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Baroness Boothroyd wanted to use her final speech to criticise prime ministers for granting too many peerages to their friends or those with “fat bank accounts”, her former secretary has revealed.
The former Speaker, who died last February, had intended to make a valedictory speech in the Lords before retiring and had agreed to the final draft.
She was, however, unable to deliver it as a result of ill health and Sir Nicholas Bevan, her former secretary, has now arranged for it to be published.
Lady Boothroyd, a former Labour MP, planned to set out her views on the composition of the House of Lords as well as to declare that politics had not been “just a career” but her life.
In a text of the final address, she wrote: “Successive prime ministers have attached importance to their power of patronage; in my view this should be exercised far less generously than has tended to be the case in the recent past.
“Of course, prime ministers should be permitted to make appointments on leaving office but they should be limited in their proposals and they should not include those who are simply friends or have no other qualifications than having fat bank accounts from which they have bankrolled the party in power.”
‘Absurd’ number of members in the Lords
The existence of the speech was revealed at Lady Boothroyd’s memorial at the Westminster Abbey earlier this month.
The final version, published on Monday in the House Magazine, was agreed in 2022 a few months before her death, according to Sir Nicholas.
Boris Johnson announced he was going to resign in July 2022 and sparked a backlash after a draft of his resignation honours list emerged that summer which included Mr Johnson’s aides and Tory donors.
A total of seven new life peerages were eventually announced in June of last year as part of his final honours list, which included Baroness Owen, who became the youngest ever life peer aged 29.
Theresa May, Mr Johnson’s predecessor, granted 19 life peerages and David Cameron before her granted 16.
Lady Boothroyd had also urged that all appointments to the House of Lords should be subject to the agreement of the Appointments Commission – which currently has the power only to advise on nominations.
“The commission’s powers should not simply be advisory but should be put on a statutory basis. Nobody should become a member of this House if a statutory Appointments Commission has reservations about their suitability,” she added.
Lady Boothroyd also wrote that she did not “see a role any longer for members who are here simply as a result of their heredity”, and called the size of the Lords “absurd” at over 800 members.
“Not only do we not need so many members to carry out our role, but our size positively militates against effectiveness and efficiency and is unnecessarily expensive,” she added.
Lady Boothroyd also reflected on her long parliamentary career, becoming the 27th woman elected when she became the West Bromwich MP in May 1973.
“My Lords, parliamentary politics for me has never been just a career; it has been my life and, like miners’ coal dust, it cannot be scrubbed out from under one’s fingernails.”
The speech’s publication comes as a major report recommended the powers of prime ministers to hand out peerages and honours should be curtailed. The findings, reported by The Times, are the result of a six-month “governance project” chaired by former Conservative attorney-general Dominic Grieve KC.