POLITICS
23/05/2018 12:27 BST | Updated 23/05/2018 16:56 BST

Jeremy Corbyn Tells Prospective Labour Peers They Must Vote For Abolition Of The House Of Lords

Radical new approach to offers of peerages.

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Jeremy Corbyn has made clear to all newly appointed Labour peers that they will be expected to vote for abolition of the House of Lords, HuffPost can reveal.

The Labour leader and his team made the commitment a condition of the offer of peerages to the recent trio of new appointees in the Upper Chamber.

Former party general secretary Iain McNicol and grassroots activists Martha Osamor and Pauline Bryan all agreed to the demand that they would vote for abolition when the opportunity arises.

Corbyn is a long-time critic of the unelected Lords and only reluctantly decided to appoint new peers to ensure Labour didn’t lose out to the Tories as Theresa May unveiled a raft of new appointments.

Since he became Labour leader, just four people have been nominated for Labour peerages, including shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti.

PA Archive/PA Images
New peer Iain McNicol, the former Labour general secretary

Party sources told HuffPost that making offers of peerages explicitly conditional on future votes for abolition was a new move for Labour.

Previous leaders Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair imposed no such condition, though they insisted that the peers should be ‘working peers’ and treat the Lords as a place of work.

One source confirmed to HuffPost that the party had made backing for abolition a condition of the peerages.

They said: “All three appointees are committed to the abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement with a democratic second chamber”.

A senior spokesman for Labour said on Wednesday: “We are a democratic party and this is a long overdue reform, it’s extremely hard to argue against. 

“It’s clearly a democratic necessity. If we are continuing to participate in the House of Lords, and there are obvious reasons to do that, democratic reasons, then those people who are brought into the House of Lords by the Labour party and for the Labour party need to support those clear policy and democratic changes that we want to see.

“Under the existing system, the House of Lords has a revising role, it has constitutional powers, it has legislative powers. While it exists, it’s important that we have the strongest Labour voice there.”

The spokesman added that a clear pledge to abolish the Lords, not just a constitutional convention, was the aim for the next party manifesto.

“We want to see the abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement with an elected second chamber,” he said.

“That is well past overdue, it’s a basic democratic reform, it must take place. It’s absurd that we still have this undemocratic anachronism in the 21st century. When Labour is elected we will carry through that pledge.”

The Daily Mail came out strongly against the Lords on Wednesday, though Corbyn is clear that peers are right to ask the Government to think again on its Brexit plans.

The party is divided about the merits of appointed peers, with many of its most valued and talented Lords proving they can be effective in Parliament even without a direct democratic mandate.

Non-party crossbenchers, on whom Labour has relied to inflict a string of Government defeats, are also unlikely to want to face elections in future.

Labour’s position on Lords reform is not formally to “abolish” the Lords but instead to hold a constitutional convention before deciding on how to replace it with a Senate of the regions.

Pauline Bryan
New Labour peer Pauline Bryan

Many Labour peers have in the past declared their loathing of the fact that the Lords is unelected. 

John Prescott once said he would not accept a peerage but later changed his mind, claiming it gave him a platform to promote his environmental policies in the Lords.

In a blog for the RedRobin website, new Labour peer Pauline Bryan wrote that: “I was asked to accept a nomination on the basis that a) I would take it on as a job and work with the Labour team; b) that when the opportunity arose I would vote for its abolition.  It was also the important that I was from outside the London bubble.” 

She told HuffPost: “I was certainly asked to do a job in the House of Lords. As I understand it that’s the expectation of working peers. I look forward to finding out what that is. I also would expect that all Labour nominees will want to change the chamber into a democratic institution.”

In January 2017, Corbyn complained that the Lords was dominated by “a small number of people from London and the south east” and should be more representative.

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Speaking before Theresa May called her snap election, he told the Andrew Marr Show: “I would want to see an elected second chamber that it is representative of all regions and nations of the United Kingdom.

“I think that’s very, very important. I think it should have an electoral mandate to go with it. It is not a new concept, it’s been in debate for a very long time. I would like us to get to that position by 2020.”

The snap election meant that the party didn’t have time to clarify its position other than to hold a convention and consult opinion.

Although Ed Miliband committed the party to an elected Senate, the 2017 manifesto made clear that policy was still unformed.

“The [Constitutional] Convention will look at extending democracy locally, regionally and nationally, considering the option of a more federalised country.

“Our fundamental belief is that the Second Chamber should be democratically elected. In the interim period, we will seek to end the hereditary principle and reduce the size of the current House of Lords as part of a wider package of constitutional reform to address the growing democratic deficit across Britain.”