Jack McConnell: House of Lords should not be abolished just to save the union

A former First Minister of Scotland has said abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with an elected Senate should not be done just to “help save the union” or to replace the EU.

Lord Jack McConnell. Picture: Michael Gillen
Lord Jack McConnell. Picture: Michael Gillen

Labour peer, Lord Jack McConnell, who was First Minister for six years, said the recent support of Scots Tory MSP Murdo Fraser and Labour’s Baroness Pauline Bryan, to the idea of replacing the unelected Lords with an elected Senate of members from across the UK, was to be welcomed.

But he stressed that Lords reform should be carried out for democratic reasons and to “ensure the country is governed properly”.

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Speaking ahead of an Edinburgh event tomorrow, in which he will reflect on 20 years of devolution, Lord McConnell said: “I fully support the idea of replacing the House of Lords with a Senate of the Nations and Regions and have done for many years. In fact I first discussed it with Robin Cook when he was leading on Lords reform for the Labour government nearly 20 years ago.

“He saw it as a big challenge but one which would reflect the fact that devolution had happened but that there still remained issues about representation in the English regions.

“So I support the idea enthusiastically but I am concerned about the way it is developing. I do not think that a Senate should be established to help save the union, or to replace the EU as an over-arching body. Those would be the wrong reasons for such a big constitutional change. It should be about how do we revitalise democracy, how do we improve our democratic system and people’s engagement and how do we ensure the country is governed properly.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser published a paper on Monday for the Bright Blue Scotland thinktank in which he recommended a post-Brexit “quasi-federal” constitutional settlement including abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with a Senate of elected members from across the UK.

The paper argued that the current political arrangements are inadequate and support for independence in different parts of the UK will increase unless there is constitutional reform.

Mr Fraser said: “With nationalists in different parts of the United Kingdom seeking to use Brexit uncertainty for their own political ends, it is important that unionists have a coherent response. Introducing a UK-wide Senate delivers the long-awaited and overdue reform of the House of Lords, giving a better balance to the UK constitution and protecting the interests of the nations and regions furthest from London.”

Baroness Pauline Bryan, the peer appointed by Jeremy Corbyn to develop constitutional policy, had previously published a paper which called for a ‘total reform’ of the House of Lords and a ‘new relationship’ between Scotland and Westminster. The document takes the party much closer to backing full federalism and the abolition of the Lords, with a new second chamber likely to take its place.

Baroness Bryan said: “The point is to change the relationship so that the Scottish Parliament is no longer subordinate to Westminster. A second chamber of the Regions and Nations would change the nature of the relations to shared government on the cross territorial issues.”

Lord McConnell said: “I am quite excited about the level of support this idea is generating, those of us who have supported it for years have been in the wilderness. But it should be done because it restores democracy, not used as just a political tool or as a sop to deal with nationalism.

“Nor do I think it should be a mix of appointed and elected people - the appointment system of the Lords needs to end entirely, not just partially.

“For me, the benefit of a Senate of Nations and Regions is that it would breathe new political life into the country outside of London where there is still too much focus, and allow many new voices to be heard in a revising, second chamber.”

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