THE SNP has accused David Cameron’s government of ignoring the democratic will of the Scottish people by using the unelected House of Lords to make changes to the Scotland Bill.
Nicola Sturgeon’s party has stepped up its attack on the Conservative government, claiming it was “an absolute disgrace” that key decisions on the future of Holyrood would be made in the Lords.
As MPs prepare to consider the latest stage of the legislation introduced by Cameron to deliver the pre-referendum “Vow”, relations between the SNP and the Conservatives were last night strained to breaking point.
With SNP politicians already furious about Cameron’s plans to introduce English Votes for English Laws (Evel), their anger deepened when Scottish Secretary David Mundell said unelected peers would oversee crucial alterations to the bill as it goes through parliament.
Mundell told Scotland on Sunday he wants to use the House of Lords to scrutinise changes to the bill that he has agreed in advance with John Swinney, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister.
Mundell, who is Scotland’s only Conservative MP, said he was looking to avoid significant changes in the Lords “except those agreed with the Scottish Government”.
The Scotland Bill is currently the subject of talks between Mundell and Swinney, who are discussing strengthening the legislation and attempting to resolve SNP claims that UK ministers will hold vetoes on new powers.
The idea that the outcome of those discussions would be introduced to parliament via the Lords angered Pete Wishart, the SNP MP and newly appointed chairman of the Scottish affairs select committee.
Wishart claimed Tory ministers were ignoring the will of Scottish voters who returned 56 SNP MPs to the 59 seats north of the Border. Tomorrow the SNP will object to Mundell’s plan when the Scotland Bill is discussed in the Commons. The SNP is vehemently opposed to the House of Lords and none of its members sit in it. “The UK government is clearly trying to bypass the democratic will of the Scottish people,” Wishart said. “It is an absolute disgrace that they are planning on making their changes in the Lords and even worse that the changes will only be ‘limited’. The House of Lords is an unelected, out of date chamber that has no relevance to voters and is completely out of touch.
“We don’t allow any of our members to take a seat in the Lords, but the government would prefer to make changes there rather than listen to the people who Scottish voters elected.”
He added: “It is completely scandalous that the UK government has so blatantly ignored Scottish voters.”
He warned: “The Tories will pay a price for this. The voters of Scotland have not finished with them yet even if they got an historically low share of the vote in the recent election.”
However, a senior Whitehall source said it was “normal” for ministers to bring changes into the Lords stages of a bill. But he added: “Nobody is being cut out here. All the changes will have to come back to the Commons for approval by MPs before the bill becomes law.”
He also pointed out that the committee stage in the Commons “is not the only opportunity to bring changes” and suggested that the next step in the passage of the bill known as the report stage could still be open for amendments.
He added: “This is a manufactured row by the SNP because all they want to do is talk about process and avoid answering difficult questions about what they will actually do with these powers.”
Last week the SNP clashed with the UK government when Tory ministers knocked back amendments to strengthen the Scotland Bill legislation. The amendments, which were rejected despite being supported by 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs, would have allowed Holyrood to create new benefits or top up existing ones. The clash intensified when UK ministers detailed their plans for Evel, a measure that would give English MPs a veto over English laws when they were scrutinised at committee stage.
Sturgeon responded to the proposals by suggesting that the SNP could push for another independence referendum.
Yesterday, Wishart wrote to Mundell urging the Scottish Secretary to think again.
Wishart said: “The proposals outlined in the House of Commons on Thursday are nothing less than a constitutional outrage that will see Scottish MPs cut out of voting on matters which impact Scotland and our budget. Quite simply, they will reduce the rights of Scottish MPs to protect the interests of their constituents.
“Indeed, it seems hard to equate your proposals with the stated aims of your party when it comes to the constitutional integrity of the UK. It is difficult to think of any measure more likely to undermine that constitutional integrity and the future of the Union which you claim to support.”
Meanwhile Mundell has written to Sturgeon defending his stance on English votes in the Commons and expressing his dismay that the row over Evel had led to talk of a second vote on independence.
On Evel he said: “These are sensible and pragmatic steps which do nothing to limit Scottish MPs’ rights to represent their constituents, but which do give MPs from other parts of the UK the chance to veto proposals which only affect their constituents.”
He added: “I was very sorry once again to hear threats of a second referendum on independence simply because you disagree with the UK government implementing what is, after all, a clear manifesto commitment. We voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the UK in September last year.”