House of Lords to face ‘immediate modernisation’ under a Labour government

The House of Lords faces “immediate modernisation” under Labour, although the party put no timeframe on Sir Keir Starmer’s long-held ambition to abolish the unelected chamber.

A mandatory retirement age of 80, the removal of hereditary peers and a new participation requirement would be introduced in the first term of a Labour government, according to the party’s manifesto.

In December 2022, Labour leader Sir Keir said he would abolish the “indefensible” House of Lords “as quickly as possible”, ideally within the first term of government, and replace it with an elected chamber.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer launches his party’s manifesto at Co-op HQ in Manchester, while on the General Election campaign trail
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer launches his party’s manifesto at Co-op HQ in Manchester, while on the General Election campaign trail (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The manifesto states Labour is “committed” to replacing the Lords with an “alternative second chamber that is more representative of the regions and nations”, adding it will consult the public on this.

There are 92 hereditary places reserved in the Lords, following reforms under the previous Labour administration in 1999.

But the system has faced widespread criticism given the exclusive, male-dominated list of eligible candidates and the usually limited number of people able to vote in the contests.

House of Lords
Members of the House of Lords following the state opening of parliament in 2023 (Leon Neal/PA)

Labour’s Lord Grocott, 83, has led a long campaign to end “idiotic” by-elections used to replace hereditaries who have died or resigned.

Lord Bethell, who won a seat in the upper chamber after securing 26 of the 43 votes cast by fellow Conservatives with inherited titles, said throwing out existing hereditary peers would be “harsh”.

In total, there are 785 peers in the Lords and a mechanism does exist to allow them to voluntarily retire although there is no formal retirement age.

Labour’s manifesto states: “Although Labour recognises the good work of many peers who scrutinise the government and improve the quality of legislation passed in Parliament, reform is long overdue and essential.

“Too many peers do not play a proper role in our democracy. Hereditary peers remain indefensible. And because appointments are for life, the second chamber of Parliament has become too big.

“The next Labour government will therefore bring about an immediate modernisation, by introducing legislation to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords.

“Labour will also introduce a mandatory retirement age. At the end of the Parliament in which a member reaches 80 years of age, they will be required to retire from the House of Lords.”

The manifesto adds: “Labour will ensure all peers meet the high standards the public expect of them, and we will introduce a new participation requirement as well as strengthening the circumstances in which disgraced members can be removed.

“We will reform the appointments process to ensure the quality of new appointments and will seek to improve the national and regional balance of the second chamber.

“Whilst this action to modernise the House of Lords will be an improvement, Labour is committed to replacing the House of Lords with an alternative second chamber that is more representative of the regions and nations.

“Labour will consult on proposals, seeking the input of the British public on how politics can best serve them.”

Conservative former health minister Lord Bethell told Sky News: “Getting rid of the principle of new hereditary peers, so for my poor old son Jacob, the chance he may have to run for election one day, that has been a longstanding commitment by Labour and if that was in the manifesto that wouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone.

“But throwing out the people who have committed a lot to the House of Lords, and who by the way contribute an enormous amount (to), despite what anyone says, a very successful second chamber, would be harsh and would be I think quite political and a bit of a blame game.

“If the Labour Party want to reform the House of Lords top to bottom then good luck to them, they should embark on that project.

“But to single out one group of peers for special treatment on the basis of some kind of class prejudice would be a shame, and would mean that some good people, not necessarily myself, but some really good people from the hereditary benches would lose out.”