Labour unveils plan to overhaul constitution and replace the Lords

Gordon Brown’s Commission on the UK’s Future also aims to curb influence of wealth and foreign money

Labour will consult on replacing what the party calls the “indefensible” House of Lords with an elected chamber as part of a 40-point plan written by Gordon Brown to overhaul the constitution, but stopped short of committing to its abolition in the manifesto.

Keir Starmer will on Monday join Brown for the launch of the former prime minister’s Commission on the UK’s Future, which makes recommendations on Lords reform, devolution of power and the future of the union.

The party said its centrepiece would involve mass transfer of power from Westminster to the people and their local areas, with Starmer saying “the centre hasn’t delivered”.

Brown recommends cultivating “300 emerging clusters of the new economy” and eliminating “Westminster and Whitehall bias and giving everywhere a fair share of our future prosperity”.

Labour said one of Brown’s recommendations would be the abolition of the Lords, as well as new rules to “end the undue influence of wealth and foreign money, and prevent MPs part-timing the job”.

Brown also recommends “tighter enforcement of the rules, with the public directly represented in a new integrity commission” for politicians and public life.

All 40 of Brown’s recommendations will now be subject to consultation, with the conclusions of that further process ending up in Labour’s manifesto.

Abolishing the House of Lords would shake up a centuries-old constitutional model and would be likely to face resistance from existing peers. Lord McFall, the Lord Speaker and a former Labour MP, is due to give a speech on Wednesday arguing for consensus-based reform of the Lords.

In comments released ahead of the Brown report, Starmer made no mention of the House of Lords, instead concentrating on how Labour would bring about “real economic empowerment for our devolved government, the mayors, and local authorities”.

This would include new powers over transport and infrastructure, development and housing, such as compulsory purchase orders on vacant sites, and measures to stimulate growth.

“We have an unbalanced economy, which makes too little use of the talents of too few people in too few places,” he will say on Monday. “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.”

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said on Sunday that Labour will make sure there is an elected second chamber, and the plan is for it to be done in the first term. “We will be consulting ahead of the manifesto around how we make that happen,” she added.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Starmer said there were “questions of implementation”, telling the newspaper: “The answer is that this is the bit of the discussion that comes after Monday, because that’s testing the propositions, refining them, and then crucially answering, thinking when and how this is implemented.

“What will require legislation, what won’t require legislation, whether we want to do each of the steps. The purpose of that is to craft a manifesto that says, ‘This is the overall project, these are the bits we intend to do in the five years, this is the delivery you can expect to see.’”

Brown is believed to be keener on abolition of the Lords than some other senior party figures, who fear that a lengthy public debate over constitutional reform could overshadow more important priorities in a first-term Labour government.

The former prime minister gave a separate briefing on Scotland on Sunday in which he made the case for a new council of the UK chaired by prime minister, which would also meet as a council of the nations and regions to examine common issues.

“We are going to of course abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a reformed second chamber in which there will be enhanced Scottish representation and it would have a constitutional role to protect the devolution settlement,” he said.

In an early draft of the report leaked to the Guardian in September, Brown recommended that the House of Lords would be reformed as an assembly of regions and nations, with a remit of safeguarding the constitution and with power to refer the government to the supreme court.

In his presentation, Brown insisted there is support for radical change from voters across the UK, but in Scotland “middle Scotland” – the group Brown has previously identified as those who feel more Scottish but have not written the British dimension out of their lives – believe by margin of 50% to 10% that a serious plan to change Britain could be more attractive than independence.

His report also recommends that the civil service and agencies should be dispersed from London to Scotland, and an enhanced role for Scotland internationally, with new powers for Scottish government to enter into international agreements and bodies such as Erasmus, Unesco and the Nordic Council.

• This article was amended on 4 December 2022. An earlier version said that Lord McFall had been a Conservative MP; he was, in fact, a Labour MP from 1987 to 2010.


Rowena Mason and Libby Brooks

The GuardianTramp

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