FORMER Borders MP David Steel has criticised the current crop of politicians and the increasing role of spin doctors in a damning speech.

Lord Steel, who was the first Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament, made his damning remarks during the annual Charles Kennedy Memorial Lecture in Edinburgh.

The former Liberal and Lib-Dem leader also called for a reform of the House of Lords.

Lord Steel, who represented the Borders for 32 years at Westminster, blames television coverage for the decline in parliamentary standards.

During his speech, he stated: "It is no longer Prime Minister’s Question Time – it has become Prime Minister’s Insult Time with the two protagonists exchanging well rehearsed sound bites.

"I can recall days when the Leader of the Opposition did not necessarily ask a question at all – it was a chance for all MPs to query the head of government on public policy.

"The rot set in when the chamber became televised and Prime Minister’s Questions became the subject of weekly electoral entertainment rather than genuine scrutiny of government.

"Sadly the same adverse trend in the Commons Chamber itself has set in at the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, though at the start we decided on a semi-circular chamber rather than one where opposing parties sat two carefully measured swords’ lengths apart, and that seemed to work for the first few years, but no longer – belligerence and stridency are the order of the day."

David Steel became the youngest MP at Westminster when he won the 1965 Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election.

It was a seat he held for the Liberals until 1983 when constituency changes saw him take the new Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale seat.

During his time in office Mr Steel was heavily involved in the anti-apartheid campaign and was also instrumental in having abortion legalised in the late 1960s.

During last week's lecture, Lord Steel paid tribute to his former Lib-Dem colleague Charles Kennedy.

But he also used the platform to hit out at the demise in free-talking MPs, such as himself and Mr Kennedy - and the increasing role of spin doctors across all mainstream parties.

He continued: "The increasing role of spin doctors is to be deplored.

"They hand out questions for MPs to ask, and they daily bombard party activists by email with 'lines to take'.

"Even I, as a humble member of the Upper House received daily doses of laundry lists of the alleged achievements of the LibDems in the coalition government, and a selection of press coverage – all favourable of course - nothing critical.

"The latest addition to these daily outpourings are suggested tweets to circulate.

"Fortunately I am not a tweeter, so I swiftly delete all these unread.

"All of this contributes to the diminution of individual expression or even thought in politics. Little wonder that the paid-up membership of the United Kingdom political parties is in decline."

David Steel retired from the House of Commons at the 1997 election.

He was made a life peer as Baron Steel of Aikwood the same year - earning him a seat in the House of Lords.

After campaigning for Scottish devolution, he was elected to the new Scottish Parliament in 1999 as an MSP for the Lothians - becoming the first Presiding Officer.

Lord Steel continues to sit in the House of Lords, but he believes reforming the Upper House is long overdue.

He concluded: "In 1997 when I was a brand new peer I found myself in transit at Buenos Aires airport with a long wait for the over-night connection back to London.

"I went to the British Airways desk to ask if they had a lounge where I could wait.

"The man behind the desk looked at my ticket and exclaimed, 'Are you a Lord?' Embarrassed, I explained that I was not a real Lord just an appointed member of our Upper House of Parliament.

"'But you are a Lord – it says so on your ticket – can I shake your hand? I’ve never met a Lord before – and now I’ll upgrade you to first class'.

"So it has its uses! That I suppose is why so many people are prepared to pay for it.

"And therein lies a real scandal - the process of appointments, apart from a few cross-benchers, by the patronage of the Prime Minister and the other party leaders.

"That means that not surprisingly each party leader finds that those doing nothing for the party except writing large cheques somehow manage to catch their eye.

"What could a new Upper Chamber look like and what could it do?

"Let us assume for ease of arithmetic that it might consist of 500 members – significantly fewer than the 650 Members of the Commons, and well below our current over 800 peers.

"It would include not just Members of the Commons, but Members of the three devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - 400 out of the 500 could be chosen by them on the usual party political basis."