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Labour’s democracy spokesperson has suggested that the party would not opt for a fully-elected second chamber to replace the House of Lords, amid growing scandal over the UK’s honours system.
Florence Eshalomi, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Democracy, told the Democracy Network conference at the University of Westminster on Wednesday that she was “going through” the findings of former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s recent commission into the future of the House of Lords, which recommended comprehensive reform of the unelected chamber, including the option for a fully-elected Senate of the Nations and Regions.
Eshalomi said: “There’s some exciting things there… Some of the appointments in the House of Lords [show] you can get appointed depending on who you know now – it’s not on merit. It’s not what you’ve done, and that needs to change.”
The London MP said that Labour would “call for an elected House of Lords” if elected this year. However, she subsequently backtracked, adding the party would “make sure that the House of Lords are representing the regions and the nations” and would want to ban hereditary peers. Hereditary peers make up around 90 of the 800-odd peers in the chamber.
Asked to clarify her comments about calling for an elected House of Lords, she told Byline Times that Labour would push for a “partly” elected second chamber, rather than a fully elected one.
Labour’s position on reforming the House of Lords has been met with considerable interest amid cronyism scandals under the Conservatives, with donors frequently given seats for life in the Lords. Questions regarding the Lords have only increased in recent weeks in the wake of reports about the disgraced PPE ‘Fast Lane’ Conservative Baroness Michelle Mone.
Eshalomi suggested that Labour would strengthen the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission, which vets potential appointees: “It’s not right that outgoing ministers are able to elect people based on who they know. There needs to be a lot more scrutiny on that and I think that’s a key area that will bring about the change.”
But she was clear that she opposed “abolishing” the House of Lords: “Having taken my first bill committee through Parliament last year, [I saw] the work that the Lords do is really beneficial and really important.”
It conflicts with a pledge by Sir Keir Starmer in December 2022 when, speaking of his party, he told Sky News: “We do want to abolish the House of Lords.”
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The Labour frontbencher also expressed her opposition to mandatory voter ID, which will have its biggest outing yet in this year’s General Election.
“No one asked for the introduction of voter ID,” she told delegates. “Yet it’s been done to them. A lot of people also won’t be aware that their postal vote has changed and they’ll suddenly find that they are now off the postal vote [register] because you’ve got to reapply every three years.”
Pressed on whether Labour would scrap voter ID by Byline Times, Eshalomi did not confirm that the party would abolish the rules. “I’ve raised this on a number of occasions with ministers directly in the chamber,” she said. “In terms of voter ID and what we are doing, Labour is still reviewing the feedback from the Electoral Commission, and speaking to a number of groups.
“I think we have to push the Government… What’s the impact going to be on a general election?… No legitimate voters should be locked out of voting and that’s what’s happening. So is this system really worth it? That’s something that I will be pushing with my colleagues for us to really investigate and look into more.”
A Labour spokesperson appeared to row back on Eshalomi’s comments on the Lords, telling lobby journalists after her speech: “Our position on House of Lords reform hasn’t changed from what we’ve said since the Gordon Brown report came out. The position is the one that we have set out previously.” What that reform will look like is currently unclear.
With additional reporting from Adam Bienkov.