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Elected second chamber based on nations and regions ‘unlikely to happen’, says Labour grandee

17 Jun 2023 4 minute read
Photo ROGER HARRIS, CC BY 3.0

Martin Shipton

A former UK Labour Cabinet Minister has cast doubt on claims that an incoming government led by Sir Keir Starmer would be able to replace the House of Lords with an elected second chamber based on the nations and regions.

Recently ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown recommended such a radical reform in a report commissioned by Labour.

But Lord Andrew Adonis, who served as Transport Secretary in Mr Brown’s Cabinet and earlier was a constitutional adviser to Tony Blair, has now argued that getting Parliamentary approval for such a change would be fraught with difficulty.

Restructure

In an article for Prospect magazine, he states: “What form might a radical restructure of the Lords take? This is where, despite Keir Starmer’s nod towards radical reform, agreement breaks down within Labour ranks. For beyond removing the remaining hereditary peers, which is constitutionally inconsequential, there is no consensus on reform.

“Some want to continue with a fairly weak second chamber which is nominated, just on a different basis to today with fewer and hopefully ‘better’ members, whereas others favour an elected second chamber, which even with the modest amending and delaying powers of the existing revising House would be far more assertive because of its democratic credentials.

“I am in the elected camp. Unless the Lords is elected, its legitimacy and efficacy will always be severely impaired, however good the system of nomination. The reality is that whatever the balance between Tory and Labour, a nominated House will probably always suffer the double handicap of being both democratically illegitimate in principle and heavily dominated by London and the southeast in practice, where about half its current members reside (myself included).

“What of Gordon Brown’s idea of ‘a senate of the nations and regions’? I like this idea, partly to strengthen devolution across the UK. Such a chamber could in theory be indirectly elected. But the big practical problem is that England‚ which accounts for more than 80% of the UK population, has no systematised form of devolution, and in particular no regional assemblies except for Greater London. So a second chamber on the German model of the Bundesrat, representing Germany’s 16 federal state governments, is impossible.

“The only way of composing a UK senate of the nations and regions is therefore either to have it directly elected—by some form of proportional representation so it isn’t a replica of the Commons—or to attempt some form of regional nomination, the complexity of which I cannot even begin to conceive.”

Controversial 

Lord Adonis concludes: “The reality is that any radical reform of the Lords will be difficult and controversial, with strongly conflicting views about different options. Every aspect of a new second chamber – its size, its composition, its powers, even its geographical location – will be contested item by item, consuming huge amounts of legislative time even if successful. And it could probably only be successful if attempted at the beginning of a Labour government, like the removal of the hereditary peers by Tony Blair after 1997, when there is the political will to override intense opposition from existing Lords.

“In my view, if major reform is worth attempting at all, it should be for a reform which has the potential to make a real difference—ie an elected second chamber which is both far more representative than the existing life peerages and far better able to stand up to Britain’s ‘elective dictatorship’ than the existing weak House of Lords. But even after Johnson, that is a minority view among my Labour parliamentary colleagues, and a tiny minority view in the Lords. So unless Truss and Sunak are as bad as Boris over peerages, I wouldn’t bet on radical reform.”

Reacting to Lord Adonis’ argument, Blaenau Gwent Labour MS Alun Davies said: “Lords reform will be a real test of Labour’s determination to put the inequality, corruption and failures of the Tory years behind us. Abolition and reform of the Lords is a key part of renewing Britain, our democracy and economy.

“There will always be the siren voices of conservatism who will want to maintain the status quo with only minor changes – and no changes which fundamentally address the power structures of Britain. But that will do nothing to address the fundamental inequalities of the British state.

“I believe that the overwhelming majority of Labour members, supporters and voters want more and want to see the corrupt House of Lords put into the bin of history.”


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Steve Woods
Steve Woods
10 months ago

A second chamber based on the nations and regions sounds like a typical pig’s breakfast that only the British establishment could devise.

Paddy
Paddy
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Woods

That’s the German Bundesrat. It ensures the centre doesn’t take power from the regions.

It can’t work in the the UK without English regional government, and that isn’t going to happen.

Mawkernewek
10 months ago
Reply to  Paddy

The difference with the UK is this weird phrase ‘nations and regions’ with the not very well hidden subtext being that the non-England nations are really treated as regions.

John Hammond
John Hammond
10 months ago
Reply to  Paddy

Then time it did happen. Let’s get on with it. Heads out of sand, please.

Riki
Riki
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Woods

English establishment – let me ask you this question, when all the nations of the island inevitably get their independence, who are the rightful owners of the cultural term “British”? Who will be able to say such at their embassies worldwide? It should obviously be Wales!

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
10 months ago

So basically it’s business as usual for power hungry centrist Blue Labour Acording to Lord Adonis. Sly Starmer will promises the earth to the electorate, and when they have a foot in the doorway, will resort to type by reneging of all their key pledges by making excuses how the political climate has changed since, mention Ukraine as an excuse, and how it’s not the right time when the Welsh Government asks for further devolution denied by the Tories. Classic career politician speak of dodge and dictate. In reality there should not be any House of Lords or Second Chamber… Read more »

Gareth
Gareth
10 months ago

Do the people of Cymru think that the London establishmen/elite, are going to dismantle hundreds of years of power and privilege, to benefit the devolved govs. What would happen to the Oxbridge Uni brigade, the Eton pathway to being an MP/ PM and career in the civil service. To my mind, the proposals of Mr Brown and Drakeford are utter pish basically echoed by Lord Adonis, whichwill never get backing from enough who want change. This is not the Labour socialist party who are against the privileged few.

Richard
Richard
10 months ago

An interesting debate for the idle Sunday morning intellectuals of Islington and north Cardiff ; though of no concern to Mrs Jones on the Fflint to Deeside 6.15am Bus 🚌 or pensioner Tom milking his cows 🐮 in rural Penmachno or indeed Phil the young career getting his mam out of bed before he goes to school 🏫…

GET REAL

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard

Yawn…we heard the same disengenuous twaddle from anti devolutionists ahead of the welsh devolution referendums in 1997 and 2011. Turned out the likes of Mrs Jones in Fflint and Tom in rural Penmachno were interested in greater powers for Wales 😉

John Hammond
John Hammond
10 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

Agreed. Time those examples of people for whom this is “of no concern” got off their backsides and made it their concern. In general, everything political has an effect on everybody. It’s laziness to pretend otherwise.

Richard
Richard
10 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

Leigh . Greater powers for their communities locally and in the Senedd for issues around 💧 criminal justice plus broadcasting and income from aviation and Crown Estate for sure but certainly but not the merits or de merits of an elected House of Lords with its voice for the regions is not an issue those of us who have achieved elected office have ever had raised with us on the ‘ door steps ‘

Last edited 10 months ago by Richard
Rob
Rob
10 months ago

The term ‘nations and regions’ is a bit patronising. It implies that Wales and Scotland are on par with the West Country, Yorkshire, the Midlands etc as well as ignoring England’s right to call itself a nation. I would have 2 upper chambers. The first would be a ‘House of the Nations’ which scrutinises UK wide legislation where each of the four nations have equal voting power regardless of population. The second would be a ‘Chamber of the Regions’ represented only by the 9 English regions and responsible only for scrutinising England only legislation. In turn the Scottish Parliament, Senedd… Read more »

John Hammond
John Hammond
10 months ago
Reply to  Rob

I think I understand your concerns. However, the more complicated we make the “solution” the less chance of getting it to happen.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
10 months ago

Brown’s proposed reform is as worthless as the promises he (and others) made to the people of Scotland ahead of the scottish indy referendum when it looked as if the unionists were going to lose. We should know by now that the number one priority for unionist stooges like Brown and Drakeford is the preservation of the union not what’s best for Scotland and Wales.

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
10 months ago

A colony we are refered to sometimes something dawned on me Yesterday while in town Pontypridd which i go into often the amount of People with London of South east of England Accents not posh people working class only i dont think they work listened to 2 different families talking both live on council estates these are not the type paying the of families who BUY houses to retire they have young children i know i read somewhere they where moving families from London to Newcastle the local councils paying good money to the other councils i am not rascist… Read more »

Gareth
Gareth
10 months ago
Reply to  Dai Ponty

RCT council several years ago were accepting ” problem families” from England and housing them, in return for financial reward. They claimed in the past that it was helping the locals by generating money this way. I am from a village just over the mountain from Ponty, where families from Liverpool Manchester and London have been given council houses, and all were unemployed when arriving.

John Hammond
John Hammond
10 months ago

Ooh, let’s give up before we even begin. Lord Adonis’ contribution is not especially helpful. Let’s just take it as a warning of the difficulties and get on with the reform anyway.

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