Keir Starmer will abolish the House of Lords and to replace it with a new elected chamber as part of plans to “restore confidence in politics”, understands the Observer.
In a sweeping constitutional overhaul, the Work The leader has told party peers he wants to strip politicians of the power to appoint Lords under a Labor government’s first term programme. Starmer said public confidence in the political system had been shaken by successive Tory leaders awarding peerages to “lackeys and donors”.
It is understood that Labor will hold a consultation on the composition and size of a new chamber as well as immediate reforms to the current appointments process. The final proposals will be included in the party’s next election manifesto.
It comes after a series of disputes over peerages. Boris Johnson has made a number of controversial appointments, including his friend Yevgeny Lebedev, owner of the Evening Standard. He is expected to name political allies and junior aides as part of an upcoming slate.
Meanwhile, Liz Truss is also reportedly planning a resignation list of new peers despite a disastrous leadership that only lasted seven weeks.
At a meeting last week, Starmer told his Labor peers there was now strong support for reforming the Lords, both across parties and among the public. He set out “some very clear principles” for reform, including that any new chamber should be elected by voters rather than appointed by politicians.
“I want to be clear that we need to restore public confidence in every part of the UK in our system of government,” he said. “Reforming the House of Lords is only part of that…People have lost faith in the ability of politicians and politics to bring about change – that’s why, in addition to fixing our economy , we need to fix our politics.”
He added that it should be “genuinely representative” of the nations and regions of the UK, meaning it should have a clear role in safeguarding devolution. However, he also said his proposals would ensure that it would not replace any of the functions of the House of Commons, remaining a second chamber responsible for amending and reviewing legislation. The Commons would retain exclusive powers over public finances and the formation of governments.
The proposals will also establish much stronger decentralized powers, under a review of British constitutional arrangements overseen by Gordon Brown, the former prime minister.
Starmer told his party peers on Wednesday that he saw reform of the Lords as a key part of his program to “promote inclusive growth and restore trust in politics”. While he said they would continue to play a ‘vital role’ in the campaign to win the next election, reform was needed to show the public that Labor would give a fresh start after a series of Tory scandals.
He pointed the finger at Johnson recent use of his power to appoint peers as proof of the need for reform. He said Johnson’s plans to reward ‘lackeys and donors’ made him the latest in a long line of Tory prime ministers who played party politics with the Lords and trampled on the appointments system “We should rebuild trust in politics, but it can’t just be an article of faith – we need to show how we’re going to do things differently. The reform of our second chamber must be part of this.
Johnson recently presented a peerage to Michael Hintze, a top Tory donor, and previously assigned one to Lebedev. He is now said to plan to give more to ultra-loyal MPs Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, and Nigel Adams, a former cabinet minister and longtime supporter.
Johnson’s list of resignation honors, which has yet to be announced, would also include his advisers Ross Kempsell, 30, and Charlotte Owen, a former assistant to Johnson who is believed to be in her late 20s.
Starmer had pledged to abolish the Lords as part of his leadership campaign and “replace it with an elected house of regions and nations”. Doubts were then raised as to his commitment to promise after dropping other elements of his leadership pitch. However, it is understood he now sees reform of the Lords as necessary to demonstrate that Labor would represent a decisive change from the Tories.
Starmer’s comments suggest that he supports many of the ideas developed by Brown’s review. It is understood that he supports replacing the Lords with an upper house of nations and regions. He is also said to have supported a new round of devolution, including giving new economic and fiscal powers to new councils independent of nations and England. Brown wants local mayors to have more power over funding for education, transportation and research.
During the meeting with his peers, Starmer also made it clear that he wanted to reposition Labor as ‘pro-business, pro-growth and can give Britain a bright future’, adding: ‘We will be there- down to show the public that there is another way to this failed Conservative economy… Britain has so much potential, Labor will harness it so we can lead the world again.
Work has already announced that Starmer supports banning MPs from doing paid consultancy work as a way to improve ethical standards. It would also replace the ministerial code with an updated code of conduct. The party’s plans appear to include a fully elected second chamber, but the details of the reforms have yet to be agreed.
The last major attempt at reform in the Lords came under the coalition government led by David Cameron. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister, eventually had to scrap plans following humiliating Tory rebellion. His proposals would have seen 80% of the peers elected and the total membership reduced to 450.