Labour would scrap House of Lords, says Scottish party leader

A Labour government would scrap the House of Lords and create a “senate of the nations and regions” in its place, the Scottish Labour leader has announced.

Giving a speech in Westminster, in which he also ruled out any pact or coalition with Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National party (SNP), Anas Sarwar said: “A central part of the mission of the Labour party must be to renew democracy.

“The House of Lords, in its current form, as an institution has no place in 21st-century politics. It is unacceptable, and has been for far too long, to have unelected representatives wielding such power.

“The House of Lords must be abolished and replaced with an institution which better reflects the makeup and the identity of the United Kingdom.”

He said that would mean an elected senate, with further details to be set out in a report on constitutional reform from the former prime minister Gordon Brown, expected to be published later this year.

Abolishing the House of Lords was in Labour’s 2019 manifesto, and Keir Starmer mentioned it in his leadership pitch to the party; but asked about it last November, he appeared to back away from the idea, saying only that the Lords “needs change”. Sarwar made clear Starmer was fully signed up to the plan, however.

The idea of a senate of the nations and regions, which also featured in Labour’s manifesto under Ed Miliband, would have representatives elected for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions.

Tony Blair’s government struck an agreement to remove most hereditary peers from the House of Lords – though 92 remain, elected by their colleagues. Labour’s plans of wider reform ran into fierce opposition and were ultimately shelved.

As well as rethinking the second chamber, Sarwar also announced Labour’s plans for changes in the way devolution works, with a new duty for the Westminster government to cooperate on cross-cutting issues.

He vehemently rejected Sturgeon’s intention of treating the next general election as a “proxy referendum” on independence, complaining that the reassuring figure of “pandemic Nicola” had been replaced with “the partisan Nicola Sturgeon who wants to pit Scot against Scot for her own obsession”.

Labour overtook the Conservatives to move into second place in May’s local council elections, as Sarwar seeks to rebuild what he calls “the first red wall to fall” in Scotland.

On the possibility of a pact with the SNP, which the Tories are expected to focus on at the next election, warning as they did in 2010 of a “coalition of chaos”, Sarwar said: “Labour will do no deal with the SNP.

“No deal. No pact. No behind-closed-doors arrangement. No coalition. At the next election, we will be fighting for every vote and we are aiming to form a majority Labour government. Should we fall short of that, and be in a position to form a minority government, the SNP will face a simple choice.

“It can choose to keep the Tories in power, or choose to back a Labour government. And I dare Nicola Sturgeon to back the Tories and put them back in power, and see how Scotland responds.”

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