Labour peers denounce Starmer’s plan for House of Lords as ‘ageist’

Labour's manifesto includes a commitment to pass legislation to strip hereditary peers of their seats
Labour's manifesto includes a commitment to pass legislation to strip hereditary peers of their seats - Aaron Chown/Shutterstock

Labour peers have criticised Sir Keir Starmer’s plans to force members of the House of Lords to retire at 80, labelling the measure “ageist”.

The party’s manifesto includes a commitment to “modernise” the upper chamber, including by requiring members to retire at the end of the parliament in which they reach 80 years old.

However, Labour members of the Lords have reacted with frustration, denouncing the proposal for overlooking the expertise of the House’s older members.

Lord Foulkes, 82, called the plans “ageist” and said he will try to amend it.

The former Labour Scottish secretary said: “As a former Director of Age Scotland I am unhappy about this proposal and will seek to amend it as it is ageist.

“We need a provision, however, to enable peers to retire with dignity when they are not capable of performing the role, irrespective of age.”

Lord Foulkes, 82, the former Labour Scottish secretary, said he will try to amend the plan
Lord Foulkes, 82, the former Labour Scottish secretary, said he will try to amend the plan - Patrick Seeger/Shutterstock

Lord Winston, the professor and broadcaster known for his work on fertility, said he wouldn’t support the age cap as it “denies biology”.

“It’s rather like saying a member of the House of Lords has to be a certain height,” said the IVF expert, 83, who presented the BBC documentaries The Human Body and Child of Our Time. “I think what’s important is that you appoint the right people to the House of Lords in the first place.”

He added: “There are a number of lords, particularly the judges who are producing formidable arguments on government legislation, well into their 80s.

“I don’t think biology is as important as ability.”

President Joe Biden, 81, would be too old to serve in the House of Lords in the next parliament under Labour’s proposals, despite running for re-election in the US.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, 77, the Republican candidate, would fall foul of the age limit in three years time and be required to retire at the end of the next parliament.

Dame Joan Bakewell, 91, described the initiative as “sad”.

The former BBC presenter, who was appointed as Britain’s voice of older people under the last Labour government, said: “We all age at different rates… our brains and minds change as we age and some stay sprightlier than others.

“It would be sad to lose the wise old owls just because some youngsters have already fallen off the twig.”

It is understood that the goal of Labour’s plans is to shrink the size of the Lords rather than to target the elderly.

Lord Dubs, 91, the former director of the Refugee Council and a Labour peer, said: “Provided that it’s a first step in a very short path towards reform of the Lords, that is fine, but otherwise it just seems like a token gesture.”

Labour’s manifesto also includes plans to strip hereditary peers of their seats, but it stops short of Sir Keir Starmer’s previous vow to abolish the Lords entirely, instead committing to consult the public on a potential replacement for it.

Vetting of new peers

The manifesto pledges to improve the vetting of new peers following a series of scandals and to streamline the process for kicking out disgraced members.

In the dossier, Labour says reform of the Lords is “long-overdue and essential” and “too many peers do not play a proper role in our democracy”.

It states: “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.

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

Almost one in five current members of the Lords are over the age of 80 – with the most elderly making up 154 out of the 795 sitting peers.

Of the rest, the bulk – amounting to 297 – are between the ages of 70 and 79 years old.

Labour also commits in the manifesto to introduce a “new participation requirement” following scandals over peers failing to regularly turn up for work.

Lords are able to claim a daily attendance allowance of up to £361.

Famously, in 2017, the Speaker of the House of Lords claimed one peer had kept his taxi running whilst he nipped into Parliament to claim the day rate.

‘Improve regional balance’

Labour said that it would also “seek to improve the national and regional balance of the second chamber” with a new appointments process.

Sir Keir has previously insisted he wants to abolish the Lords, even though he plans to temporarily expand its ranks if he wins the election by appointing new peers.

The manifesto says that in the longer term, Labour will consult with the public on how to replace the current system with a new, elected second chamber.

It states: “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.”