Parliament is to debate sweeping reforms of the House of Lords next month amid rising concern that peers have overstepped the mark in their opposition to Brexit.
MPs will hold the debate after a petition calling for the abolition of the Upper Chamber attracted more than 166,000 signatures.
Calls for reform intensified yesterday after the Daily Mail published polling showing 76 per cent of voters believed peers were ‘out of tune with the will of the British people’. Five in six voters said they wanted to see the Lords reformed.
In response, Downing Street last night warned the Lords it would ‘not accept’ attempts by peers to thwart Brexit. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said that some of the 15 Lords amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill had been ‘unacceptable’.
Parliament is to debate sweeping reforms of the House of Lords next month amid rising concern that peers have overstepped the mark in their opposition to Brexit
He added: ‘The Government is delivering on the decision made by the country in the referendum to leave the EU and will not accept attempts to stop this.
‘Some of the amendments do not respect the purpose of the Bill, which is to give certainty to leave the EU by transferring EU law into UK law. No one in the Upper Chamber should be in any doubt about our determination to deliver on the will of the British people and to take back control of our laws, borders and money.’
Jeremy Corbyn went further, pledging to replace the Lords with an elected second chamber.
At the last election his party had said it would hold a constitutional convention to determine Lords reform. But the Labour leader last night called for the Upper Chamber to be scrapped completely, saying: ‘It is a democratic necessity to abolish the unelected and outdated House of Lords and replace it with an elected second chamber.
‘We cannot continue to let political insiders, who the public can’t get rid of, have so much influence over our country’s laws.
‘The next Labour government will renew our democracy and take power back from out-of-touch elites.’ Senior Tory MPs also backed Lords reform. Former Brexit minister David Jones said peers were ‘in the last chance saloon’ after their dismembering of the Government’s Brexit legislation.
Jeremy Corbyn pledged to replace the Lords with an elected second chamber. At the last election his party had said it would hold a constitutional convention to determine Lords reform. But the Labour leader last night called for the Upper Chamber to be scrapped completely
Mr Jones said he had not been surprised by the strength of concern reflected in the Mail’s poll.
‘People are absolutely furious with the Lords – I have people stopping me in the street to talk about their conduct,’ he said.
‘They have demonstrated their detachment from public opinion in recent weeks in the most arrogant way. In doing so they have put themselves in a very perilous position. I would support constraining their power because the way they have behaved has shown complete contempt for the views of the public.’
Ex-Cabinet minister Owen Paterson said there was ‘no question’ the Lords had overstepped the mark and needed reform.
He said: ‘Parliament made it very clear that it was handing the decision on Britain’s EU membership to the people. Now that decision has come down in a way the Establishment does not like it is trying to stop it.’
Writing in the Mail today, the Lord Speaker Lord Fowler hits back at criticism. The former Tory Cabinet minister acknowledges the Lords is too big, but insists reforms are already under way to trim its size.
And he claims it would be wrong to axe the Lords because of a disagreement over Brexit, saying: ‘We are a strong enough parliamentary democracy to permit differences of view, honestly held.’
Only China has a bigger chamber
The House of Lords remains by far the biggest parliamentary chamber in any democracy despite repeated pledges of reform.
Figures show the Lords has 780 active members, making it second only to the National People’s Congress in communist China – which has almost 3,000.
Electoral Reform Society analysis claims the Lords could top 1,000 members by 2031 unless growth is curbed. It dwarfs the 650-member Commons and is far bigger than second chambers in most comparable democracies.
The US Senate has only 100 members, the German equivalent just 69 and Australia 76, while France and Italy both have fewer than 330. Polling for the Mail revealed public concern about the Lords’ size. Almost three-quarters said the second chamber was too big, with only 7 per cent disagreeing.
Four in five voters said the Lords should have membership capped, with peers who did not contribute meaningfully booted out.
All parties have paid lip service to controlling the Lords. But last week, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn appointed 13 new peers.
While No 10 said Mrs May reserved the right to make fresh appointments to ‘refresh’ the Lords, critics pointed out that one new peer, Sir Alan Haselhurst, turns 81 next month.
Darren Hughes, of the Electoral Reform Society, said: ‘Voters are sick of this private members’ club growing out of control.’