Friday, 31 January 2014

Abolish the Lords

Here's a report from the Herald newspaper on a 'debate' in the House of Lords which seems to have involved a series of Tory and Labour peers, plus the odd Liberal Democrat, agreeing with each other on the proposition that Scotland is bound to go to hell in a handcart - if the country votes for independence on 18 September 2014.

To think that we are paying these 'noble' lords £300 a day (tax free) plus generous expenses to discuss such nonsense - is an insult to people's intelligence in these straitened economic times.

Not only that they are all of former politicians who are all retired (some early) on gold plated MP pensions - yet they still get their noses in the public spending trough with their elevation to the other place, as it's known, in the Palace of Westminster.

If you ask me, we should get rid of the House of Lords - a policy which the Labour Party supported for years - yet the placed is stuffed full of former Labour politicians who make a good living out of the place.

Maybe that's why they're all against independence - since the game would be well and truly up.

As for Ian Lang's comment about a vote for independence 'dishonouring' the war dead, the man is a complete buffoon - because no one is out to disavow or re-write history.

Instead all that's happening is that the Scottish people are making an informed choice about how they want to be governed in future and that process should command a certain level of respect.  

So, let's abolish the lords - it's a waste of space, time and money.

Tory peer refuses to backtrack on war dead statement despite SNP criticism

Lord Lang refused to bow to SNP demands to withdraw the controversial parts of his speech, which he delivered at the start of a wide ranging debate on independence.

He also told peers it was a "matter of great regret" that Scots living in other parts of the UK would not be given a vote in September's referendum.

Lang, the former Conservative Scottish Secretary, had been urged to consider withdrawing an "ill-judged and offensive remark" about Britain's war dead in a planned speech.

The peer questioned whether the proposed break-up of the Union between Scotland and England by the SNP would dishonour the sacrifices made by soldiers.

Tory HQ last night put out in advance remarks expected during a House of Lords debate on the referendum.

In them, Lord Lang plans to say that for generations Scots and English have lived alongside each other, sharing a British heritage. "They have fought shoulder to shoulder in the battles of the past three centuries and they still serve together today."

He added: "Together, they built and administered the Empire before turning it into the Commonwealth with Scots very much to the fore. Must they now - both Scotland and England - disavow that shared history?

"And does not that dishonour the sacrifices, made in common cause, of those who died for the United Kingdom, a nation now to be cut in two if the present generation of Scottish Nationalists have their way? There is nothing positive about a campaign that would destroy so much."

Keith Brown, the Scottish Government's Veterans Minister and an ex-Royal Marine who served in the Falklands War said: "This is a very ill-judged and offensive remark by Lord Lang, who used to argue against having a Scottish Parliament in equally lurid terms; which contributed to him being defeated by the SNP.

"People across these islands and throughout the Commonwealth made the ultimate sacrifice in common cause, which is respected and honoured by all and always will be."

He added: "It is entirely a matter for him but Lord Lang may wish to reconsider his speech and withdraw the section which will cause offence and hurt to many; and apart from anything else actually damages the No campaign."

A Conservative spokesman made clear Lord Lang stood by his comments but insisted Central Office would not get into a running commentary on the matter.

Lang also warned that Britain's international prestige and influence would "crumble" if Scotland were to vote for independence in a referendum later this year.

He said the possible break-up risked becoming like an "increasingly hostile divorce".

And he suggested that the destructive influence of the vote could be used instead to re-invigorate the UK with a positive alternative for Scotland's place in it.

Opening a major debate on Scottish independence with more than 40 speakers, Lord Lang warned that the "trauma of a broken union" would shake all parts of the UK.

"The once-united kingdom would shrink not just physically but in the eyes of the world.

"Others would see it as diminished - diminished in size, diminished in population, diminished in strength and diminished in authority.

"The mother of parliaments would be viewed as unable to hold itself together.

"An historic partnership of peoples would seem to be crumbling and Britain's international prestige and influence would crumble with it.

"Our standing in the Commonwealth would change, our standing in Europe, Nato, the UN, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation would also change".

Lord Lang said the UK had so far been a "magnificent success story", forming a "highly efficient single market" and asked: "Why put that at risk?"

He said it was a source of great regret that so many expatriate Scots were disenfranchised in the September referendum.

"North and south of the border, within two generations, countless numbers of Britons could become foreigners to their kith and kin."

Both England and Scotland were "woven into the fabric" of the UK. To disavow that shared history would "dishonour the sacrifices made in common cause of those who died for the UK".

He said there was nothing positive about an independence campaign that would "destroy so much" and leave Scotland a "competitor rather than a compatriot".

It would "risk becoming like an increasingly hostile divorce in which the parties continued to live next door to each other afterwards".

Lord Lang pointed to Bank of England governor Mark Carney's warning yesterday that sharing sterling between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK could lead to eurozone-style crises unless firm foundations were put in place.

The former minister told peers that Scotland would not have a viable central bank, or be able to print money in a crisis and be a lender of last resort.

It status would have changed from that of "partner" to "dependency".

Lord Lang said it was time to put the "politics of grievance behind" and turn the "challenge of separation into the opportunity for reinvigoration" with a "new unionism" that united the UK and brought constitutional stability to it.

Speaking of the break-up of Britain proposed in the referendum, he said: "This destructive, negative and irreversible process does not need to happen.

"There is a positive alternative for Scotland and all of us within the UK."

Labour former Scottish first minister Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale said devolution had not only been right for Scotland but good for Scotland.

Lord McConnell said he had always believed that a strong devolved parliament which had real legislative powers provided the "best way forward" for Scotland and the UK.

"We need to move from the divisive and rather negative debate that has been taking place in Scotland to a well-informed, high-level debate over the next six months that allows people to make the right choice," he said.


Page 3: 13:25

Liberal Democrat Lord Steel of Aikwood, a former leader of the Liberal party and presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, said the issue of independence was one of principle rather than pragmatism.

He said: "The debate in the three years in which we have been discussing this matter has tended to focus on the issue of whether Scotland would be better or worse off as an independent country.

"But I would argue that that is not the right question. If it is the right thing to do to separate off from the United Kingdom and become independent then surely the cost of doing it is immaterial.

"The question is, is it the right thing to do and I would argue not."

Labour former defence and Scotland secretary Lord Browne of Ladyton said the UK had a "unique" trust in intelligence matters with the United States.

He said without the intelligence the country would be "much hampered in containing the 21st century threats we face".

"It is essential to our security," he said. "It is improbable that an independent Scotland, particularly one intent on unilateral nuclear disarmament, would enjoy the same relationship."

Tory former chancellor Lord Lamont of Lerwick warned: "Scottish independence would diminish what remains of the UK in the eyes of the world.

"It would be the end of Britain. It's often forgotten that the name Britain only came into existence after the Act of Union and the name makes no sense if the northern part of this island were to be removed."

Lord Lamont said the loss of Scotland would diminish the UK internationally and have an effect on "our standing on international institutions" with fewer votes in the EU.

Turning to the financial implications, he said: "Independence without your own currency is a very constrained form of independence."

If Scotland had its own fiscal system determining its own deficit, it would have an effect on the rest of the UK, the Bank of England and monetary policy, he added.

"If Scotland runs an excessive deficit ... that will have an effect on interest rates for the rest of the UK. So there would have to be some agreed fiscal limit on borrowing by an independent Scotland."

An independent Scotland would have to pay a higher rate for borrowing "simply because it would have no track record and there would be uncertainty about what sort of fiscal policy it would follow".

Lord Lamont warned: "Ripping the blue out of the Union Jack would be a wretched business which would do nobody any good at all."

Labour former Scottish secretary Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke said an independent Scotland would have "porous borders", which would be extremely difficult to secure with implications for the security of the rest of the UK.

"We are talking about separation and we are talking about divorce," she said, adding that it is often the weaker party that comes out of it worst.

Former leader of the Scottish Conservatives and MSP Baroness Goldie said the partnership between England and Scotland was relevant and a success.

"Don't think that the independence referendum is Scotland's business alone," she told peers in her maiden speech.

"The whole of the UK is affected by this debate. Wherever you live in the UK, if you value it, then we all need to step up to the plate to keep it. We are better together and now is the time to stand together."

Labour's Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, a former defence and Scotland secretary and secretary general of Nato, said the campaign for independence was "surreal".

"We are not some oppressed colony," he said. "We are not as Scots discriminated against, we are not disadvantaged inside this union.

"In fact, Scotland is the second most prosperous part of the United Kingdom after the south east of England."

He said Scots played if anything a "disproportionate" role in British life.

"We are not some persecuted minority yearning to escape oppression," he added.

Tory Baroness Neville-Jones, a former security minister and chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, warned about threats of cyber attacks and organised crime.

"The whole of the UK benefits from the security umbrella which runs from the centre, but this of course would change and it would change radically in the event of independence," she said.

Tory former sports minister and ex-chairman of the British Olympic Association Lord Moynihan warned about the impact on British sport.

He said the nation owed a "huge debt of gratitude" to Scottish athletes for the contribution they made to Team GB in the London Olympics and other events.

"To break the bonds which connect us would be deeply damaging to the wider interests of British sport ... and not just the athletes of Scotland would be the losers," he said.

Democracy Direct (6 October 2013)

Now here's an exercise in direct democracy I would love to see repeated in the UK - a popular vote on whether to abolish or keep the House of Lords.

In Ireland the second or 'revising' chamber chamber is the Senate and for some reason Irish voters decided to retain their Seanad - whereas I would be confident that UK voters would dump the overblown, bloated beast also known as the House of Lords.

Most people know by now that the House of Lords is stuffed full of retired MPs and establishment worthies - many of whom have retired on generous public pensions - yet still they have their noses in the trough and are allowed to claim £300 per day in a tax free attendance allowance. 

Why this £300 a day should be tax free is anyone's guess, but the people claiming the dosh are lawmakers for goodness sake - so how can 'noble' lords expect ordinary people to live by one set of rules when they make up their own rules to suit themselves.

More ridiculous still is the fact there are more lawmakers in the House of Lords (760) than there are in the House of Commons (650) - and if voters in the UK ever get the chance they will no doubt dump this retirement home for 'over the hill' politicians and Church of England bishops - while saving the country £20 billion a year into the bargain.    

Seanad vote: Public vote to keep Irish senate

The Seanad Éireann (Irish senate) is the upper house of the Irish Parliament

Voters in the Republic of Ireland have rejected a government proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann (upper house of the Irish parliament).

The Fine Gael Labour coalition government proposal was supported by Sinn Féin and was lost by a narrow margin, with 48.3% voting in favour of abolition, with 51.7% against.

Total turnout in the election was higher than expected at nearly 40%.

The Seanad has existed for more than 90 years.

The current Irish government had argued it cost too much to run and that its abolition could have saved Irish taxpayers as much as 20m euros (£16.92m) a year.

Opponents wanted it retained and reformed, saying it played an essential role in holding governments to account.

More than three million people were eligible to vote on whether or not to abolish the Seanad.

Shane Harrison - BBC Dublin correspondent

“While those defeated will be disappointed and temporarily politically diminished they will, probably rightly, suspect that damage won't be long-standing because voters are much more concerned about recession-related issues than the fate of the upper house.”

Voters were also able to decide on whether or not to establish a Court of Appeal and implement other changes to the courts system.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny had claimed the abolition of the Seanad would create a leaner, more effective and more accountable system of government.

Opponents, led by the largest opposition party Fianna Fáil, said the Seanad wass necessary to serve as a government watchdog and to hold cabinet ministers to account.

BBC Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison said the result would be a disappointment for Edna Kenny.

"Abolition was very much the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny's idea and he has been criticised by Sinn Féin - his temporary ally during the campaign - for his failure to debate the issue with opponents on radio and television," he said.

"Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and his colleagues will not be happy that voters in party strongholds in Dublin, rejected their recommendation.

"The vote was much better news for Fianna Fáil, the only major party to oppose abolition and suggest the Seanad should be reformed."

Independent senator Katherine Zappone said it was important that senators now held a meeting with the prime minister to come up with a way of ensuring that the upper house was reformed.

Birkies and Lords (10 June 2013)

The BBC Panorama programme which exposed the disgraceful behaviour of Tory MP Patrick Mercer is being shown tonight - and I for one will be watching.

The likely outcome is that under such intense scrutiny and in response to public anger - the House of Commons will be forced to bring in a 'power of recall' so that the voters can get rid of MPs who behave badly - without having to wait until the next election comes along.

Yet that will still leave the House of Lords and all of its 'noble' peers untouched - all 831 of them even more than the 736 which existed under the last parliament.

Apparently the House of Lords costs the country around £10 billion a year to run - and that's as close to a pain-free cut in public spending as you'll ever get - so I'd start chopping straight away.  

For anyone unfamiliar with A Man's A Man - 'birkie' means a foolish posturer and 'cuif' is an old Scots word for a feckless person. 

Abolish the Gravy Train (4 June 2011)

Martin Kettle - writing in the Guardian the other day - made a strong case for abandoning plans to reform the House of Lords - and for just abolishing the second chamber altogether. Here's a summary of what Martin had to say:

"The democratic case for reform is that laws should always be passed by elected representatives and by no one else. It's an impeccable democratic position. It's the way things work done in most other democracies.

Low public esteem for all politicians, whether elected or not, means the (reform) proposal to send another 300 identikit politicians to Westminster is also a hard sell, even though it also means eventually chucking out most of the absurdly large current number of 831 mainly appointed peers.

These plans will fail. A survey by the Times this week showed that four out of five peers – and nearly half of the Lib Dems in the Lords – are opposed to Clegg's reforms. Most peers also think the Lords works perfectly well the way it is – not surprising, given that most peers are political traditionalists and placepeople who can earn a daily £300 tax free merely by crossing the threshold of the chamber.

Ministers still insist that the government will go the final mile to whip the bill through both houses and will use the Parliament Act to drive it on to the statute book. But it won't happen.

Increasingly, the real political choice on the House of Lords is between keeping it the way it is, albeit with lower numbers, and abolishing the second chamber altogether. They seem to manage with just one chamber in places as diverse as Sweden, New Zealand and the state of Nebraska. The state of Maine may be about to follow suit after a vote this week. Why not Britain? What would be so wrong with a single-chamber parliament?"

The answer to the question is - nothing, of course - because that's what we have already in the Scottish Parliament - which has no need of a second 'revising chamber'.

We should get rid of the 'gravy train' that is the House of Lords - and the 831 peers who can claim a daily £300 tax free allowance - just simply for turning up.

Don't believe the old dinosaurs like former Labour Deputy Prime Minister - John Prescott - who has gone to the Lords on a final salary, Deputy Prime Minister, pension.

Sweep these chancers all away - and the public purse will save a small fortune.

"Ye see yon birkie ca'd a lord" (7 June 2013)

Robert Burns hit the nail on the head in his famous poem - 'A Man's A Man'.

"Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord

What struts, and stares, an a' that

Though hundreds worship at his word

He's but a cuif for a' that"

The House of Lords is still packed to the rafters with knaves and fools - 736 of them as of April 2010 - 89 more than the 647 strong House of Commons - with more to come as the new government brings in plans to 'reform' the system.

The last Labour government had plans too - but after 13 years in power the second chamber was and remains largely unreconstructed - dominated by retired, unaccountable, second-rate politicians.

Insult is about to be added to injury as the likes of John Prescott and Michael Howard are invited to don their ermine robes.

John Prescott, former union rep, class warrior and deputy prime minister - will continue to have his nose in the public trough - along with Michael Howard, former Tory leader and Home Secretary - once famously described as 'having something of the night about him'

At a time when the public finances are in such a dreadful state - the best thing to do with the House of Lords would be to abolish it altogether.

Who needs a second chamber anyway?