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Committee calls for a constitutional convention

29 March 2015

In a report published today, Sunday 29 March 2015, the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee says proposals for devolutionary change in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England since the Scottish referendum result in September 2014 have been made at what appears to be dizzying speed, without much consideration of their overall implications for the future of the Union.

In its recent report on the constitutional implications of the Government’s draft clauses to give effect to the Smith Agreement, the Committee called on the Government to seek to establish a mechanism to consider the effect of proposed new devolution settlements in the round. In this report the Committee suggests that a constitutional convention, with citizen participation, could undertake this task, and that it should start work no later than the end of 2015.

The Committee notes the progress made on decentralisation within England in the course of this Parliament, but is concerned that without a clear plan for further decentralisation the impetus for further devolution is stalling. It calls on the Government to establish, in the first six months of the new Parliament, a commission to review proposals for further devolution within England and to reach agreement on a suite of powers which local authorities can draw down where they can demonstrate demand and popular support. Such legislation—which would make local government the vehicle for further devolution within England—should be introduced no later than May 2016, for implementation by May 2017 at the latest.

Separately, a Convention for England, with broad popular representation from the public and civil society, could examine the relationship between England and the United Kingdom and develop a process for further agreed devolution from the centre to regions and localities.

Committee's Conclusions

The Committee says:

  • the House of Commons should develop a mechanism for systematic and effective scrutiny of the intergovernmental operation of the devolution settlement, through a Devolution Committee.
  • the Government should review the resources and structure of the departments which presently support the territorial Secretaries of State, with a view to more effective management of the territorial constitution.

The Committee says the Government has not yet tabled detailed proposals for how the system of ‘English votes for English laws’ favoured by the Leader of the House would work in practice. The Procedure Committee in the new Parliament should give detailed scrutiny to the procedural and practical implications of any proposal to introduce ‘English votes for English laws’. The potential impact on the Union of any system which requires a government to demonstrate the confidence not only of the whole House but also of English MPs must be carefully considered.

Chair's Comments

Graham Allen MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The new devolution settlements across the UK have been approached in a bilateral fashion without much consideration of what they mean for the future of the Union as a whole. As the devolution settlement matures the implications of further transfers of powers for the Union as a whole must be fully taken into account.

"The Government has made progress in decentralising power to cities and localities within England, but much more remains to be done. I am concerned that without a concerted push for further devolution to England early in the new Parliament the momentum and energy for devolution built up over the past few months will be lost. This will be an opportunity wasted. After the General Election the Government must press on with a bold plan to establish powers which local authorities can draw down for their communities, making local government the vehicle for further devolution within England.  In tandem with this we need further debate on the future structures of power and governance within England.

While the political commitments made on the implementation of further devolution for Scotland should be honoured in full, and to the timescale envisaged, the rushed process of the Smith Commission Agreement cannot substitute for a full deliberation on the constitutional future of all elements of the United Kingdom. Before the end of this year we should as a nation undertake a constitutional convention, with citizen participation, to examine what recent proposals for change mean for the Union as a whole, and how our United Kingdom, built on the twin principles of Union and Devolution, is functioning for the benefit of all its citizens."

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