussion as part of the proposed scheme is encouraging “shielding afternoons” or “shielding hours” for the most vulnerable to access shops and services without fearing that they could come into contact with those who have been freely moving around. The option comes after supermarkets introduced priority shopping hours for the elderly and vulnerable at the beginning of the national lockdown in March.

Scientists have also suggested that such a programme would require “very intensive screening” of care home staff, hospital medics, and members of a shielded person’s household, to ensure that those coming into contact with them are unlikely to transmit the virus.

An early proposal for enhanced shielding was set out in a paper by University of Edinburgh scientists in April.

They stated: “If Covid-19 was circulating only in the non-vulnerable population then the NHS could easily cope with the levels of mild disease, some hospitalisations and occasional critical care. Numbers of deaths would be low.

“Therefore, if we could greatly reduce the incidence of infection in the vulnerable group the epidemic could be manageable. Shielding is intended to reduce the incidence; to do more we need ‘enhanced shielding.”

Another option under consideration is to prevent Londoners from travelling outside of the M25 in the event of a major spike in the capital. Quarantine measures for travellers landing in the UK could also be increased, on the basis that the first wave in the country began after a significant number of cases were imported from abroad.

The Government is also thought to be considering implementing a national ban on people from different households meeting indoors, in the event that official figures show a continued rise of infections across the country, and test and trace figures suggest that such social contact is partly responsible.

Last week Lord Sumption called for the population to be allowed to make “our own personal risk assessments in the light of our age and state of health and the sort of activities in which we engage.”

Writing in The Telegraph, he stated: “For some people, social distancing will remain a sensible precaution. The rest of us should respect their choice but drop it and get on with our lives. We cannot keep running away.”

Automatic green light for building new homes, hospitals and schools in biggest shake-up since WW2

Political Editor, Sunday Telegraph, on “Three Homes” Robert Jenrick’s shake-up of the planning system posted previously.

By Edward Malnick, Sunday Political Editor 

New homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices will be given an automatic “permission in principle” in swathes of the country, under Boris Johnson’s plan for the biggest overhaul of the planning system since the Second World War.

The Prime Minister is preparing to slash red tape to produce “simpler, faster” processes as part of a “once in a generation” reform of the system.

It will see the entire country split up into three types of land: areas designated for “growth”, and those earmarked for “renewal” or “protection”.

Writing in the Telegraph [see previous post], Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, describes the country’s planning system as “complex and slow”. He reveals that under the new system, “land designated for growth will empower development – new homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices will be allowed automatically. People can get going.”

The shake-up will form the centrepiece of Mr Johnson’s plans to significantly increase the rate of construction in the UK and to “build build build” in order to help build homes and revive the economy following the national lockdown.

Mr Jenrick claims the reforms will create thousands of new jobs in construction and building design.

As part of the reforms, Mr Jenrick is planning a “digital transformation” that would allow residents to view proposals for their area on interactive online maps, rather than viewing “notices on lampposts”.

Writing in the Telegraph ahead of a consultation to be launched this week, Mr Jenrick states that the existing system through which developers and homeowners seek permission to build “has been a barrier to building homes which are affordable, where families want to raise children and build their lives.”

Currently, it takes an average of five years for a standard housing development to pass through the planning system “before a spade is even in the ground.” The Government believes it can reduce the process by up to two years.

Mr Jenrick also warns that the system has caused delays to the construction of new hospitals, schools and road improvements, which are often needed alongside large housing developments.

Under the new system, councils will be asked to earmark land for “growth”, “renewal”, or “protection”, following a planning process to which residents will be asked to contribute.

A digital overhaul of the system will be designed to encourage locals to easily have a say in the creation of local design codes, which would set out the types of buildings that are acceptable in each area.

Developers would be given “permission in principle” for schemes in “growth” areas, with full consent provided once the council has confirmed that the design is in line with local development plans which stipulate the type of buildings that can be constructed on that land.

All proposals would also be checked against the design codes, which would be incorporated into the local plans.

Areas marked for “renewal” would largely encompass brownfield and urban sites. Ministers will consult on how a similar “permission in principle” could work in practice in these areas. One option is to require proposed buildings to be based on designs in official “pattern books”.

Protected areas will include Green Belt land and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Mr Jenrick states: “Our complex and slow planning system has been a barrier to building homes which are affordable, where families want to raise children and build their lives.”

He adds: “Under the current system, it takes an average of five years for a standard housing development to go through the planning system, before a spade is even in the ground.

“This is why the Prime Minister has been clear that we need an ambitious response that matches the scale of the challenge in front of us. A once in a generation reform that lays the foundations for a better future.”

Mr Jenrick insists that the Government is “cutting red tape, but not standards”, saying that the new model “places a higher regard on quality and design than ever before.”

He confirms plans to stipulate that every new street should be tree-lined unless there are exceptional reasons.

The system will incorporate a “model design code” based on recommendations from the Government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, stipulating minimum standards on the quality of design.

“Three Homes” Robert Jenrick describes “Radical and Necessary” planning reforms to get “Britain Building”

Straight from the horse’s mouth, the devil will be in the detail:

Radical and necessary reforms to our planning system will get Britain building

Robert Jenrick 1 August 2020 
During lockdown many readers will have spent more time at home than ever before; a home can be a haven, that provides financial security, roots in a community and a place that a family can call their own

But our country’s outdated and cumbersome planning system has contributed to a generational divide between those who own property and those who don’t. Half as many 16-34 year olds own their own homes, compared to those aged 35-64.

While house prices have soared since the Millennium, with England seeing an increase at one of the fastest rates in Europe, our complex and slow planning system has been a barrier to building homes which are affordable, where families want to raise children and build their lives.

It’s resulted in delays to vital infrastructure projects that come with new housing. Communities are missing out on new hospitals, new schools and improved roads and restrictions have left derelict buildings as eyesores and empty shops on our high streets, instead of helping them to adapt and evolve.

Local building plans were supposed to help councils and their residents deliver more homes in their area, yet they take on average seven years to agree in the form of lengthy and absurdly complex documents and accompanying policies understandable only to the lawyers who feast upon every word.

Under the current system, it takes an average of five years for a standard housing development to go through the planning system – before a spade is even in the ground.

Seven years to make a plan, five years to get permission to build the houses and slow delivery of vital infrastructure.

This is why the Prime Minister has been clear that we need an ambitious response that matches the scale of the challenge in front of us. A once in a generation reform that lays the foundations for a better future.

So this week I am bringing forward radical and necessary reforms to our planning system to get Britain building and drive our economic recovery.

We are introducing a simpler, faster, people-focused system to deliver the homes and places we need.

Under the new process, through democratic local agreement, land will be designated in one of three categories: for growth, for renewal or for protection.

Land designated for growth will empower development – new homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices will be allowed automatically. People can get going.

Renewal areas will enable much quicker development with a ‘permission in principle’ approach to balance speed while ensuring appropriate checks are carried out.

And protected land will be just that – our Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and rich heritage – will be protected as the places, views and landscapes we cherish most and passed on to the next generation as set out in our manifesto.

Our reforms seek a more diverse and competitive housing industry, in which smaller builders can thrive alongside the big players and where planning permissions are turned into homes faster than they are today.

Creating a new planning system isn’t a task we undertake lightly, but it is both an overdue and a timely reform. Millions of jobs depend on the construction sector and in every economic recovery, it has played a crucial role. These reforms will create thousands of new jobs, from bricklayers to architects.

We are cutting red tape, but not standards. We will be driven by outcomes, not process.

It is easy to see why so many people are wary of development, when streets of identikit, “anywheresville” housing has become the norm. This Government doesn’t want to just build houses. We want a society that has re-established powerful links between identity and place, between our unmatchable architectural heritage and the future, between community and purpose. Our reformed system places a higher regard on quality and design than ever before, and draws inspiration from the idea of design codes and pattern books that built Bath, Belgravia and Bournville.

John Ruskin said that we must build and when we do let us think that we build forever. That will be guiding principle as we set out the future of the planning system.

New developments will be beautiful places, not just collections of buildings. Good design is the best antidote to local objections to building.

We will build environmentally friendly homes that will not need to be expensively retrofitted in the future, homes with green spaces and new parks at close hand, where tree lined streets are provided for in law, where neighbours are not strangers.

We are moving away from notices on lampposts to an interactive, and accessible map-based online system – placing planning at the fingertips of people. The planning process will be brought into the 21st century. Communities will be reconnected to a planning process that is supposed to serve them, with residents more engaged over what happens in their areas.

While the current system excludes residents who don’t have the time to contribute to the lengthy and archaic planning process, local democracy and accountability will now be enhanced by technology and transparency.

Above all, these reforms will help us build the homes our country desperately needs by unlocking land and new opportunities. In so doing we will provide secure housing for the vulnerable, bridge the generational divide and recreate an ownership society, one in which millions more people can open their front door and say with pride, “welcome to my home”.

Robert Jenrick is the Housing Secretary

The Guardian view on delaying elections: it’s what autocrats do 

Remember that closer to home Cllr. Stuart Hughes whilst Chairman of EDDC (and as such upholder of the constitution)  decidecd to cancel the May 2020 Annual Meeting. The subsequently elected leader of a new administration, when elections eventually took place, Paul Arnott described this decision in the following terms:

“He took the opportunity provided by a change in legislation by the government to prematurely cancel the annual council meeting, and this decision has predictably created five meetings at a time of crisis to do the same business.

“I have no doubt that he hoped for an outcome where he simply stayed in the chair for a second year, described by his leader last week as ‘the regular term’, wrong constitutionally and undesirable politically.

“He claims to have filled the chair as a ‘civic’ role, but this sweeping statement on his way out parrots Tory press release”.

Now read on.

Postponing elections is what autocracies do. On Friday, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, announced a delay to September’s planned legislative council (LegCo) elections. Ms Lam cited the coronavirus public health emergency as her justification. Yet the real reason is Hong Kong’s political emergency. Hong Kong’s elections have been postponed because even with its very limited democracy, Ms Lam and the Chinese government are afraid the voters will choose a LegCo with greater sympathy for the protests.

In spite of their very different systems, Donald Trump’s reasons for proposing the postponement of November’s US presidential election are essentially the same. Mr Trump also cites the pandemic. But his real motives are also political. He thinks he is losing the campaign. He thinks Joe Biden will be elected in November. He wants to stop him if he can, by fair means or foul. And he wants to discredit his own defeat.

Yet, there are significant differences between the two cases, which need to be understood. These make Mr Trump’s move in some respects even more sinister. There is nothing in the US constitution that permits the president to postpone an election. The date is fixed by law. Such a change would require an act of both houses of Congress, so it is not going to happen. Even Republicans admit this. In any event, a postponement would not allow Mr Trump to continue in office beyond January 2021.

The US has held elections in difficult times before. In 1864, it conducted one at the height of the American civil war. In 1944, it conducted another while war raged in Europe and the Pacific. And in 1918, during one of the worst phases of the Spanish flu pandemic at the end of the first world war, it conducted a third. There is absolutely no reason why the US should treat the Covid-19 pandemic any differently. Democracy demands it.

As there will be no postponement, why then did Mr Trump take the extreme and extraordinary step this week of suggesting that there should be? The reasons go far beyond conventional partisan rivalries and his fear of defeat, real though that now is. And they are deeply sinister. America does not just have a deep tradition of democratic elections. It also has a deep tradition, dating from the foundation of the republic, of trying to stop black Americans from participating in themIn recent years this has taken the form of systematic purging of voter rolls, imposing tough identity checks to register and vote, restricting early and absentee voting, and disenfranchising current and former prisoners. All these and more are practised on an industrial scale by Republican state legislators.

Mr Trump is trying to mobilise these forces to fight dirty on his behalf. He is doing so on the basis of race at precisely the time when America has been galvanised by the Black Lives Matter campaign. He is also doing it to distract from his terrible failings. More than 150,000 Americans have died of Covid-19. The US economy has collapsed by 33% since April.

But Mr Trump is also challenging democracy itself. The election, he said this week, could be fraudulent, inaccurate and crooked. Mr Trump is knowingly stoking the fears of many of his supporters that only a mobilisation on the basis of race, potentially with very violent means, will prevent his defeat. He is preparing the ground for a defiance of the result, and preparing to deny legitimacy to his potential successor. It has the potential to be the most destructive act of this already uniquely dystopian presidency. Even at this late hour, it is a defining moment for the entire Republican party.

Planning Applications validated in EDDC for week beginning 20 July

MPs back Network Rail plans which could introduce a ‘Devon Metro’ train service

Owl thought there was already an hourly service to most of these station. More and extended loop lines – how often have we been promised these.

So what is Owl missing in this “MPs jumping on the station band wagon” story? Ah! could it be sold as all conditional on voting for GESP, reinforcing the tired old Tory “stick and carrot” scare stories?

Worth reading Council Leader Paul Arnott’s comments on the illusion and myths of such plans here as part of the GESP debate

No mention of “greening” the trains either.


The MPs for Tiverton and Honiton and East Devon have given their support to a proposal which would see the creation of a ‘Devon Metro’ train service.


The Devon Metro would be an hourly Axminster to Exeter St David’s service that calls at all stations and could be extended to Barnstaple.

It comes as part of Network Rail’s recommended improvements for the Exeter to Waterloo Line which currently receives regular complaints of overcrowding.

Network Rail’s plan, which is known a Continuous Modular Strategic Planning report (CMSP), would also see an extension of the Honiton Loop westward for up to 3km, a new loop in the Whimple and Cranbrook area, an additional platform at Cranbrook Station and an extension to the existing Tisbury Loop.

However, any plans would need approval from the Government, and groups such as Salisbury to Exeter Rail Users’ Group have encouraged MPs to put pressure on the Minister of Transport to ensure the process continues at a speedy pace.

Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish said: “Network Rail’s plan for the Exeter to Waterloo route is hugely encouraging, identifying the key issues with the line and coming up with viable solutions.

“Faster travel times between East Devon and Waterloo are much needed, as is better connectivity around the greater Exeter area, using the Devon Metro to improve local services between Axminster, Honiton and Exeter.

“With growth in housing and employment in the region, there is a clear business case for more public transport investment. “I will be making that very case to the Transport Minister, who I know is working hard to reverse the Beeching cuts and invest in clean, green, public transport to connect our towns and spread opportunity.”

Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, said: “We must continue to invest to improve our railway network in the South West to keep the region connected and competitive.

“I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport to support the new proposals which would improve connectivity and boost our economy in East Devon. I am already working with MPs in the region and Devon County Council to push for this investment.”

Political pay-offs in Lords appointments – need for constraint

Boris Johnson’s 36 new peerages make the need to constrain prime ministerial appointments to the House of Lords clearer than ever

Boris Johnson’s long-awaited list of new peerage appointments was published today [31 July 2020] , and includes 36 names. Instantly, by appointing such a large number of new members to the Lords, Johnson has undone years of progress in trying to manage the size of the chamber down – returning it to over 800 members. Here, Meg Russell, a leading academic expert on the Lords and adviser to two different parliamentary committees on the chamber’s size, analyses the numbers – showing the detrimental effects on both the chamber’s overall membership and its party balance. She argues that Johnson’s new peerages make it clearer than ever that constraints must be placed on the Prime Minister’s power to appoint to the Lords.

Professor Meg Russell 

News reports about Boris Johnson’s first major round of Lords appointments have focused largely on personalities – the appointment of cricketer Ian Botham, the return to the fold of Conservative grandees such as Ken Clarke and Philip Hammond, who Johnson stripped of the party whip last year, and his reward of former Labour Brexiteers. But while some of these names may be notable, the bigger and more important issue is how Johnson’s new appointments will affect the Lords as a parliamentary chamber, and how they show up – yet again, and powerfully – the problems with the largely unregulated appointment process.

It is remarkable that in 2020 there are still no enforceable constraints on how many peers a Prime Minister can appoint to the second chamber of the UK legislature. Formally appointments are made by the Queen, but convention requires her to act on prime ministerial advice. The Prime Minister can choose when to appoint, how many to appoint, and what the party balance is among new members. A House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) was created in 2000, but has very limited power. It merely vets the Prime Minister’s proposed nominees for propriety (e.g. ensuring that their tax affairs are in order), and recommends an occasional handful of names for appointment as independent members. It can do nothing to police the numbers, or even the broader suitability of the PM’s own appointees. In theory, a Prime Minister could simply appoint hundreds of members of their own party (indeed, during the Brexit debates there were threats to do so both from the now Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg and from Johnson himself). Appointees could even all be personal friends of the Prime Minister. The sole constraint is HOLAC’s propriety check (which is rumoured to have angered Johnson by weeding out some of his nominees) and any fear of media or public backlash. This unregulated patronage is one of the last vestiges of pure prime ministerial ‘prerogative’ power. Following last year’s Supreme Court case, even the previously unregulated power to prorogue parliament now exists within some legal constraints.

Aside from general concerns about patronage, there are two main interconnected problems caused by unregulated appointments on the House of Lords. First, the ever growing size of the chamber. Second, the lack of any rational basis for its party balance. 

The size of the House of Lords has long been controversial. Significant political energy has recently gone into trying to contain, and to manage down, the chamber’s number of members – but Johnson’s appointments put that into reverse.

As the first graph shows, 20 years ago (shortly after the House of Lords Act 1999, which removed most hereditary peers) the chamber had just over 650 members – leaving it similar in size to the House of Commons. Subsequently, numbers crept up gradually under Prime Minister Tony Blair, who made 374 peerage appointments in just over 10 years (figures here, from the House of Lords Library). Since this outstripped the number of departures from the chamber (primarily resulting from deaths among older peers), its size gradually grew. The problem then accelerated significantly under Prime Minister Cameron, who appointed 245 new members in only six years. This quickly took the overall size of the Lords to well over 800 members. For contrast the second chambers in FranceItaly and Germany respectively – whose first chambers are similar in size to the House of Commons – comprise 348, 320 and 69 members respectively. Famously the Chinese People’s Congress – arguably more of an annual conference than a parliament – is the only chamber in the world larger than the House of Lords.

Size of the House of Lords 2000 – 2020

Lords graph 1

Notes: All figures are from House of Lords Library/House of Lords Information Office. All except the most recent are for January of the relevant year. ‘Total including in eligible peers’ includes members on leave of absence or otherwise temporarily disqualified (who in principle could return).

Various people and groups raised the alarm about these developments. The Constitution Unit published two reports on the chamber’s growing size – in 2011 and 2015 – and the matter was debated regularly in the Lords itself, and considered by the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. In 2016 that committee’s successor, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC), announced an inquiry into the size of the Lords (for which I served as specialist adviser). Later that year the matter was debated in the Lords, and a motion was agreed that ‘this House believes that its size should be reduced, and methods should be explored by which this could be achieved’. That vote led to creation of the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House, chaired by Lord Burns (for which again I was an adviser), which reported in November 2017. The Burns committee set out a detailed plan to reduce the Lords’ size to 600, via a combination of retirements and voluntary constraints on the Prime Minister’s appointment power. It demanded, in the first instance, adherence to a ‘two out one in’ principle, so that the number of new peers should be just half the number departing, until the target size was reached. PACAC endorsed this broad approach in November 2018, but wanted both quicker and firmer action. This included a suggestion (recommendation 5) that the Cabinet Manual should set out new limits on the Prime Minister’s patronage powers.

As the graph above shows, there was a gradual slow decline in the size of the Lords over this period, from a high point in 2016, due to a combination of retirements, deaths, and the limited new appointments by Prime Minister Theresa May. May’s response to the Burns report was to pledge restraint, and she created just 43 life peers during her premiership – an annual rate around half that of David Cameron. Sadly, as the graph shows, this carefully-negotiated progress under May will be totally wiped out by Johnson’s 36 new appointments. Despite an early plea to the new Prime Minister from the Burns Committee, urging him to ‘take the same constructive approach to our work as his predecessor did’, no such commitment followed. By January, the Lord Speaker, former Conservative Cabinet minister Norman Fowler, was driven by rumours of the number of impending appointments to call for a complete moratorium, lamenting that ‘My chief hope had been that the Prime Minister would follow the course of his predecessor… I fear that my hopes may soon be dashed’. Sadly all of his hard work, and that of the Burns committee, will be undone by Johnson’s large round of new appointments.

The second problem created by unregulated appointments is their relationship to the chamber’s party balance. A primary reason that prime ministers appoint to the Lords is to strengthen the position of their own party. A recurring problem over the history of the Lords is that incoming prime ministers often seek to rebalance against their predecessors’ appointments. But the Conservatives have been in government for 10 years, and became the largest party in the Lords in 2015 – as seen in the second graph. This also shows that Labour became the largest party in 2006 – a full nine years after coming to office – and stayed only fairly marginally ahead for the remainder of its term. In contrast the Conservatives were already well ahead of Labour before Johnson’s new appointments. These included 19 Conservatives and only 5 Labour. Over 10 years the number of Labour peers has declined from 211 to 179, while the number of Conservatives has grown from 189 to 261. A Labour lead of 22 when the party was last in office has now become a Conservative lead of 82. The Burns committee report, like various others mentioned above, strongly emphasised the need for balanced appointments according to a clear formula – in order to remove the long-running incentive for ‘tit for tat’ appointments. Johnson has very plainly flouted this principle, leaving Labour at a major disadvantage, and weakening parliamentary oversight powers as a result.

Balance of parties and groups in the House of Lords 2000 – 2020

Lords graph 2

Notes: All figures are from House of Lords Library/House of Lords Information Office. All except the most recent are for January of the relevant year.

So what is the solution? It cannot simply be higher numbers of retirements from the Lords. As Lord Fowler put it in January, ‘It is both unsustainable and unfair for peers to retire, only to find that they are immediately replaced by a Prime Minister who appoints more than the number who have departed’. As recognised by all the prior reports cited above, without constraints on the Prime Minister’s patronage there is no guaranteed means for the size of the chamber to be controlled.

We may now return to a battle of spin over who gets the blame for the chamber’s bloated size – the Prime Minister or the House of Lords itself. An oversized membership certainly damages the reputation of the Lords, and of parliament overall, as well as generating inefficiency, reduced effectiveness, and unnecessary public expense. None of this is good for the health of our democracy. But make no mistake, any such problem is wholly of the Prime Minister’s making – the Lords, particularly under the recent leadership of Lord Fowler, has made huge efforts to contain the situation.

Parliamentarians and parliamentary committees must now urgently return to this matter, not least as there is already talk of a further round of Johnson appointments to comewhich would worsen matters further still. Short term, some have suggested that frustration in the Lords could spark radical non-cooperation, through peers refusing to ‘introduce’ excessive new members. In April Conservative Lord Balfe suggested that introductions should be limited to the number set out in the Burns committee report. But this approach would be controversial and ultimately unsatisfactory.

Longer term, the Burns committee sought carefully to lay out a non-legislative solution, based on common understandings and restraint. Commitment to these principles should immediately be reiterated in the Lords, by key parliamentary committees, and by other party leaders. But sadly, in an environment where those at the heart of the government machine have become dismissive of  constitutional convention and constraint, the only sure way to control the size of the Lords is to legislate to remove the Prime Minister’s unfettered power.

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About the author

Professor Meg Russell is Director of the Constitution Unit, and a Senior Fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe (UKICE) studying ‘Brexit, Parliament and the Constitution’. She is author of The Contemporary House of Lords: Westminster Bicameralism Revived (Oxford University Press, 2013), and has served as specialist adviser to both the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House, and the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, both on inquiries into the size of the House of Lords.