Lords wish to better direct devolution and save Union

A House of Lords Committee has launched a fresh inquiry to identify how best to stabilise and strenghen the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the face of runaway devolution over the past two decades.

Lord Lang of Mongkton, Chair of the House of Lords Constitution Committee is concerned the willy-nilly way in which devolution has been rolled out in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales over the past seventeen years, may have weakened the Union.

He said: “Since 1998, devolution has significantly changed the way the United Kingdom is governed, and there are proposals for the further devolution of power both to nations within the UK and to English cities and regions in the very near future. We are concerned, however, that this process has not been undertaken in a coherent or considered way; the devolution of powers to each nation has been considered separately with little or no reflection on the impact on the Union as a whole.

“Following Scotland’s clear vote last year to remain in the UK, the time is now right for a thorough and detailed look at what the Union is for, and how we can ensure a stable devolution settlement that preserves and strengthens the UK as a whole.

“Our inquiry will span a broad range of constitutional issues and will give witnesses the opportunity to put their views on record on an issue that will profoundly affect the whole of the UK. I would encourage interested parties to send us their evidence by 2 October.”

The Committee is concerned that the current devolution settlement is the result of ad hoc, piecemeal, change rather than the result of a considered and coherent process that takes into account the needs of the UK as a whole. Its inquiry will therefore focus not only on devolution but on the Union itself, to try and identify what binds the constituent parts of the UK together in a single Union, and to consider ways in which that Union might be strengthened and reinforced.

The Committee is seeking to identify and articulate the principles that should underlie the existence and governance of the Union and how power is exercised both by Westminster and by the devolved nations.

It will also consider what practical steps can be taken to stabilise and strengthen the Union in line with those underlying principles.

The Committee is inviting written evidence to be received by Friday 2 October. Some of the key questions the Committee are inviting evidence on include: Is the UK’s current constitutional and legal framework able to provide a stable foundation for the devolution settlement? What are the key principles underlying the Union? On what principles are the UK’s devolution settlements based, or on what principles should they be based? What is the effect on the Union of the asymmetry of the devolution settlement across the UK? Is the impact of asymmetry an issue that needs to be addressed? If so, how? What might be the effect of devolving powers over taxation and welfare on the economic and social union within the UK? Are there measures that should be adopted to address the effects of the devolution of tax and welfare powers? What practical steps, both legislative and non-legislative, can be taken to stabilise or reinforce the Union? How should these be implemented?