Sarwar backs House of Lords abolition in favour of ‘senate of nations and regions’

Katie Neame

Anas Sarwar has called for the House of Lords to be replaced with an “institution which better reflects the make-up and the identity of the United Kingdom” and proposes a “senate of the nations and regions”.

Speaking at the Fabian Society this morning, the Scottish Labour leader said the House of Lords in its current form “has no place in 21st century politics”, declaring that it is “unacceptable” to have unelected representatives “wielding such power”.

Sarwar told attendees: “The House of Lords must be abolished and replaced with an institution which better reflects the make-up and the identity of the United Kingdom.

“In calling for its abolition, we must recognise the vital role that members of the House of Lords have played as the revising chamber of the UK parliament. We shouldn’t forget that it is Labour Lords who have stopped some of the worst excesses of this Tory government.

“But we need something that is more reflective of modern Britain. And which gives Scotland and other parts of the UK a greater say in UK-wide legislation.”

Sarwar announced that Scottish Labour will be launching a series of papers in the coming months outlining its “vision for change for the people of Scotland”. Today’s speech launched the first paper, which focuses on delivering better government for the whole of the UK.

He told attendees that the paper proposes a new “senate of the nations and regions” to replace the House of Lords to which members would be directly elected, giving them a mandate to represent their nation or region.

“This bold reform would not only deliver better governance, but ensure that those wielding power on behalf of the people are chosen by the people – and sit in an institution which better reflects the diversity of this country,” he added.

Sarwar declared that “political game-playing of recent years has wounded the devolution settlement” and that “new rules of engagement” are needed to “heal it”.

He said: “We can introduce change that will require more collaboration and undo the damage inflicted by the SNP and Tories. First, we are proposing a legal duty to cooperate. This would require joint working between governments in areas of shared interest.

“Secondly, we are proposing new joint governance councils – or whatever we ultimately decide to call them. They would be designed to heal the bad relationship that exists today and provide a constructive forum for dispute resolution.”

Sarwar argued that “too often” the current UK government “keeps the Scottish government in the dark” while the current Scottish government “deliberately seeks disagreement with the UK government”.

He said: “The joint governance councils we are proposing, would be set out in statute and replace the consultative joint ministerial committees which have failed and collapsed. They would be designed so that every nation operates as an equal.

“They would bring together the leaders of the UK and the nations on an equal footing, with a finance council to explore the economic challenges we collectively face and a trade council to unlock opportunity and growth.”

Sarwar confirmed that Labour would not do a deal with the SNP at the next general election regardless of the outcome, saying: “All this nonsense talk of deals is straight from the Trump playbook of fake news. It does a disservice to our political debate.”

He added: “I aspire for more for Scotland than ‘just being a wee bit better than the Tories’. That’s why the SNP fears a Labour recovery more than anything. Because we can offer hope, and change, and a credible, positive vision for our future.

“So let me make one thing crystal clear today. It doesn’t matter what lies Boris Johnson tells. It doesn’t matter what Nicola Sturgeon demands.

“Regardless of the outcome of the next UK general election, Labour will do no deal with the SNP. No deal. No pact. No behind-closed-doors arrangement. No coalition.”

Sarwar said Scottish Labour’s subsequent papers will consider how to reform the Scottish parliament and government to “make it stronger and more accountable”.

He told attendees: “We will look at how we strengthen local democracy, in the face of SNP centralisation and austerity, so that communities can drive economic renewal and help challenge the climate emergency.

“We will demonstrate how we shift the balance of justice away from protecting institutions and instead be on the side of victims and families.”

He added: “We will explore how innovation and technological advancement can help deliver modern and reformed public services, including a 21st century NHS that meets people’s needs and expectations.”

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