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Ethnic and Religious Diversity in the House of Lords

Published Tuesday, November 5, 2019

This House of Lords Library Briefing provides background information on ethnic and religious representation in the House of Lords.

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Estimates suggest that around 6% of Members come from a minority ethnic background. This is significantly lower than the ethnic diversity of the UK population. The Office for National Statistics puts the UK minority ethnic population at 13%, based on the 2011 census. However, the ethnic diversity of the House of Lords has grown in the last 20 years, up from an estimated 2.6% minority ethnic membership in 2001. By comparison, 8% of MPs are minority ethnic, which itself was up from 2% in 2001. There are no estimates on religious diversity. The membership though is increasingly multi-faith. However, Members are not appointed solely because of any religious beliefs or ‘ex-officio’ position they hold. The exceptions are the Lords Spiritual. They make up around 3% of the membership of the House of Lords, a small percentage of the overall size. Lords Spiritual are the 26 Church of England bishops. There are also Members who hold no religious beliefs.

The diversity of the House of Lords is dependent upon appointments. However, given membership is for life, and retirement is only a recent possibility, change in the overall diversity of the House of Lords can be slow. The Queen formally appoints Members through the creation of life peerages granted to individuals. These peers are created on the advice of the prime minister. The prime minister controls the regularity and number of new appointments. In reality, the prime minister will seek nominations from opposition parties, as well as nominating from his/her own. The prime minister is also able to nominate up to ten individuals per parliament to the crossbenches who have a proven record of public service. Among such appointments in recent years have been retired senior civil servants, a retired Church of England bishop and former diplomats.

The House of Lord Appointments Committee (HOLAC) also provides the prime minister with nominations to the crossbenches. In making its suggestions, HOLAC is asked by the prime minister to have regard to diversity, including ethnicity, religion, gender and geographic, as well as professional expertise. HOLAC also vets all political peerage nominations for propriety but has no say about the diversity, or overall suitability, of those nominations. In recent years, the annual number of HOLAC appointments has been around two or three, relatively small compared to political appointments. However, to date 19% of its 71 appointments have been minority ethnic individuals.

In 2017, the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House suggested non-legislative ways to cut membership by about 200 and proposed an appointments formula. The House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has recommended that HOLAC be given an advanced role in monitoring and reporting diversity, with the objective of influencing the nominations of political parties. The Government has said it would speak to HOLAC about its future role.

Lords Library notes LLN-2019-0150

Author: Matthew Purvis

Topics: Ethnic groups, House of Lords, Members of the Lords, Religion and faith communities

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