Ed Miliband will broaden his drive for the devolution of political and economic power to the cities and regions, and away from London, by saying he wants an elected second chamber completely recast as representative of the cities, regions and nations of the UK.
His aides said he did not rule out ideas for the second chamber to meet outside London permanently, or sometimes. The ideas will be put to a constitutional convention that Miliband intends to stage very soon after the election.
His proposals come as the Westminster parties mount a bidding war to offer powers to English city regions. The leaders of the 10 (mainly Labour) councils that comprise the Greater Manchester combined authority met on Friday to study plans for new council powers negotiated with the chancellor, George Osborne. Miliband also met the group to set out his plans to give combined authorities powers over bus services.
Miliband is determined not to cede control of the English devolution agenda to the Tories, and insists his plans guarantee faster, more widespread and greater devolution than Osborne proposes.
In a speech on Saturday Miliband will highlight figures showing that the House of Lords is failing to represent large parts of Britain. “When people say that they are turned off from politics and that it doesn’t represent them, we have to do something about it.
“It cannot be right that the north-west has almost the same population as London but only a small fraction of London’s number of peers. London is our capital and one of the world’s great cities but it cannot be right London has more members of the House of Lords than the East Midlands, West Midlands, Wales, Northern Ireland, the north-east and Yorkshire and Humberside added together,” he will say.
“And it cannot be right that those peers who do live outside London are less likely to be from great cities like Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol than they are to be living in less-populated rural areas.
“We will make the second chamber of parliament truly a senate of the regions and nations of our whole country.”
Asked if Labour was willing to consider the proposal for the elected senate to meet in Manchester, an idea advanced by Lord Adonis, the man responsible for Labour’s English devolution policy, party officials said that, subject to cost, the proposal would certainly be put to the convention for consideration.
Labour’s figures show that the north-west has 86% of London’s population but fewer than a fifth of the capital’s peers.
Outside London, there is a bias against metropolitan areas, and major cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Belfast and Liverpool have little or no voice in the Lords.
Figures from the Commons library show that 31% of peers have their main residence in London, and 23% in the south-east. By contrast, 5% list their main residence as being in the north-west and 4% in the north-east. Among those members who attended more than half the sittings in 2012-13, 82% came from England, 11% from Scotland and 4% from Wales.
Labour officials argue that the repeatedly thwarted plans for Lords reform get bogged down in uncertainty about the role of the second chamber. They said a second chamber dedicated to regional and national representation would avoid duplicating the constituency link of MPs and mark a clearly defined role for the senate.
Miliband was in Manchester on Friday meeting local councillors and discussing his plans to give city regions a chance to take over and reintegrate bus services. He has also proposed an English regions cabinet committee and the offer of city regions to be led by directly elected mayors.
The plans for city regions to regulate bus services on the model of Transport for London were attacked by Martin Griffiths, the chief executive of Stagecoach, as an “uncosted and unnecessary plan [that] would land people in England’s biggest city regions overnight with a tax bill running to hundreds of millions of pounds, as well as leading to higher bus fares.”
The chancellor is due to spell out his own plans on Monday before the autumn statement on 3 December, but seems to be making his plans for devolution dependent on combined authorities agreeing to directly elected mayors.
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