After Lords reform failure, Lib Dems urged to support independence

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  By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP called for Scottish Liberal Democrats to back independence if they want to create a stronger democracy, as the Lib Dem conference in Brighton attempts to revive failed attempts to reform the House of Lords.

The Liberal Democrat conference debated a motion on Saturday calling for a wholly or predominantly elected House of Lords to be delivered by 2015, despite their planned bill already being abandoned by the Tory-Lib Dem Westminster Government.

For the past century, Westminster politicians have made repeated promises to reform the unelected House of Lords.  In 1997 the newly elected Labour government under Tony Blair abolished the right of most hereditary peers to sit in the House, but replaced them with unelected representatives appointed through political patronage.  

The Government of the day claimed that this was intended as a temporary measure, but despite a crushing majority in the Commons, successive Labour governments failed to take action on further reform.

Reform of the House of Lords was one of the conditions set by the Lib Dems for allying with the Conservatives to form the present Coalition government after the 2010 General Election.  The Coalition deal outlined a provision for a wholly or mainly elected second chamber, elected by a proportional representation system.

The Government introduced the House of Lords Reform Bill in 2012, however on 6 August Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that the Government was abandoning the bill due to opposition from Conservative backbenchers.

During questioning in the House of Commons on 3 September, Mr Clegg was forced to admit that the current House of Lords is unrepresentative of Scotland, and that the Lords suffered from “chronic under-representation” of Scottish members.

Mr Clegg said:  

“…one of the virtues of a reformed House of Lords would have been a voice in the second Chamber for the Scottish people as well as for the English and Welsh people and for all the nations and regions of the United Kingdom; we have spoken about that before. At the moment, that second Chamber has a very high preponderance of people from the south-east of England. There is chronic under-representation, not only from Scotland but from Wales and the north of England.”

Angus MacNeil, the SNP MP who initiated the cash-for-honours inquiry, said that despite Saturday’s conference debate, the Lib Dems aren’t facing reality about the unreformable House of Lords, and added that a ‘yes’ vote for independence was the best way to ensure a modern democracy for Scotland.

Mr MacNeil said:

“The Liberal Democrats are living in a fantasy land if they believe a gender balanced, democratically elected House of Lords is going to happen in our lifetime, let alone by 2015. People have talked about Lords reform for well over a hundred years – yet it remains an unelected body with 800 unaccountable peers making changes to our laws.

“I hope Lib Dem MPs make the most of voting on House of Lords reform today. With their modest plans already scuppered by their Tory partners it’s not likely they’ll get another chance in the House of Commons!”

“If they believe in more representative democracy the Lib Dem Scottish members should give up on reforming the unreformable Westminster, and vote yes to an independent Scottish Parliament, 100% elected by the people of Scotland.

“For parliament to carry out its purpose, it must act with democratic authority and integrity. The present House of Lords lacks legitimacy because of its anachronistic and unrepresentative composition. As Nick Clegg acknowledged to me in the House of Commons this month, there is “chronic under representation” of Scotland – yet they still preside over policies impacting on Scotland.

“They can try to force the issue back on the House of Commons agenda, but it will be kicked again and again into the long grass – and it is clear that a ‘yes’ vote for independence is the best way to ensure a modern democracy for Scotland.

“Scotland already has a modern, democratically representative Parliament at Holyrood, and it is there that all decisions which affect people in Scotland should be rightfully scrutinised.

“The constitutional change that is best for Scotland is to stop this discredited, undemocratic chamber having any say in the decisions which affect Scotland – and that will be done by voting yes in the independence referendum in 2014.”