Labour Party proposals to eliminate the House of Lords as part of a series of wider constitutional reforms has been criticized by the convenor of the Lords Spiritual. Writing in the Church Times last week, the bishop of St Alban, the Rt. Rev. Alan Smith stated the Lords “performs a valuable function, and what it really needs is urgent reform, not abolition.”
The report by the Commission of the UK’s Future, set up by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown makes 40 recommendations for constitutional change including abolishing “the current undemocratic House of Lords” and replacing it with “a democratic chamber that is permanently closer to the British people”.
“The indefensible House of Lords”should be replaced by a smaller, elected Second Chamber “to safeguard the new constitutional basis of the New Britain” it argued.
The new chamber “must have electoral legitimacy” the Brown report said. Labour leader Keir Starmer said his party would aim to implement these reforms “as quickly as possible” once it comes to power.
BIshop Smith applauded some of the common-sense proposals, including resizing the Lords, but noted “Form must always follow function. The purpose of the Lords is to revise and scrutinise legislation passed to it by the Commons, to hold government to account, and occasionally to ask the elected House to ‘think again’. While the Lords can propose changes to laws, being unelected, it has no authority to insist on its position, should the elected House, in which the Government has a majority, continue to disagree.”
Bishop Smith stated the bishops of the Church of England in the House of Lords bring a “faith perspective” to the deliberations of government, as well as giving voice to “those on the margins, including refugees and asylum-seekers, families struggling on benefits, victims of the gambling industry, and people suffering human-rights abuses overseas. It is an extension of our vocation to service, locally and in the nation, as we seek to transform unjust structures of society and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.”