Former Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth has warned that the UK Prime Minister’s ‘presidential’ style of governing has weakened the role of the House of Commons in scrutinising laws. He also called for a ‘root and branch’ reform of the parliamentary system to restore democracy and accountability.
PM accused of bypassing Parliament
Lord Forsyth, who served in John Major’s cabinet from 1995 to 1997, claimed that the UK Prime Minister has been using the guillotine, a procedure that limits the time for debate on a bill, to push through legislation without proper scrutiny. He said that this has resulted in a ‘broken’ House of Commons that fails to represent the views of the people.
He cited the example of the Internal Market Bill, which was passed by the Commons in September 2023, despite facing opposition from the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly. The bill, which gives the UK government the power to override parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, was seen by many as a breach of international law and a threat to the devolution settlement.
Lord Forsyth said that the bill was ‘rammed through’ the Commons in a matter of days, without allowing enough time for amendments or debate. He said that this was a ‘disgraceful’ way of legislating, and that it undermined the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law.
Reform needed to restore democracy
Lord Forsyth argued that the UK needs a ‘root and branch’ reform of its parliamentary system, to make it more democratic and accountable. He said that the current system, which is based on the first-past-the-post voting system and the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, is outdated and unfair.
He proposed several changes, such as:
- Introducing proportional representation, to ensure that the composition of the Commons reflects the diversity of the electorate
- Abolishing the guillotine, to allow more time for debate and scrutiny of bills
- Giving more powers to the House of Lords, to act as a check and balance on the executive
- Reforming the devolution settlement, to give more autonomy and funding to the devolved administrations
- Holding a constitutional convention, to involve the public and civil society in the process of reform
He said that these reforms would make the UK more democratic, responsive, and united, and that they would address the grievances of the people who feel ignored or marginalised by the current system.
SNP leader challenged on independence
Lord Forsyth also challenged the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon on her demand for a second independence referendum, which he said was ‘irresponsible and reckless’. He said that the SNP leader did not really want a referendum, but only wanted to use it as a ‘diversion’ from her ‘abysmal’ record in government.
He pointed out that support for independence was on the decline, and that the SNP had failed to deliver on its promises on health, education, and the economy. He said that the SNP leader was ‘deluded’ if she thought that Scotland would be better off outside the UK, and that she was ignoring the benefits of being part of a strong and prosperous union.
He urged the SNP leader to focus on the real issues facing Scotland, such as the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, the transition to a green economy, and the protection of the NHS. He said that Scotland needed a ‘constructive and cooperative’ relationship with the UK government, not a ‘confrontational and divisive’ one.