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Starmer plans to replace House of Lords with new upper house ‘truly representative’ of nations and regions

19 Nov 2022 6 minute read
The House of Lords. Picture by the House of Lords (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Keir Starmer is to outline reforms to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an elected chamber that is “‘truly representative” of the different nations and regions of the UK.

Labour briefed the Guardian newspaper that the new Upper Chamber would “should have a clear role in safeguarding devolution”.

The role of the second chamber – amending and scrutinising legislation produced by the House of Commons – would not change.

The proposals will also set out much stronger devolved powers following former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s constitutional review, they said.

Keir Starmer told Labour Lords on Wednesday of his plans and that the House had been used by the Conservative government to reward “lackeys and donors” rather than provide effective scrutiny of the House of Commons.

“We should be rebuilding trust in politics, but this can’t just be an article of faith – we need to show how we will do things differently. Reforming our second chamber has to be a part of that,” he said.

‘Merit’

Yesterday plans to reform the appointment process of the House of Lords took a step closer to becoming law after several peers from across the political spectrum acknowledged the upper chamber is “too large”.

Sponsored by constitutional expert and Tory peer Lord Norton of Louth, the House of Lords (Peerage Nominations) Bill would strengthen the House of Lords Appointments Commission’s (HOLAC) role by requiring the Prime Minister to wait until the commission had advised on whether a nominated individual met specified criteria.

The principal criteria would be “conspicuous merit” and a “willingness and capacity to contribute to the work of the House of Lords”.

Moving the second reading debate in the upper chamber, Lord Norton complained “recent prime ministers have been rather profligate in making nominations for peerages”.

He added: “Just after the enactment of the House of Lords Act 1999, we were approximately the same size in membership as the House of Commons.

“We now exceed membership of the House of Commons by a three-figure number. We have discussed and agreed without dissent that we are too large.

“The process of nomination is also a matter of contention, the media variously criticising those whose names have been put forward. I’m not concerned today with particular cases but with the problems associated with the process.

“My key concern is achieving an appointment process that merits the trust of the people: this Bill is designed to contribute to achieving that.”

The Bill received an unopposed second reading, as is convention for private members’ bills in the upper house, and will now undergo further scrutiny at a later stage.

While many peers spoke in favour of the proposals, plans to wreck the Bill will traditionally come to the fore at committee and report stage.

‘Heavy lifting’

Consideration of proposals follows accusations that former prime minister Boris Johnson has proposed several Conservative MPs for peerages, but told them to delay accepting them to prevent triggering by-elections.

Mr Johnson’s resignation list, alongside Liz Truss’s, could also see a large increase in the number of Tory peers in the House of Lords, at a time when the size of the upper chamber is already seen as being excessive.

Lord Norton argued “there are no formal constraints on whom the Prime Minister can nominate, nor the number of names that can submitted” and that whilst the commission “does a very worthwhile job”, its powers are “limited, not least in terms of scrutiny”.

Detailing his Bill, the Conservative peer said: “It protects the Appointments Commission and its independence by putting it on a statutory basis and providing that members, including the chair, are nominated jointly by the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker.”

Lord Norton explained the Prime Minister would also be required to have regard to three principles when determining whether to recommend individuals for new life peerages.

These would be that at least 20% of the membership of the House of Lords must comprise members who are independent of a registered political party; that no one party may have an absolute majority of members; and that the membership of the House of Lords must be no larger than that of the House of Commons.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, an independent crossbencher, said the Bill was a “no-brainer”, after explaining: “The House of Commons is not a well-run legislative chamber.

“The majority of its members who are not on the payroll vote are not legislators, they are actively discouraged from being legislators, particularly when you have a large majority as of present.

“We do most of the heavy lifting here. As a headhunter the idea of appointing somebody in theory to legislate, but then doing virtually nothing is anathema, it’s perverse, it’s disreputable.”

Meanwhile, Labour peer Lord Howarth of Newport said the “size of the House has grown inordinately with mass appointments of political peers”, adding: “Whatever the individual merits of new colleagues, the scale and partisanship of appointments has damaged both the reputation and the functioning of the Lords.”

‘Success’

Cabinet Office minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe told peers the Government will “of course reflect”on the debate.

However, explaining her reservations about the Bill, she said: “The Prime Minister is ultimately responsible to Parliament and the people for any nominations that he, or in the past she, makes to this house, and the Government does not see the case for changing this.

“The Government considers, however, that the House of Lords Appointments Commission forms its role well as it’s currently constituted, and is extremely grateful for the work that it does.

“The fact that members of this House are appointed from a wide range of backgrounds is testament to its success.”

‘Presidential’

Intervening, former Lord Speaker and independent crossbencher Baroness Hayman questioned how Conservative former prime minister Boris Johnson is currently accountable to the British public.

She said: “Could she explain to me how the last but one prime minister Boris Johnson, against whom many of the criticisms about appointments have been made, is in any way now accountable to the British public or to Parliament for what he did?

“We do not have, as someone said, a presidential system, the Prime Minister is not personally accountable for this and all this Bill is trying to do is to ensure a degree of probity and appropriate scrutiny, a check and a balance for which our constitution is so well respected, in the process of appointments to your Lordships’ House.”

The Cabinet Office minister replied: “Our Prime Minister, as she says, becomes accountable… for putting forward the names of peers in the future, taking into account the advice of HOLAC.”


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David
David
20 days ago

Will the Lords & Ladies vote for Christmas!!

Frank
Frank
20 days ago

Will all the current lords and ladies get massive payoffs if it’s abolished?

Gareth
Gareth
20 days ago

As seperate nations, do Cymru Scotland and N Ireland get a veto, and nation status, or are we no more then the ” regions” of England, so no change there, when it comes down to it, will England still have the final say. Window dressing comes to mind here. Indy for me.

Doctor Trousers
20 days ago

the only thing that would be truly representative would be a voluntary federation of fully independent nations.

The original mark
The original mark
20 days ago

It will never happen, why would anyone give up £300 daily allowance, access to subsidised 5 star restaurants and cheap booze, it’s got to be the best private members club going.

Y Tywysog Lloegr a Moscow
Y Tywysog Lloegr a Moscow
19 days ago

What a navel gazing bunch of egos they have in Mordor! Awarding themselves pay rises, spending BILLIONS doing up the knackered old building they eat their subsidised big dinners in and drink their subsidised booze in, spend the summer bickering about who’s in charge and AGAIN blathering on about the place they keep their ennobled lackeys in their fur coats. All the while the country freezes and starves because of their incompetence.
STOP PLAYING WITH YOURSELVES, FIX YOUR COUNTRY AND FREE OURS FROM YOURS!!!

Last edited 19 days ago by Y Tywysog Lloegr a Moscow
Y Cymro
Y Cymro
19 days ago

If anybody takes the time and effort to dig deep into UK Labour’s ideology will know the are not the guardians of devolution or virtuous about democracy seeing they had three terms in office from 1997 to 2010 and not once did they devolve further powers to our Senedd or reform the House of Lords. Not once. An ominous sign. Keir Starmer will say and do anything to gain power. After all he”s a Unionist and Unionists are usually centrist control freaks . But always remember, what he says and dos once in office is a different matter entirely. It’s… Read more »

The original mark
The original mark
19 days ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Starmer has already said he’s no fan of devolution and it took him a very long time to publicly show any support for Drakeford and welsh Labour, if anyone thinks they will get independence through Labour they really do need to give their heads a wobble.

John Davies
John Davies
19 days ago

On Starmer’s past form, he will want to create a new assembly that is easy to control. Another political Punch-and-Judy show that is safely insulated from ordinary people’s wishes and concerns.

Malcolm rj
Malcolm rj
19 days ago

Neal Kinnock when he was the leader of the labour party was always talking about dismantling the house off lord’s and what is he now LORD KINNOCK they are full of S##T and he was a traitor to his home country Wales

Steve Woods
Steve Woods
19 days ago

Reforming the upper chamber is a change that’s at least one hundred and fifty years overdue.

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