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Labour delays plans to abolish House of Lords

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Labour is delaying plans to abolish the House of Lords as Britain’s main opposition party hones its policy platform ahead of the general election expected this year.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party has axed proposals to scrap the upper house in a first five-year parliament and would instead implement only limited reforms to the Lords in order to focus on economic priorities, according to officials.

The changes are likely to include cutting the number of hereditary peers, reducing the total size of the chamber — which numbers about 800 — and introducing a new appointments process, the officials said.

The move by Labour reverses a pledge included in a draft manifesto drawn up last year. It comes as the party’s policies are subjected to greater scrutiny as it maintains a 20-point opinion poll lead over the ruling Conservatives.

Shadow ministers have been instructed to finesse their manifesto policies by Thursday so that Labour is battle-ready for an early election, although Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is widely expected not to go to the country before the autumn.

The party is expected to drop the explicit £28bn-a-year target for its “green prosperity plan” under which a Labour government would borrow to invest in low-carbon schemes.

Colleagues believe Starmer will use the Budget on March 6 — where tax cuts by chancellor Jeremy Hunt could leave the public finances in a tighter state — as an excuse to ditch the target, which has been repeatedly watered down in recent months.

Darren Jones, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said on Friday that the amount of money a Labour government spent on environmental programmes would depend on the state of the economy at that time. “The number will move around just as a matter of fact,” he said.

Senior party figures are also debating whether to soften a pledge to raise the tax paid by private equity chiefs on profits from their successful deals, although the policy is still expected in the manifesto.

Starmer told business leaders on February 1 that he would not shy away from ambitious plans to “level up workers’ rights in a way that has not been attempted for decades” through Labour’s “New Deal For Workers”.

The package includes a “right to work flexibly”, full rights and protections from day one in a job to all employees, and a ban on zero-hours contracts and “fire and rehire”, where companies make a worker redundant and then re-engage them on worse terms and conditions. It would also reverse some Tory anti-strike legislation.

Peter Kyle, shadow science minister, said on Sunday that a Labour government would compel artificial intelligence companies to release all of their test data to ministers through a new “statutory code”.

Starmer’s team last summer drew up a draft manifesto dubbed the “national policy forum” after negotiations with trade union leaders and front bench MPs. 

The NPF document, which was finalised in October, promised to “abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a second chamber . . . with elected representatives rather than political appointees”.

Starmer has previously described the unelected House of Lords as “indefensible”. The proposal to axe it completely was set out in an official report into the UK constitution by Gordon Brown, former Labour prime minister.

Labour aides said Starmer was still in favour of overhauling the upper house and eventually replacing it. “He really does believe that the second chamber needs reform and needs to reflect the nations and regions, but the first-term priorities are going to be economic,” said one.

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