'Abolish Lords and replace it with a senate', former Liberal leader argues

2 December 2020, 20:34 | Updated: 3 December 2020, 11:20

A former life peer has called for the abolition of the House of Lords
A former life peer has called for the abolition of the House of Lords. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The House of Lords should be abolished and "replaced with an elected senate", according to former Liberal leader David Steel.

Lord Steel will tell a lecture to the Scottish Liberal Club on Tuesday evening that peerages should be scrapped to make way for federalism in the UK.

The former Liberal Party leader, who "assumes" the speech will be his last of a political nature, will argue that abolishing the current upper chamber will provide a viable alternative to Scottish independence.

He will call for federalism to be "on the agenda" as a "more acceptable way forward than separation from the UK".

"We have to look to total reform of the House of Lords if we are to argue the genuine case for home rule," Lord Steel will say.

"The replacement of the Lords by an elected senate is the keystone to federalism."

Read more: Government suffers defeat in Lords over controversial Brexit bill

Read more: Lords preparing to remove controversial parts of Brexit Bill

The former life peer suggests creating a new upper chamber of 500 members, of which 400 would be chosen on a party-political basis by proportional representation.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would therefore all be proportionately allocated members from each nation.

Under his plans, members would only be allowed to vote on matters that applied to their territory which, he hopes, would stave off calls for Scottish independence.

The public would also choose the remaining 100 but they would not include recent members or known supporters of any political party.

"These would replace the existing valuable wide range of independent expertise at present on the cross benches in the Lords," he will say.

Read more: Government suffers major defeat in House of Lords over Brexit bill

Read more: Britain's first black archbishop snubbed of Lords peerage

"A convention could be created where, in a reformed upper House, each section did not vote on matters which did not apply to their territory, thus partly answering the unanswerable West Lothian question.

"Its powers would remain the same as at present - in other words no veto, only delay, and the right to ask the Commons to think again, and no power over finance."

The former Liberal chief is also expected to criticise former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg fo his "inadequate" attempts to reform the House of Lords during the Coalition of 2010-15.

He will say: "Nick Clegg had many virtues but two damning vices: over-weening ambition from an early age, and a woeful lack of knowledge of history, especially that of his own party."

Lord Steel, a former MP and MSP retired from the upper chamber and quit the Lib Dems earlier this year in the wake of a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

It described how the political establishment spent decades turning "a blind eye" to allegations of child sexual abuse and cited his specific failure to act on allegations about Sir Cyril Smith, .

The former Holyrood presiding officer said that with the IICSA "not having secured a parliamentary scalp, I fear that I have been made a proxy for Cyril Smith".

Following the report's publication, Lord Steel said his Liberal colleague "did not admit to me the truth of the allegations" and added: "Knowing all I know now, I condemn Cyril Smith's actions towards children."