In Depth

How to become a peer in the House of Lords

Ken Clarke and Phillip Hammond look likely to end up in ermine - but Bercow snubbed by party

The appointment of former Commons speaker John Bercow to the House of Lords “would be a scandal that Parliament would struggle to live down”, according to the man accusing him of bullying behaviour.

Lt Gen David Leakey, former Black Rod for the House of Lords, made the comments to the BBC’s Today programme as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares his list of new peers.

Former chancellors Ken Clarke and Phillip Hammond have made the cut, according to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, despite them having their Conservative whip withdrawn last year after attempting to block a no-deal Brexit.

While the nomination and vetting process for new peers is still open, Bercow’s ennobling has been in doubt after the government, fresh off their sweeping pre-Christmas electoral win, failed to nominate him, making him the first former speaker not be offered the chance to sit in the upper chamber by a government in 230 years.

How are peers chosen?

The 1999 House of Lords Act ended the right of hereditary peers to pass membership down through the family and introduced the House of Lords Appointments Commission, explains Parliament.co.uk.

“Set up in May 2000, this independent, public body recommends individuals for appointment as non-party-political life peers and vets nominations for life peers to ensure the highest standards of propriety,” says the site.

There are several different routes into the House of Lords. For example, dissolution honours take place at the end of a parliament, when parties can give peerages to MPs who are leaving the Commons. Resigning prime ministers can also recommend peerages.

“The Archbishops of Canterbury and York usually get life peerages on retirement,” says Politics.co.uk, although the number of bishops in the House of Lords has been limited to 26 since the mid-nineteenth century. From time to time, a list of working peers will also be announced from the three main parties.

“Traditionally, peerages are awarded to former Speakers of the House of Commons,” says the site.

So why not Bercow?

Bercow, the 57th speaker of the House, has been nominated by Jeremy Corbyn instead of the Tories, and his supporters accuse the government of eschewing custom in an act of spite - retribution for his obstructionist stance towards Brexit.

In the Brexit chaos of 2019, Bercow rose to prominence as a figurehead for Remainers as parliament fought a bitter civil war, with the government trying to force their Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons.

He gained international notoriety in the process, and is now drumming up publicity for the release of his new memoir, Unspeakable, out today.

In the book, Bercow shows little interest in improving his relationship with the executive to clear a path to the Lords. He is hugely critical of Brexit and of the government, saying of the prime minister that he is “at his occasional best a passably adequate politician”, adding: “He is disproportionately preoccupied with whatever serves the cause of advancement for Boris Johnson.”

Further obstructing his chances of a peerage, the bullying allegations continue to hang over his chances of appointment to the House of Lords. In late January, Bercow’s former most senior aide, Lord Lisvane, formally submitted a bullying complaint against him.

Is Bercow a bully?

Bercow has vehemently denied the allegations, pointing out their timing, alluding that their purpose is to excuse not offering him a peerage.

“During the five years that we worked together, Lord Lisvane had ample opportunity to raise any accusations of bullying with me,” Bercow said in response to the report submitted in January. “At no stage did he do so, even though he became clerk of the house - the most senior official. The timing of this intervention is curious.”

Leakey’s intervention yesterday added some colour to the report filed by Lisvane. “He would fly into a rage, the red mist would descend… jumping up and down and balling out,” he said. “He called me an anti-Semite once after being rather rude and insulting about my background, education and military career.”

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In response, Bercow called Leakey’s claims “total and utter rubbish from start to finish”.

“David Leakey didn’t work for me, he wasn’t employed by me, he wasn’t employed by the House of Commons,” Bercow said in an interview with Sky News. ”What we have here is a person who had left the House, is thrashing about, desperate to remain relevant.”

Leakey, however, rejected the notion his accusation was politically timed and motivated. “I think that John Bercow suggested this is rather opportunistic, but it’s not,” he said. “I called him out two years ago… I think some people have admitted they had gagging clauses and non-disclosure agreements when they left the Commons.”

Labour shadow minister Diane Abbott weighed in to support Bercow, expressing her suspicion on Twitter. “Allegations come from former parliamentary official David Leakey. He had been a lieutenant general who served in Germany, Northern Ireland and Bosnia, but claims he was bullied (i.e. intimidated and coerced) by John Bercow,” she wrote. “Unlikely.”

The tweet has since been removed, however, as Abbott faced a backlash for her post. “Indeed Diane - faced with an abusive boss, we often advise members to deploy military self-defence tactics,” said Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, the union representing senior civil servants.

The Telegraph points out that the allegations against Bercow have a history beyond recent weeks. “An independent inquiry, led by the former High Court judge Dame Laura Cox QC, into working conditions at the Palace of Westminster published two years ago said he had presided over a culture of ‘deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence’.”

“Is the Labour Party,” the publication continues, “so assiduous in demanding the protection of employees harassed by their bosses, seriously going to proceed with his nomination? The hypocrisy would be breathtaking.”

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