Pressure to ‘abolish the House of Lords’ comes during high-profile speech at Labour conference

Richard Leonard speaking at conference
Ed Sykes

Richard Leonard, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, used part of his conference speech on 23 September to call for the “abolition of the House of Lords”. This comes amid increasing pressure for the Labour Party to take an official stance in favour of democratisation.

Leonard said:

It is not just more powers coming to Scotland that we need, it is a fundamental rebuilding of the broken British state that is required. So that is why we are proposing, at last, the abolition of the House of Lords. I believe that its replacement with an elected Senate of the nations and regions, built on a federal settlement, would begin the process of reshaping our whole political system.

“A real step forward”

A spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Society told The Canary:

This marks a real step forward in Labour’s thinking on the issue of Lords reform.

For too long the unelected and unaccountable Lords has been an embarrassment to our politics: a bloated private members club in drastic need of some democratic accountability.

A fairly-elected second chamber would transform the balance of power in Westminster. Elected by PR [proportional representation] and with representation from all nations and regions, it would be an example for the rest of our politics as how a modern, accountable chamber would look.

It’s time to replace this feudal relic. After this welcome commitment for change, we hope the whole party throws its weight behind this pledge to make Parliament fit for a modern democracy.

The position of Labour leadership, but not the party (yet)

As The Canary reported previously:

The House of Lords has long been a feature of British politics. But the person responsible for developing Labour’s constitutional policy has called for it to be scrapped. …

Labour’s 2017 election manifesto pledged to make some reforms to the House of Lords. But it stopped short of committing to abolishing the unelected house altogether.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, however, has made his feelings clear in the past. As LabourList wrote in 2016, Corbyn “wants to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an elected second chamber, and start “citizens’ assemblies” to help shape political accountability”.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, meanwhile, asked in 2018:

How can we have a society where 92 of the people that govern this country in the House of Lords are based upon who Charles I or II slept with?

And as The Canary reported, McDonnell “wants to replace the current unelected House of Lords with a democratically elected senate to hold the Commons to account”.

Featured image via YouTube – Labour Party

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  • Show Comments
    1. The House of Lords has been largely revised. About 1:5 of “Lords” are hereditary most are life peers who have achieved n some way.

      On a recent visit to parliament I saw Baroness Grey-Thompson who has done some good work on disability issues.

      This does no refute the need for reform but if we look at elected chambers overseas e.g. USA the two houses often end up in conflict with each other if the election for the two chambers are at each other’s mid term. If they are elected at the same time they are just clones of each other.

      I suggest that a better idea would be to select the upper chamber by drawing lots of the electoral registers so that real people get in. Sort of “Lord Ernie”. The people would then review all legislation.

      This would have the effect of engaging the public in politics as they might be selected.

      1. My view is increasingly that, whilst neither monarchy nor an unelected chamber *should* work, the reality is that they do work.

        It’s notable that, once they no longer have to worry about winning votes, members of the HoL seem to take their duties a lot more seriously, and there have been several occasions over recent years where they have effectively saved our bacon in the face of MPs scrambling for popularity and putting the entire nation at risk.

        As for the monarchy: having a head of state whom those in power have to kowtow to, despite that same head of state having no real power, seems to me to be no bad thing. Republics around the world, with elected heads of state do not seem to do much better or worse than constitutional monarchies. And most constitutional monarchies seem in fact to do much better. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland? (Though I would certainly reduce the amount of money spent on, and owned by – stolen by? – the monarchy!)

        On the other hand, particularly in the light of recent events, a written constitution which possibly gives the monarch some very limited powers, but clearly delineated, might be no bad thing. Occasionally one might wish that the Queen could say, “No, (Boris).”

      2. “I suggest that a better idea would be to select the upper chamber by drawing lots of the electoral registers so that real people get in. Sort of “Lord Ernie”. The people would then review all legislation.”

        Somewhat like jury service? I forsee two problems: 1. it would have to be impossible to refuse; 2. because of no. 1, compensation would have to be considerable.

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