The Union and devolution Contents

The Union and devolution

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.The United Kingdom’s territorial constitution is in a state of flux. Significant and far-reaching changes to the devolution settlements with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are being debated and implemented. Meanwhile there are significant changes being made to governance arrangements within England. ‘Devolution deals’ are being negotiated between the Government and English local authorities, following a flagship Greater Manchester deal, while the House of Commons has adopted new procedures for considering legislation that applies only to England or to England and Wales.

2.In this period of rapid change, there is growing concern over the stability of the Union itself. The independence referendum in 2014 gave Scotland the option to leave the Union. While Scottish voters chose to remain a part of the UK, they are divided on the issue. There continue to be calls from some for another referendum despite the Scottish Government’s repeated description of the vote as “a once in a generation opportunity” ahead of the referendum.1 Northern Ireland’s political settlement remains fragile and English discontent with how the Union works has become a matter of increasing concern for policymakers and observers.

3.The four nations of the United Kingdom are stronger united than apart. The Union has brought stability, peace and prosperity to the United Kingdom. We are therefore deeply concerned by the implications of the reactive and piecemeal approach successive governments have taken to devolution to date, an approach that has neglected adequately to consider the cumulative impact of the devolution settlements on the Union as a whole. During this inquiry, therefore, we focused our attention on the Union, and in particular on how to ensure that it remains an effective and positive force in the lives of the people of the UK. This report follows the publication of our March 2015 report, Proposals for the devolution of further powers to Scotland, in which we recommended that the UK Government and UK-wide political parties “devise and articulate a coherent vision for the shape and structure of the United Kingdom, without which there cannot be constitutional stability.”2

4.In this report we seek to set out what the Union is for, how it has been affected by devolution and where the risks to the stability of the Union might lie. We then consider how the Union might be strengthened following the stresses of two decades of ad hoc, piecemeal devolution. We set out a number of principles which should underpin any further devolution of power within the UK, before considering a number of specific measures that, if implemented by the Government, should ensure that any further proposals for devolution are dealt with in a coherent manner that strengthens, rather than destabilises, the Union.

5.We heard from 66 witnesses during our inquiry, including academics, think tanks, the chairs of Commissions on devolution, the Welsh and Scottish Governments, representatives of political parties from all parts of the UK including Northern Ireland, trades unions, the voluntary sector and business organisations. We held evidence sessions in the National Assembly for Wales and Edinburgh University’s Centre on Constitutional Change. We are grateful to both institutions for hosting us. We also received 62 pieces of written evidence, ranging from the Welsh Government to private individuals. We are grateful to everyone who submitted written material or gave evidence to us in person.

6.In the May 2016 elections, some of our witnesses became or ceased to be members of devolved legislatures. Other witnesses’ roles in political parties or other organisations have changed. We have referred in the text to titles and roles as they were at the time individuals gave evidence.

7.In this report we use the term ‘nation’ to refer to the four constituent nations that make up the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales).3 We use the term ‘British’ to refer generally to UK citizens, including those living in Northern Ireland. We also use the terms devolved government and devolved administration interchangeably to refer to the Scottish and Welsh governments and the Northern Ireland Executive.

1 See for example: ‘Salmond: “Referendum is once in a generation opportunity”’, BBC News: [accessed 5 May 2016] and the foreword to Scottish Government, Scotland’s Future: Your guide to an independent Scotland (November 2013): [accessed 5 May 2016]

2 Constitution Committee, Proposals for the devolution of further powers to Scotland (10th Report, Session 2014–15, HL Paper 145), para 24

3 Strictly speaking, the Union can be described as comprising “two Kingdoms (Scotland and England), a Principality (Wales) and a Province (Ulster from the Kingdom of Ireland).” Written evidence from Lord Morrow (UDE0068)

© Parliamentary copyright 2016