Keir Starmer risked a clash with Gordon Brown today as he desperately dodged committing to abolish the House of Lords in a first Labour term.
Sir Keir agreed with the former PM – who has written a report on reforming democracy and devolution for the party – that the upper chamber is ‘indefensible’.
However, he desperately dodged when pressed over whether that would happen in the first five years if he wins power.
The long-awaited blueprint proposes a 200-strong elected alternative called the Assembly of Nations and Regions, along with measures to tackle corruption.
However, Tories warned that the UK system would merely end up ‘gridlocked’ as has happened in the US.
The report also hints at the possibility of giving councils more scope to raise tax, saying local government needs ‘flexibility’ to generate its own revenue. At the moment town halls must hold a referendum if they want to increase council tax above a certain threshold.
Pressed on the timeframe for scrapping the Lords – something previous Labour governments stopped short of doing – Sir Keir told BBC Breakfast: ‘I think the House of Lords is indefensible. Anybody who looks at the House of Lords would struggle to say that it should be kept.
‘So we want to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an elected chamber that has really strong mission.’
Asked how much of a priority this would be for Labour, Sir Keir said: ‘I’m very keen that all of the recommendations in the report are carried out as quickly as possible. So we will now have after today a process of consultation testing the ideas… with a view to how do we implement them?’
He said all the recommendations in the report, including the proposal to abolish the House of Lords, are ‘deliberately written in a way that means they can be implemented within the first five years of a Labour government’.
Keir Starmer risked a clash with Gordon Brown today as he desperately dodged committing to abolish the House of Lords in a first Labour term
Keir agreed with the former PM (pictured) – who has written a report on reforming democracy and devolution for the party – that the upper chamber is ‘indefensible’
Sir Keir desperately dodged when pressed over whether the abolition of the House of Lords (pictured, during the state opening) would happen in the first five years if he wins power
Key points in Gordon Brown’s report
Abolish ‘indefensible’ House of Lords
The commission proposed replacing the unelected Upper Chamber with a ‘smaller, more representative and democratic’ assembly of the nations and regions, although details would be matters for further consultation.
Clean up politics
The panel proposed new rules for politicians and civil servants, clamping down on MPs’ second jobs and a ‘powerful’ anti-corruption commissioner to root out criminal behaviour in British political life.
Extra powers for Scotland and Wales
Scotland would be able to enter into international agreements in relation to devolved matters, the status of MSPs would be bolstered, devolution would get greater constitutional protection and there would be enhanced access to economic support through the British Regional Investment Bank.
Wales could get new powers over youth justice and probation, while constitutional protections for devolution and the rights of Members of the Senedd would be extended in a way similar to the Scottish proposals, along with access to British Regional Investment Bank funding.
Regional industrial clusters
Towns, cities and other areas would be brought together as part of a co-ordinated economic strategy.
Mayors and local leaders will play a key role in shaping the plans, with the UK Infrastructure Bank and a British Regional Investment Bank (a rebadged British Business Bank) supporting investment.
Some 50,000 civil service jobs would be transferred out of London.
Sir Keir told BBC Radion 4’s Today programme: ‘Obviously after today we’re going to have a consultation about implementing the recommendations in the report.
‘I want the discussion about implementation to take place before the election so that we can get on at the election and put into place the recommendations.
‘Exactly what happens when is part of the discussion about implementation.’
Mr Brown, who has been working on the Labour Party-commissioned report since 2020, is adamant change is needed.
He said: ‘The current House of Lords is indefensible. Every second chamber in the world, with very few exceptions, is relatively small and usually smaller than the first chamber.
‘We’ve now got a House of Lords that has got 830 members. That is compared with the American senate which has 100 members to cover 300million people.’
However, former Levelling Up secretary Simon Clarke tweeted: ‘Anyone who has looked at the institutionalised gridlock in US politics can see the utter stupidity it would be to create an elected upper house, fatally undermining the primacy of the Commons.
‘If we want effective government *of any colour*, this is a terrible idea.’
As well as abolishing the House of Lords, Mr Brown said a ‘new anti-corruption agency will be set up under Labour’, with the Integrity and Ethics Commission set up to replace existing ‘ad hoc bodies’.
The former PM insisted there would be a ban on second jobs for MPs if Labour wins the next election, though he indicated there could be an exemption to that for those MPs who need to work to maintain professional qualifications such as doctors and lawyers.
This would include Sir Geoffrey Cox, who earns hundreds of thousands of pounds as a barrister on top of his MP’s salary.
Among the report’s 40 recommendations is a call to give local communities new powers over skills, transport, planning and culture to drive growth.
The panel calls for a new constitutional law setting out how political power should be shared, with a requirement for decisions to be taken ‘as close as meaningfully possible’ to the people affected by them.
There would be an explicit requirement to rebalance the economy to spread prosperity and investment more equally across the UK, and the right to healthcare based on need rather than ability to pay would be enshrined in a set of protected social rights.
Towns, cities and other areas would also be brought together as part of a co-ordinated economic strategy, with some 50,000 civil service jobs transferred out of London.
Meanwhile, the report advocates extra powers for Scotland and Wales, with restored and strengthened devolution in Northern Ireland.
The report also proposes a series of measures to clean up politics including a new anti-corruption agency, an integrity and ethics commission to replace the various existing ‘ad hoc bodies’ and a ban on most second jobs for MPs.
Backing the plan, Sir Keir will tell the launch event: ‘The centre hasn’t delivered.
‘We have an unbalanced economy which makes too little use of the talents of too few people in too few places.
‘We will have higher standards in public life, a wider spread of power and opportunity, and better economic growth that benefits everyone, wherever they are.
‘By setting our sights higher, wider, better, we can build a better future together.’
He will say the report reflects the demand from people across the country for a ‘new approach’.
‘During the Brexit referendum I argued for Remain, but I couldn’t disagree with the basic case that many Leave voters made to me,’ he will say.
‘They wanted democratic control over their lives so they could provide opportunities for the next generation, build communities they felt proud of, and public services they could rely on.
‘And I know that in the Scottish referendum in 2014, many of those who voted ‘Yes’ did so for similar reasons, the same frustration at a Westminster system that seems remote.’