The future of devolution after the Scottish referendum - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

5  The process of further devolution

105. We have examined above the future of devolution in the contest of the Scottish referendum and the proposals for further devolution to, and within, the constituent nations of the Union.

106. For territorial devolution, the process has been piecemeal and rushed by political imperatives: although the Smith Commission process met all its deadlines, it is not clear what consideration has been given to how the resultant legislation will affect the United Kingdom as a whole. The process in Wales appears to have been accelerated after the Scottish referendum result, but the outcome has not been universally welcomed and the First Minister has indicated that there is work still to do. In Northern Ireland the shape of an agreement on further devolution, agreed on the condition that the Assembly and Executive could demonstrate fiscal discipline, now seems threatened by a dispute between the Executive parties over implementation of welfare reforms. Each of the agreements reached for further devolution has in effect been bilateral, with Whitehall agreeing to propose legislation for further transfers of competences. Even in England the decentralisation agenda is predominantly driven by a series of bilateral deals between Whitehall and city halls. The concept of the 'new Union mindset' promoted by the First Minister of Wales does not seem to have influenced Whitehall thinking greatly.

107. During the course of this Parliament this Committee has been examining broad constitutional issues, such as the case for a codified constitution and the case for a constitutional convention. We have not reached a settled view on recommending a constitutional convention, still less a written constitution, but we have examined the arguments and published them for further deliberation and debate.

108. The three main political parties all now appear to advocate, or recognise the possibility of, a constitutional convention in the new Parliament, though there is no cross party agreement over what its remit should be. We have set out the position of the parties in our recent report on Consultation on A new Magna Carta?, where we also examined whether the UK was approaching a 'constitutional moment'.[143] The Government, in its paper on the implications of devolution for England, discussed a constitutional convention and examined the options, without making any recommendation.

109. Our recent examination of the draft clauses proposed to implement the Smith Commission Agreement revealed that, under existing constitutional arrangements, it was legally very difficult to establish the Scottish Parliament as a permanent feature of the UK's constitution—although we recognised the permanence of the Parliament in political fact. Witnesses have indicated the unsatisfactory nature of the territorial constitution, which is found in the enactments establishing the devolved institutions. In its proposals to the Government's paper on English devolution the Conservative Party indicated that any future constitutional convention "could consider the case for a 'Statute of the Union' to enshrine and reinforce the constitutional arrangements for each part of the Union, and to assist in achieving a stable, long-term settlement across the United Kingdom."[144] Although the Minister of State for Universities, Science and Cities, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, was reluctant to specify what form a Statute of the Union might take, it appears reasonable to assume that it could provide for a territorial constitution for the UK, setting out the competences of each legislature and government.

110. Proposals for devolutionary change in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England have been made at what appears to be dizzying speed since the Scottish referendum result in September 2014. Political commitments have been made on the implementation of further devolution for Scotland, and those commitments should be honoured in full. It is nevertheless time to examine what the 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. Such an examination might be undertaken most appropriately in a constitutional convention, with citizen participation, to commence no later than the end of 2015.

143   Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Consultation on A new Magna Carta?, Seventh Report of Session 2014-15, HC 599, paras 36-44 Back

144   The Implications of Devolution for England, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons, Cm 8969, December 2014, p. 27 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 29 March 2015