4 Conclusion |
107. The timetable for drawing up legislative plans
for the devolution of further powers, which all the three main
UK parties signed up to during the referendum campaign, can be
seen in retrospect to have been somewhat over-ambitious and impractical.
The result is a set of draft clauses which clearly fall far short
of a credible draft Bill and require far more work. Some of them
are, as we were told by one witness, "a bit of a guddle".
108. Clauses 4 to 9 seem to be uncontentious and
probably do not require much more work; there might be a case
for making more matters subject to a "super-majority",
as provided for in clause 4. Clause 3 is impenetrably drafted
but this may be inevitable, given the complexity of what it seeks
to do, if the wholesale redrafting of large parts of the 1998
Act is to be avoided.
109. The real problems lie with draft clauses 1 and
2, which address matters of very significant constitutional importance
in a less than satisfactory manner. Arguably they do not even
meet the brief set out in the Smith Commission report, insofar
as it can effectively be met under our present constitutional
110. There are clearly difficulties in establishing
beyond doubt the permanent status of the Scottish Parliament in
the UK's constitutional arrangements, given the constitutional
principle of parliamentary sovereignty. The legal claims made
in draft clause 1, while seeking to affirm the permanence of the
Scottish Parliament, have the capacity to be misunderstood.
111. Nevertheless, the political fact is that
the Scottish Parliament is effectively permanent and its abolition
is inconceivable. Draft clause 1 does nothing to weaken this fact.
As the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State told us, it is an
essential prerequisite of the United Kingdom. There are means
whereby the Scottish Parliament could be recognised as a permanent
constitutional institution, but these would require broad reform
of the basis of the UK's uncodified constitution. We have explored
such means in the course of this Parliament as part of our inquiries
into constitutional codification and a constitutional convention.
112. Since the publication of the draft Scotland
clauses, the Secretary of State for Wales has put forward proposals
for further devolution to Wales. The Government has accepted several
recommendations of the second report of the Commission on Devolution
in Wales (the Silk Commission), including recommendations on recognising
the permanence of the National Assembly for Wales and formalising
the legislative consent procedure. The Government agrees that
"the Assembly should be formally recognised as permanent
and that the Assembly and Welsh Government are permanent parts
of the United Kingdom's constitutional arrangements", and
states that this should be "enshrined in legislation."
The Government also proposes that "the convention [on legislative
consent] should be formalised, and placed on a statutory footing,
in a substantively similar manner as the Government intends in
regard to the Sewel Convention in Scotland."
We recommend that the Wales Office, when preparing legislation
to give effect to the Government's proposals for further devolution
to Wales, take account of the conclusions and recommendations
of this report in respect of the drafting of the constitutional
clauses for a Scotland Bill.
113. The incoming administration, when introducing
legislation to implement the Smith Commission Agreement and other
cross-party proposals on constitutional reform which affect the
Union, must ensure that further proposals for constitutional reform
are worked out in full recognition of their consequences for all
parts of the United Kingdom and in full consultation with Parliament.
It is axiomatic that adequate opportunity is given for a fully
informed public debate on the Smith proposals before a full Bill
is finally brought before Parliament.
114. In March 2013 this Committee recommended that
the Government should examine the case for a convention to look
at the future constitutional structure of the UK, "because
of the impact of the incremental political and constitutional
change that has taken place over the past two decades, and the
effects of devolutionincluding the lack of a devolved settlement
in Englandon relations between the different elements of
the UK and how it functions as a whole."
The cross-party commitments given to the people of Scotland mean
that new powers for the Scottish Parliament are being introduced
to an extremely tight timetable. We recommend that the Government
seek to establish, at the earliest opportunity, a mechanism for
considering in the round the effect of the proposed devolution
settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, together
with the trends towards decentralisation in England, and examining
the measures required to ensure that such changes strengthen the
Union as a whole.
137 Q32 Back
Cm 9020, para 2.2.4 Back
Cm 9020, para 2.3.10 Back
Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Fourth Report of
Session 2012-13, Do we need a constitutional convention for the UK?,
HC 371-I, para 112 Back