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CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 371-i
House of commons
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
Do we need a constitutional convention for the UK?
Thursday 28 June 2012
Peter Facey and Lewis Baston
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 59
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
on Thursday 28 June 2012
Mr Graham Allen (Chair)
Mr Andrew Turner
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Peter Facey, Director, Unlock Democracy, and Lewis Baston, Senior Research Fellow, Democratic Audit, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Thank you very much for coming, gentlemen. Forgive us for being a bit delayed. I stupidly raised the issue of House of Lords reform, which I will not do again.
Peter Facey: I didn’t hear any howls.
Chair: You didn’t have your ear to the door in that case.
Peter, Lewis, welcome. Would you like to make some sort of opening statement to start us off?
Lewis Baston: Okay, I shall make an opening statement. You have our written evidence. Thank you very much for accepting that. I shall give you a slight preview of the contents of the fourth general audit of British democracy, which is to be published soon. There are a number of problems that need addressing. The obvious one is the way that the asymmetric devolution has taken place, with increasing change taking place between the different levels and issues such as the fact that we may end up with such a thing as Welsh law, as opposed to English and Welsh law. There are a number of changes and unanticipated consequences of the way devolution has proceeded since we started out that need addressing. There is the issue of England as well-the nature of England, not only within the United Kingdom but its internal arrangements and the balance of power within England. We have a discussion about localism. We also have the decline in the foundations of representative democracy, and we have phenomena like the decreasing trust and decreasing engagement of the public in politics-so there are a number of serious issues out there. We should be open minded about the way in which one might go about addressing these issues-whether to bundle them all together into one big discussion or parcel them out a bit. In particular, the position of England is an interesting one. There may be a case for having a specifically English dialogue. I will come back to that if I may and if you are interested in questioning.
Past UK practice has tended to involve elite-level arrangements: Speakers’ conferences on particular things, such as the relationship between the Commons and the Lords 100 years ago, boundaries in the 1940s-all these sorts of things. Elite-level settlements like that, possibly the day has passed for these. They do not seem to address the desire for participation and deliberation that exists. We have had directly elected forums on two occasions in Northern Ireland; we have had a political opposition or civil society forum constitutional convention in Scotland; and we have also had a process of constitutional change through legislation and referendum. So we have all these processes that have been happening.
Looking overseas, conventions have often been about either writing one from scratch after a revolution or independence or so on-obviously we are not in that position but there are many examples of that. Another one, which I think is increasingly relevant to the UK, is settling issues of intergovernmental relations between different tiers of government, each with an element of sovereignty. That has been the sometimes unhappy experience of constitutional conventions in Canada. There are also occasions where they have been given a special task, such as the Australian convention in the late 1990s.
We are in favour of the idea of a convention. We think it would be useful. We think it would be good to involve the public in these issues. We are thoroughly open minded about the ways and means of doing this, what is discussed and whether it is general or specific, and we very much welcome the Committee’s interest in the subject and look forward to reading the report that will no doubt clarify a lot of people’s thinking. Thank you.
Peter Facey: The United Kingdom is now over 300 years old. In that time, particularly in the last 20 years, the nature of that state has changed fundamentally. We have had a large amount of constitutional change, but it has always been changes to individual bits. We have not at any point sat down and had a holistic view of how this state, this country, is governed and how it is going to be governed going into the future. There is a danger that-rather like a kind of woollen jumper-you are pulling bits of it and actually what we are doing is fraying it. We have an opportunity now to have a look at the central questions of what is the United Kingdom for and how is it to be governed, and to try to join up the dots. If we do not do that type of process, then we are doing a process that is a kind of laissez-faire free-for-all, where individual bits will get pulled in individual directions and there will be no central overview of the nature of the state. I am a fan of flags, and particularly at this point where, logically speaking, that nice big Union Jack over there flying over Parliament could potentially not exist in three or four years’ time-I expect it will, but we are at a point in the history of the United Kingdom where we may end up having a completely new state where the Union Jack does not exist, and the United Kingdom as it exists now does not exist-I think it is an important point to look at what is the United Kingdom and why it is here.
Q2 Chair: I have a logistical question that you can help me with, Peter. When the Committee sat down and said, "Well, we are obviously going to go to Scotland and hope to see the First Minister, and go to Northern Ireland and see Mr McGuinness and Mr Robertson, and we are already booked in to see the First Minister of Wales, shortly in Cardiff; and of course in England we are going to see-" and there was quite a long pause around the table. Who do we see in England?
Peter Facey: I think that is one of the problems in a convention. Looking at the future of the United Kingdom, ultimately there is a blank in the middle that is called "England". You basically have to see yourselves, or those of you who represent English constituencies, because effectively we have had processes to decide the constitutional nature or the futures of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but we have not had that process in England. The danger, if you simply waited for that process to happen in England, is England is 80% of the United Kingdom and, therefore, that would then affect the whole. One of the central questions is going to be: how do you represent the interests of the people who live in the 80%, in a way that gives them the same freedoms that the people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have, if they want them, and at the same time settle the issues that need to be settled in terms of the nature of the UK? It is like the Council of the Isles. Again, with Council of the Isles, if you look at who is represented, my Mum, who is Manx, is represented. The UK Government is represented. There is nobody there for that kind of hole. You might as well have one of the old maps, which was kind of the world, and where England is, "Here be dragons". It does not exist. I am not a classic English nationalist, but if we are looking at the future of the United Kingdom, you have to take into account the interests of the people who live in England. I think one of your big challenges will be: what do you do about that group? Maybe you have a session yourselves, where you sit down and you do it but ultimately that is one of your big challenges.
Lewis Baston: Yes, I would agree with that very much. It is one of the reasons why, when talking about whether we were to have a convention, we ended up thinking about direct elections as a way of ensuring representation from England. For your own purposes, I realise that is not much help in the immediate term.
Political England is an institutional vacuum, and I think we should fill it because, increasingly, it exists in the minds of people. In the immediate term, yes, English Members of Parliament and some local authority leaders-of course we have one region of England that does have regional government, i.e. London. Yes, that is probably it.
Q3 Fabian Hamilton: As you know, the Silk Commission is looking into further devolution in Wales, and we will be going to Wales in the next few days, as the Chair said. The McKay Commission is reporting on the West Lothian/English question. You have mentioned the idea of a constitutional convention, is it really necessary? From what you say, it is, but please expand.
Lewis Baston: Yes, I believe so. I would expand by saying that, as Peter said, there has been a lot of incremental bit-by-bit progress on various issues, and Silk and McKay are further examples of that pattern, rather than an overall look at them, particularly with McKay, which I think is a good committee-a very expert, academic committee. But, as far as public participation and consent for change, it is the start of a process rather than the end in itself. I am sure its report will be a work that will start a dialogue about the West Lothian question and England in Parliament, rather than conclude it. Hopefully, it will sharpen up some of the terms of debate. I think it is a debate that should involve the public in general, so I would say constitutional conventions are better, in that they can take an overall view of the various different questions that have been raised and they can involve the public rather more than expert committees, although expert committees must be part of the process to structure the dialogue that takes place.
Peter Facey: I am probably even more critical than Lewis on this. I think the Silk process is an important part of the Welsh evolution. Let us be clear, I would say that the McKay process is not looking at the English question or even at the West Lothian question, but it is looking at the impact of it on this place. So it is not looking at devolution in England and it is not looking at English governance, it is purely looking at how you deal with it within the House of Commons and Parliament.
Q4 Fabian Hamilton: So it is very narrow?
Peter Facey: It is extremely narrow. If you walk down any street in England and ask, "The McKay Commission, what is it?" if you found one in 1,000 people who had the faintest clue what it was you would be doing well. In fact, as someone who purports to be a Methodist, I am not a betting person, but that is a bet I would probably be willing to take.
We need to recognise that these are a continuation of looking at it from the bits. I am sure they will do good reports, but if you believe that there is a question that we at least attempt to look at it in the whole then this is not the way to do it. Yes, we need these, but we do need to look at how we stay together as a United Kingdom, if that is what we decide we want to do. Personally, I am a unionist. I believe that the Union is a positive thing. Therefore you do need to look at the Union and not just at the individual bits, and have a process for that.
Q5 Fabian Hamilton: My next question is on how we carry out this process. This afternoon I am going to Iceland where, by Act of Parliament, in 2010 they established a national forum. I think 950 citizens were selected on to that national forum. The recommendations have come through and in October of this year they are going to have a referendum, and I hope to bring back a little more information about all that when I get back. Is that the way we should approach a constitutional convention here? Should we have an Act of Parliament that sets up a convention or should it be far more informal? How do you think we should set about it if we were to have such a convention?
Peter Facey: I think for the UK it needs to be properly registered in an Act of Parliament. The only body that can in some way speak for the UK is the UK Parliament, and if you have a process that isn’t rooted in statute the danger is that there is no process-that you end up having a convention that produces another worthy report. As you know, constitutional and political reform is littered with worthy reports and conferences. If you are going to engage the public in a serious process, then you need to have something where you know what the outcomes are. You know what the process is at the very least. If you just do it informally: firstly, I don’t think you will have the money to do it well and you will just end up having another elite drawn out process; secondly, I don’t think you will actually be able to convince people to engage in that process, because they will not believe it is real. If it is not going to be that, then it might as well be run by civil society or an academic body as a project. That is a worthy thing, but that is not a constitutional convention in the sense I believe.
Q6 Fabian Hamilton: Isn’t there a problem though? In a country like Iceland, 950 people are a huge proportion of the 300,000 population, and the equivalent proportion here would be hundreds of thousands of people. It would be completely unmanageable. How do you ensure that you get a representation of all the different views and opinions that there are out there in all the different regions of England?
Peter Facey: First of all, let’s be honest, it is extremely challenging. It is a lot easier to do these processes in small states, where you can bring people together, than it is in a state of over 60 million people. That does not mean we don’t need to do it; it just means we have to recognise we have a challenge here. I think there are ways you can bring people together, and we need to recognise that the convention is only part of the process. In some ways we need to try to do something that we have always talked about in this country and never done, which is that thing called a national conversation. I have heard government at all levels talk about national conversations, but I have never actually seen one yet. You need to think about the convention as an in/out process, which involves the public at different stages and is expected to be not just about those people who are in the convention but about how it feeds out and how it feeds in.
Let us be clear, this is difficult to do. It is not necessarily going to be something you can do quickly. It needs to be planned. It needs to be debated and then it needs to be carried out. But I think we need to think about what the alternative is. The alternative is we continue on the route of incremental evolutionary reform, where a lot of the drivers are now in Belfast, Edinburgh, Cardiff and elsewhere, and where you have to accept that there is going to be-
Q7 Fabian Hamilton: You have thrown some people out of the jungle, yes.
Peter Facey: Yes. So if you don’t have some central process, you have to accept that probably you are going irrevocably in a looser direction-that may be a positive, but it means it is an unplanned process-rather than attempting to have some degree of planning. I think states, like companies and families, should at least try to do some planning.
Lewis Baston: I would agree with a lot of Peter’s argument there. As far as Act of Parliament or some other mechanism is concerned, it depends a bit what we are trying to do. I think it would be perfectly possible to have an updated version of a Speakers’ conference that would include representation from the devolved Parliaments-and hopefully some sort of representation of the diversity of England-to sort out a few ground rules about how bits of the UK relate to each other, about how you go about independence and further devolution and all these sorts of things. You can have a worthwhile intergovernmental conversation like that under the auspices of a super-Speakers’ conference, which you can call a constitutional convention. If you are going further and trying to have a big national conversation, trying to take a holistic view of all the different constitutional issues-and of course if you go for something like direct election to staff the thing with-you will need an Act of Parliament.
Q8 Fabian Hamilton: If we set up a constitutional convention through Act of Parliament, what do you think should be the terms of reference? For example, should the convention be tasked with proposing a new constitutional structure for the United Kingdom, or should it simply be about an agreement between the different components of the UK, or ways in which relations could be improved or changed between the different components in the UK? How do you think those terms of reference should be designed?
Lewis Baston: Again, I think there are arguments on each side of this question. If one is having a broad exercise of the sort that would involve a deliberative assembly, its terms of reference should perhaps be left to itself. Scoping out of what needs to be done could indeed be part of its initial terms of reference and therewith the idea of producing a broad framework. Obviously if you have a smaller souped-up Speakers’ conference, that could be given very precise terms of reference. There is a danger in creating a big body, such as has been done in Ireland, with a mixture of sortition and appointment with specific terms of reference, because that body will then come under pressure for its terms of reference to expand. If you are looking at the electoral system and you are looking at the place of religion in the constitution, people will increasingly say, "Why aren’t you discussing this? Why aren’t you discussing that?" and this process is starting in Ireland. There are risks in trying to draw a fence around the terms of reference of a big public discussion. I think leave it broad. Leave it to the body to work out.
Q9 Fabian Hamilton: Peter, do you agree with that?
Peter Facey: To a large degree. What I would say is you could do a constitutional convention of all the things you said, apart from possibly the latter one where, if it is just going to be intergovernmental elections, I think calling it a constitutional convention would probably build up public expectation for something that was not going to be delivered to them.
The difficulty is that our constitution is so complex and such a mess, where do you start? You could have a constitutional convention to produce a written constitution, a constitutional convention to produce a bill of rights. If you are asking me what the political priority is, I would say it is about the future of the UK and the UK state at this point in time. That does not mean that you couldn’t do it off the top of the process of another bit, but there is a danger in trying to do everything when actually you are treading on a path that you may not ever come to the end of. I think you have to give it at least some ring-fencing.
Lewis is right about the Irish process. I would go further. The problem with Ireland is when they started to call for a constitutional convention they had lots of things they were going to put into it. The Government has narrowed it down and excluded even some of the big things, like whether they have a second chamber-that has been taken out-to the point where even the people who advocated a constitutional convention in Ireland are now turning around and saying, "Well, what is the point of it?" If you get to the stage where you have taken out most of the things it is going to do, you might as well take out the convention. We have to be clear, there has to be a job of work here. I quite like the idea of leaving it to the convention itself, but bluntly I don’t think Parliament would allow that. In an ideal world, yes, but unfortunately I think we are control freaks and I can’t see you handing over to another body carte blanche to recreate the state, particularly if it involves randomly chosen individuals. In a different universe, maybe, but not in the United Kingdom I live in.
Fabian Hamilton: I would certainly agree with that. Thank you.
Q10 Simon Hart: You have both used the expression "national conversation", what is that?
Peter Facey: We haven’t had one.
Simon Hart: I do not know what it is, whether we have had one or not.
Peter Facey: What I know is that governments have talked about it. The last Government talked about it. The Scottish Government has talked about it. If you look at South Africa, and you look at the South African constitutional process, you would say that there was a national conversation in South Africa about what the constitutional nature of South Africa was going to be. It is certainly a conversation where you deliberately attempt to involve people and where there is an opportunity to have that conversation in different ways across the whole of the country, so it is not just a souped-up government consultation process.
There are plenty of examples from around the world where it has been done well, where-like Iceland, like South Africa-you involve people at different levels, at different stages in the process, and you actually give people an opportunity to help shape it and then at the very end to endorse it. If you are thinking of having one of the Government’s roadshows, where a minister goes around the country or a committee goes around the country, you have a few public events, you have an open consultation process and then you have a report on it, that is not a national conversation. If you are talking about something that is grander than that, which involves people having to shape the conversation at the first stage, taking people through a learning process and then at the end public deliberation on it, then that is what I would say a national conversation is.
Lewis Baston: I would agree with that. I think the idea of deliberation is important. For instance, contrast things like the AV referendum and the 1979 Welsh referendum. These things were just launched at people as referendums without much prior discussion, without a sense that these are issues that people had kicked around themselves, whereas, for instance, the Scottish referendum in 1997 and the Northern Ireland referendum in 1998 were preceded by an extensive period of interest and deliberation in the media, among people and among civil society generally, so there was a sense of broader participation. I think the Welsh referendums in 2011 and 1997 probably falls a bit between the two stools, but there is a difference between launching into a campaigning referendum situation and a process that involves deliberation. The Icelandic process seems admirable. Sections of the draft constitution were just farmed out and people could comment over the internet on it, and people did. That may be something you can only do in a small and highly educated state, but there are ways and means.
Q11 Simon Hart: But isn’t the truth really that national conversations are not an accurate reflection of national views, because they tend to attract an awful lot of noise from a relatively small amount of people. Having been through two-if not more-referendums in Wales, there was an attempt to have a national conversation and there was a loud and lengthy national conversation between a very few people who dominated the media, which is Cardiff-based anyway. But most people don’t give a damn-they find most of this stunningly boring. I am gripped by the idea of a national conversation, although I am still not quite sure what it is-it is tantalisingly vague-but how do you make it sexy? How do you make people get up early in the morning and say, "I must go out and have a conversation today about some constitutional minutiae"?
Peter Facey: Part of the problem is you are talking about constitutional minutiae. You are going to people with solutions and saying, "Here is the solution, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?" In the case of the Welsh process, bluntly, the Welsh devolution was designed within a particular small section of the Labour Party. It was given to the Welsh people to say "Yes" or "No" to, and they had a process. We have never had even the kind of process that Scotland had in Wales. You never had a constitutional convention. You didn’t really have civil society coming together. You didn’t attempt to have the stage before where you actually looked at the problem and said, "What are the solutions?" and then went through.
If we are going to have a national conversation, it cannot start with, "Here is the solution, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’? That is not a national conversation. That may be a legitimate way of doing a referendum or anything else, but if you want a national conversation about this we have to start with, "Okay, this is the UK, what is the problem?" It may be that the constitutional convention ends up saying, "There isn’t a problem". You have to give it that freedom to do it and you take people through it. People are not necessarily interested in the minutiae, but they may be very interested in the basic question about where power lies in the UK, who decides on this or not, or whether the UK exists or not. You have to start where people are and take them through a process.
The reason why government does this badly is because ultimately it is scared about starting a process that is an open book. It likes to have consultations and processes where you know what you are having the conversation on and you know this is the limit of it. The scary part of a genuine national conversation, in the way that Iceland has done it or the way others have done it, is that you don’t know where it is going to end and you have to accept that. If you are not going to do that, then, to be honest, let’s do something completely different.
Lewis Baston: Yes, I would agree with that. This is part of the reason why we ended up suggesting in our evidence to take or leave some very radical options, like leaving the agenda open to the body to decide, or direct election. These are all ways of trying to move power, make the process look potentially edgy and radical rather than just a little establishment chat, pleasant as those are. As Peter said, in terms of making it sexy, it is about power. As Henry Kissinger said, "Power is an aphrodisiac," and if we are talking about power and where it is, exercised people will be interested. If we are talking about what sort of legal processes and parliamentary resolutions need to be done, people will not be interested. Power, yes they will.
Q12 Simon Hart: Let’s say we are going to do all this stuff. How does it proceed? Do you have to establish consensus, do you have to have unanimity? How do you make the thing work in a way that the outcome is not a significant disappointment to a large number of people who took part in this conversation?
Lewis Baston: Yes, unanimity would be nice but one cannot expect that. Although, in practice, sometimes these deliberative bodies end up producing a majority report supported by a very large majority of the people because the people have been taken through the deliberative process. The British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on the electoral system produced a very clear majority for its overall report, somewhat to people’s surprise. The vast bulk of the Assembly endorsed it. I think there are two elements here. One is the general public discussions going on, in which you can’t expect unanimity. You can expect some decent options to emerge and hopefully you can get, through discussion and deliberation, a decent majority for something. The other element of it is reaching agreement between the different UK Governments. There probably we can hope for some sort of consensus to emerge. There are almost two levels of the discussion, and we should expect slightly different things out of each of them.
Peter Facey: I think consensus can be added to your list for a national conversation. What is a consensus? We now know from the Lords’ debate that a three-party manifesto is not regarded as a consensus, so what is a consensus? If we are looking for unanimity, maybe that is a completely different conversation.
Chair: I have never called anyone to order yet, Peter; I don’t want to start with you, but do not take us there.
Peter Facey: Okay. If we are looking for a consensus in power politics, I think getting a consensus is extremely difficult to do. The best you can expect from a constitutional process is that there is a clear majority in favour. The reality is one of the things you have to decide is what happens to the report of the constitutional convention. If it cannot produce a clear majority, the ability to deliver its recommendations afterwards is a lot weaker, so the stronger the majority in the constitutional convention, the stronger the report is going to be. If it is kind of 49/51, the reality is I don’t think you are likely to end up with its recommendations being adopted, either by Parliament or through a referendum. But I don’t think you should sit there and say, "You have to have unanimity." Unless we are all going to become Quakers, I think there is no chance of it happening. Anybody who has watched Quaker decision making knows that takes a very, very long time. I don’t think in this case you could keep a constitutional convention going for that length of time.
Q13 Simon Hart: Two more very quick questions, if I may. First of all, explain to me how you can have a national conversation-now that that phrase is catching on-about constitutional arrangements, particularly things like devolution, without having a national conversation about the economic and social consequences? In many respects, what engages people’s interest in Wales isn’t the minutiae of the constitution but what economic impact that is going to have. Earlier on you confessed to being a Unionist, thank goodness. Where I live, a lot of businesses are very concerned about the constitutional direction in which the Welsh Government is heading. They are not interested in the constitution but they are interested in the economic and social consequences. Should we separate those two things when we are talking about all of this stuff?
Peter Facey: You can try to have a conversation about political and constitutional structures removed from the economy, removed from all the other things but I think it is a hopeless attempt. If you achieved it, you would probably involve very few people in that process. Does that mean you have to discuss at each stage which economic policies you are going pursue? You need to at least discuss the consequences of it and the fact that you are accepting that there will be different policies in different places, and the consequences of that going alongside it. We have to recognise one of the dangers in the conversation happening in Scotland at the moment is they are having a conversation in Scotland around: is Scotland £500 better off or worse off for being in the Union? As an Englishman listening to that conversation, part of it is that if you have that type of conversation and they decide that Scotland is £500 better off being in the Union, does that mean I am £500 worse off? We have to be careful we don’t have that type of conversation. We need to have a conversation premised on the United Kingdom is a positive thing. We want to continue the question about what the structure is.
Q14 Simon Hart: We are already doing that. That is exactly the conversation that is going on.
Peter Facey: Are we?
Simon Hart: Yes.
Peter Facey: Where is the conversation in England about the structure of the United Kingdom, about how it works? We are having a conversation in Scotland, purely in Scotland, about whether or not they want to be independent or not. We are not having a conversation about the nature of the United Kingdom, about where power lies within it and what its structures are. That conversation is not going on. We are purely having a conversation about whether you want to leave the door open or not and is it better for you to leave the door open? As someone born into the United Kingdom, living in England, I have no part in that conversation. I am watching them decide to leave the room or not. I am not discussing my constitutional future or what that structure should look like going forward. My son, who is six, learnt the national anthem for the Queen’s Jubilee. That may become completely irrelevant in a few years’ time, but his parents and his community have no say in that. So we are having a conversation in Scotland; we are not having a conversation in the United Kingdom about it.
The reason why the Welsh First Minister is constantly talking about the subject is that, if you are coming from Wales, the consequences of that decision in Scotland are huge-there will be a massive impact. We are not having that conversation, collectively as a group of islands, on how we continue to govern ourselves if we stay together. What we are having a conversation on is: "I want this, and if I can’t have it I’ll leave." That is not a national conversation, in a UK sense.
Lewis Baston: I would like to add, in reference to your question about other matters-economic, social and so on-that if one is having a discussion about the appropriate relations between different tiers of government and the limits on government, then it is reasonable to talk about where economic decision making should take place. We also have frameworks about equality, human rights and so on-the state and the citizen. As I say, if we are to have a convention, I would like a very open discussion and those matters should certainly be part of it. It was very much part of the process in Northern Ireland when they were constitution making in the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s, so, yes.
Simon Hart: I have a couple more questions. Can I possibly come back later?
Chair: Of course, Simon.
Q15 Sheila Gilmore: The difficulty perhaps we have in all the discussions about a constitutional convention in an awful lot of the UK is that the English in particular appear to be disinterested. In the most recent British Social Attitudes survey it showed only 25% of respondents favoured an English Parliament. Very few favoured regional assemblies and when we did put that to the vote, it was resoundingly defeated. People just do not seem that interested in this concept. Maybe people perceive in England that Westminster is the English Parliament.
Peter Facey: The first thing I would say is there are other surveys of attitudes that give a very different view from the survey you quote. If you look at the IPPR report on attitudes towards England, certainly in terms of the hardening of English identity, it believes and says that there is now a growing trend of people considering themselves to be either English or equally English and British, and that a recognition of that needs to have a political nature to it. I would agree about the two solutions that you outlined of regional assemblies and an English Parliament: I happen to support neither of them. That does not mean I am happy with the nature of the governance of England; it just means I reject those solutions.
It is also worth noting on the regional assemblies, before everybody says that they were resoundingly rejected, that we had two referendums, and one was passed, and one failed. So we just need to recognise that the scorecard at the moment on regional assemblies is 1-1. I am not saying that that means that we should go down that route; I happen to think that historic counties and cities is a better way of devolving power in England than artificial regions. But let’s not rewrite history.
If England does not have a discussion of how it is to be governed, and is not allowed to have an open discussion about it-as I said, it would probably lead towards some of the things that this Committee has talked about in its code for independent local government; but we need to have a conversation that allows us the same freedom that there is and was elsewhere in the United Kingdom-I think long-term there will be a problem as more and more people consider themselves and call themselves English as distinct from British.
My son’s friends at his primary school don’t actually use the word "British" at all. They think of themselves as English. He uses the word "English." When I say "British", he looks at me with a blank face. The word he uses is "English." He hears "England", he speaks "England." I am not saying he has a political constitutional view of the world. He doesn’t; he is six. His view is quite narrow, but culturally when I grew up, I considered myself to be British. The word I used was "British." So something has changed. What we do not know is whether that has political consequences. I believe it does, but you are very welcome to disagree with me.
Lewis Baston: No, I would agree. I found the IPPR research on political England pretty convincing that there was such a thing as political England. It lacks any institutions to represent it. One of the oldest challenges, which was the challenge in 1939 from Leo Amery, "Speak for England, Arthur." He meant Britain or the United Kingdom, but nobody is there speaking for England. There is no sense of a figurehead person in England, institutions for England. Perhaps conceivably England doesn’t need them as such. Perhaps enhanced local government, city regions and so on, is the way to go to reflect the way England is a plural entity.
But we have not even really started to have that conversation. England is a vacuum as far as discussion is concerned. We are still vague about the terms of reference of any look at what political England should be. I speculate-I don’t want to set up too many new institutions here this morning-about whether there is a case for an English conversation, an English convention to get England’s ideas sorted out before participating in a UK convention.
Q16 Sheila Gilmore: Is there a fundamental problem with the size differential that we have? I think from an outside England perspective, a lot of the feeling is- you said that more people use the word "English" than "British", when in the past they might have used "British"-that, in England you almost deliberately use "English." They see it as interchangeable-that Westminster is interchangeably an English Parliament and a British Parliament. But I don’t think from a Scots or Welsh perspective people would necessarily think-
Peter Facey: If I go back to the 1980s, I think you are right. As long as you were right that there is this interchangeability, then probably you could go along with England being represented by the UK, and you could have a process where the UK Government effectively does the job for that part of the United Kingdom. What is happening, if you look at the stuff on identity, is that a growing group of people perceive themselves to be distinctly different- English, not British-in a way that has not been there in the past. It is not a majority, but there is a kind of growing sense, since devolution, of there being a place called England that is distinct from Scotland, where things happen differently here on healthcare, on social care and on lots of other things, and you can’t now use the words "British" and "English" interchangeably. I am clear, I am British. I am clear that what being British is includes intimately people from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland-and some of my friends would say Cornwall-in that conversation. In the same way that a Scot does not mean "Devon" when they say "Scotland", they mean Scotland, when you now talk about "England" there is a growing sense that you are talking about the geographic area and the people of it. Yes, football has helped and, yes, other things have helped but there is a growing sense of identity. Does that mean it needs to have a national institution like an English Parliament? I do not think it does. But do we need to recognise that that is a change within the United Kingdom? I think, yes, we do.
Q17 Sheila Gilmore: Is there a sense in which a lot of this Englishness thing is perceived from outside England as being quite a reactionary, perhaps even quite a right-wing notion? Maybe that is very unfair, but probably from parts of the UK that are outwith England, the growth of English identity is seen as quite, maybe, threatening.
Lewis Baston: Yes, I accept there is that perception and I accept that there is a reality behind it, and that manifestations of English nationalism are quite often aggressive. I don’t think it is necessarily the case. I don’t think the English are bad people who are in incapable of generating their own civic nationalism in a way. Part of the problem is that people have been afraid to talk. People who aren’t on the nationalistic right have been afraid to talk about what makes England good. There are ambiguities. For instance, the category of English who are least keen on being labelled English are ethnic-minority people. There is a sense that there is a whiff of ethnic identity about English, which I don’t think there is really in Scotland. Most people in the Scottish discourse are very clear that Scotland is an inclusive civic identity rather than an ethnic one. I don’t see any reason why Englishness should not be an inclusive identity as well. I think it has been that people are reluctant to engage with it. For instance, within the political parties, you can talk about the Welsh Conservatives, Scottish Labour and so on, but there is no sense that there is English Labour. Stephen’s party is slightly different in that there is an English Liberal Democrat party.
Stephen Williams: Unfortunately.
Lewis Baston: But for most of us there is a "don’t go there" attitude to political England. So I think it has been a bit left to people who would make ill-use of the symbols of Englishness. But, as I say, I think England is only starting out on a national process. Scotland obviously has been a separate polity for a long time; Wales has been created as a political entity almost before our eyes in the last 20 years. England is only at the start of that process and I think it is important that people engage with it and recognise it.
Peter Facey: You are right when you say that people from the outside-including many people in England-have been suspicious of and worried about the concept of Englishness. I suppose to a degree it is rather like the Canadian attitude to the United States. If you are in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, you have this body of people that make up 80% of the country. If they start having a completely separate identity what does that mean to you and where will it fit? I have always found it quite strange; why is Englishness perceived to be instinctively right-wing? I have no answer to it. Why is Scottishness not right-wing, or Welshness not right-wing, or being found to be from Ulster or from Northern Ireland or whatever you want to say? But if you perceive yourself to be from England, instinctively that is to the right. I don’t think there is any historical justification for that. I can’t see any logical reason why that should be the case, and it was the case that most of the Empire was a UK British empire, it was not an English empire. So it is something we have to come to terms with. As Billy Bragg says, there is a danger it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you say that Englishness is a slightly dangerous identity and you can’t go there, you are not allowed to express it, then the danger is you will get exactly what you want. You will get the English Defence League.
Mr Turner: That is what they want. They want those things and that is why they support them. It is not the other way around that being right-wing is a bad thing, being right-wing is a good thing.
Sheila Gilmore: We might have to disagree with that.
Peter Facey: I would say that the English identity is no more right-wing than any other identity, that someone on the centre left could be proud to be English. Billy Bragg is an exposer of English identity, and I would be interested to hear if anybody here thinks that Billy Bragg is at all right-wing. I would like to meet you if you do, because it will be an interesting conversation.
Chair: We may ask him, but if we can just stick to the constitutional convention just to help the Committee through some of these issues.
Q18 Sheila Gilmore: There is an issue of outside perception and that can influence whether people want to have some of these conversations. As Andrew said, there are some very nice people who are right-wing-not wanting to cast aspersions. It is also the perceived power balance. This is not starting from the state that you have chopped up into relatively equal pieces. We have a profoundly unequal position here. How far does that obviously make constitutional discussion difficult?
Peter Facey: Which is why in the past, when the question of an English constitutional convention has been raised, we have said that you need to have a UK process alongside an English process. You can have a constitutional conversation in Scotland and not necessarily dominate everything else, but if you have a constitutional consensus in England, where England itself decides purely on its own institutions, the consequences for the other parts of the United Kingdom are extremely profound because of its size and dominance within the state. The choice is: how do we have this conversation? If I am right, the conversation is happening and will happen over a period of time. The question is: how do you frame it? I think that having a conversation about the future of the United Kingdom, in which there is space for an English conversation but it is within a framework for the UK, is the best way to protect the interests of the other parts of the United Kingdom and to have a conversation about this state called the United Kingdom.
If you don’t do that, over time you will get pressure for the English-only conversation. I think that would be more worrying if you are coming from Cardiff and Belfast and Edinburgh than having one for the whole of the United Kingdom. The alternative choice is not to have a conversation at all, and hope that the English go to the pub or go to the garden centre and ignore the whole thing and don’t do it. That is a choice, but, looking at where things are now, I would say that would be a mistake.
Q19 Sheila Gilmore: Canon Kenyon Wright, who was involved in the Scottish Constitutional Convention prior to 1997, has said that he thinks there is a fundamental conflict between the Scottish and the English constitutional understanding of traditions. Do you think that is true?
Lewis Baston: The English idea of parliamentary sovereignty is one that does not travel to Scotland, and the sense of popular sovereignty and constitutionalism is stronger in Scotland than it is in England, clearly. I think that is right. We de facto moved away from-if we were ever really fully there-a position of unalloyed parliamentary sovereignty in a unitary state. We do not really have that any more, if we ever did. It is clear that Scottish and Northern Irish institutions, and probably increasingly Welsh ones as well, have a foundation that is separate. We also have the EU and human rights and so on, which have been accommodated within a framework that does not quite negate parliamentary sovereignty but isn’t there.
On the English matter, and referring to your last question, we were trying to do something quite unusual, which is to construct an equitable multinational state where one partner is much bigger than all the others. The record of such things in the past has not been terribly good. I can think of the USSR, Wilhelmine Germany and Yugoslavia, none of which are entirely happy precedents. We are trying to do something quite new here. The English question of how to fit in an equitable devolved UK is a difficult one. I am in favour of the maximum discussion and deliberation about it.
Q20 Sheila Gilmore: I would just like to comment that, in my view, this notion of some separate Scottish constitutional thinking is vastly overrated.
Peter Facey: I would agree with Lewis, but I don’t think most people have a strong sense of a constitutional convention in Scotland or in England. There are plenty of English people who believe in popular sovereignty and actually think we are a popular sovereignty and do not understand or, if they do understand, do not agree with parliamentary sovereignty. I am very proud to sit here as someone who regards himself as English. I think parliamentary sovereignty is a load of twaddle. I have never seen it. Officially you are the most powerful people on the planet. I do not think constitutionally, in reality, that you are. With all due respect to parliamentarians, you don’t act as if you are sovereign. In a lot of cases you act as though you are in a continuous battle with the Executive and the Executive wins most of the time, but maybe that is a limited opinion from me.
Q21 Chair: Just to take Sheila’s thought a little bit further, if we go towards looking at a constitutional convention will it be practical to negotiate such a thing with the devolved Assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and whoever will speak for England, or is that just something that will prove impossible to negotiate? Is it a sensible path to pursue at all?
Lewis Baston: My view would be that it should be possible. I guess one has to park the Scottish situation for a bit. Depending on the way the referendum goes in Scotland, Scotland may have no interest in participating in UK institutions. If Scotland remains in the UK, practically, there will have to be a framework in which we all get along together. If Scotland leaves the UK state, I think the situation of the residual UK is something that needs a lot of basic thought. In a sense, an independent Scotland would not just mean creating one new country, it would be creating two new countries, really, because the residual UK is going to have to be a very different beast from the state we have at the moment.
Peter Facey: I think it is necessary to do. I don’t think it is easy. You also have to recognise that in some ways what you can’t do, in a UK constitutional convention, is rewrite the constitutional settlements that are now in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are trying to join them back together while accepting that they have happened. You also have to legitimately accept that if the English wanted to take the same level of powers for themselves, in whatever way they decide to do it, that they have that right as well. That means we are doing something quite difficult because we are actually trying to knit together after we have already devolved. But I think it is essential that we try. Otherwise, as I have said before, you are in a process where, by its very nature, power will shift outwards and we will probably be sitting here-well, some of us will be sitting here-having a conversation about how we actually govern England.
One of the questions we have to recognise is that if the UK is in a difficult position, in terms of marrying a nation that is 80% of it and freeing other distinct parts, the history of units where England and Wales or England and Northern Ireland are joined is even worse. The history of the Kingdom of Serbia and Montenegro is not a very long one. Scotland leaving the United Kingdom will be the founding blocks of the United Kingdom leaving, and you would be reforming something in a completely different way. You would then be having a conversation in England of whether or not English taxpayers wanted to pay for Wales, wanted to pay for Northern Ireland, when Scottish taxpayers have basically said they do not want to pay and contribute to people in Wales and Northern Ireland. I think that would be a very different conversation. I would prefer to have that conversation now to having to have it after a 2014 referendum.
Chair: That is one of the reasons we are having this conversation now. We see a referendum coming up and whichever way it goes we would like Parliament to have a view. It may be a view that is not listened to but this Select Committee is determined to put something out there ahead of that, rather than to react once the referendum has happened. No doubt we will have to do that as well, but we will try to get some thinking out there in the year before a referendum takes place so that we are all prepared for that.
Q22 Stephen Williams: That was where I was going to start from. Is there any urgency about this? I guess from what Peter was just saying he thinks that there is urgency. I wonder whether such a convention would be better left until we are faced with a "Yes" vote in Scotland. If there is not a "Yes" vote in Scotland, then we do not need to have it.
Peter Facey: Very briefly, I would say the direction of travel seems to be-and I think this would be reasonable-that Scotland, whether it votes "Yes" or "No", is likely to get greater devolution. That devolution is then likely to be matched by a desire in Belfast to take the same and to Wales to take some of that as well. So, regardless of whether Scotland votes "Yes" or "No", the fact is, if we consider the present way the UK is governed, we are not going to stay where we are. The one thing we can safely say is there is no way we are going to stay where we are today, and in 10 years’ time it is going to be exactly the same. It will change. The question is whether that change is planned or not. I think there is an argument for having that planned and having the thinking done. Also to be fair to the Scottish voters, the voters should know what the nature of the United Kingdom is likely to be if they vote-as personally I hope they will do-to stay within the United Kingdom. Leaving it so that all you are having at the moment is a conversation about in or out in Scotland is a mistake. The rest of us who are not in Scotland also need to have a conversation about the nature of it ourselves. If anybody in this room thinks that the United Kingdom’s governance structures are now set in stone, and are going to stay exactly as they are today, you are on something because they are just not. I have not met any academic or any person looking at it who thinks that where we are now is sustainable.
Lewis Baston: Whether "Yes" or "No" in Scotland, there will be further questions for us here in England and in the UK, however defined. I guess, in terms of your question about timing, it is whether those questions are sufficiently different; we have to wait until that fork in the road as far as Scotland is concerned before starting on it. My own view would tend to accord with Peter’s, that we should really start before, that there are enough issues in common, depending on which way you go, and that it is important that the decision in Scotland isn’t taken in a complete vacuum. As English, as Welsh, as Northern Irish, we are stakeholders in this matter as well and it is reasonable to start talking beforehand.
Q23 Stephen Williams: Do you not think there is a danger-Sheila might be the only person who knows the answer to this, and she is not a witness so she can’t answer-that a UK constitutional convention in 2013 will distort the results in Scotland because it might be seen as big brother next door interfering in their debate?
Peter Facey: As long as it is clear and explicit that we recognise the right of the people of Scotland to decide their own constitutional future, and whether to leave the United Kingdom. We are quite a unique state in the sense that we built into it the idea now that parts can leave. America fought a war over whether or not bits could leave. We have accepted universally actually-
Q24 Stephen Williams: Have we?
Peter Facey: I think universally. I don’t think there is anybody who believes that you would keep Scotland by force. The idea that Scotland votes and the British Army moves north like the Serb Army and takes Edinburgh and then takes Aberdeen-there may be a fiction writer out there-but I don’t think anybody thinks it. We have accepted the idea that this is a union held together by consent and if the people want to leave it they can. As long as we make that clear, I think it is perfectly rational and sensible to have a conversation about the nature of a UK that Scotland is staying in, as long as Scotland has a full part in that conversation.
The question is: do you say, "We will have a conversation after you have decided", in which case we may be having a conversation that is in crisis mode-I always think conversations in crisis mode are not good conversations and not good processes-or are you saying to Scotland, "If you stay in, we’re not sure what is happening", so you are not giving any certainty. There is no good way of doing this, but I don’t think simply postponing it and saying to Alex Salmond, "Have your conversation and then the rest of us will have a conversation if you decide to do it", is a sensible way forward.
Q25 Stephen Williams: But it would be a conversation without a say, wouldn’t it? I am not sure in that context how I would engage the people of Bristol in such a conversation, and in the urgency of the Scots making a decision when nobody in my seat or anyone else around the table, apart from Edinburgh, will actually have a say in it. Indeed the Scottish people who are working in my office here in Westminster are deeply upset that they are not going to be able to have a say in it.
Peter Facey: If you have a conversation about how the UK is governed, your constituents will-if you have a conversation about the nature of the UK, where power lies in it, you have to have a conversation about the process at least, what the right of England is to have its own power. There are quite a lot of people from the south-west of England who would want to see more decisions taken locally in Bristol, in Somerset, or, where I come from originally, in Devon. I think there is that. If we have this conversation purely about the Scots, you are right we should not have it. But I am not suggesting a conversation that is, "Should the Scots leave or not?" I am suggesting a conversation about the nature of the UK. What is it? What is this thing I am a citizen of? How is it going to be governed going forward? It is 300 years since we founded it, what is it going forward?
My wife is Australian. In Australia, there is a clearer sense of the nature of Australia, in terms of its structures and where it lies, than there is in the UK. I think at this point we probably need to have it. Does it need to be about everything? No, but we are at a junction in the UK about whether our future lies together or separately. If it lies together, how are we going to get along together as people on these islands and within a wider framework of what we want to do within the European Union? I can’t think of a better time or a more important time to have that conversation.
Q26 Stephen Williams: I can just foresee a situation-because we all enjoy this sort of thing-where we would be sat on this convention having these wonderful conversations about city regions, in Leeds, Nottingham, Bristol or wherever, and how we might do things differently, and then someone will say, "Well, hadn’t we better wait until the Scots have made their mind up, because everything changes?" As a Welshman, one of the reasons why I hope the Scots will vote "No" in the referendum is that I think my home country will be massively disadvantaged if Scotland votes to leave.
Peter Facey: Bluntly speaking, if you are talking about something under a constitutional convention, you are talking about something that will probably take us two years to set up. So the likelihood is that a constitutional convention-
Q27 Stephen Williams: It will be after anyway?
Peter Facey: I hope that it will be set up before you have the vote so there is a process there. But the idea that it will have finished by the time the Scots vote-if we wanted to do that we should have started two years ago. We have not. It is 2012 now. The referendum is in 2014. Your report will be out later this year. If the Government decided it was an absolute priority, you would be legislating for it in 2013 if you were moving at a record pace for the UK Parliament. Therefore, you would be talking about setting up a constitutional convention at the end of 2013, beginning of 2014, if it is through that. That does not mean that there does not need to be conversations within the wider society before that process happens. But the idea that this is going to happen tomorrow-legislation takes time and Parliament does not move that quickly.
Lewis Baston: I would add that the pragmatics of it suggest that, if you are having a serious intergovernmental discussion, as opposed to a broad conversation, we are going to have to wait until after the Scottish referendum because, presumably, the Scottish Government will take no interest in discussions about what the future of the UK is until they have had their referendum. So, yes, I think the conversation stage, possibly particularly in England and also within Wales-the First Minister has been very keen to start-needs to start. An intergovernmental conference would have to be afterwards.
Q28 Stephen Williams: The Chairman has asked me to move this on a bit, so a more fundamental question now. While sat here, I have been having flashbacks to about five years ago when I was on the Education Select Committee. We used to meet in this room. I used to sit in this seat. We were doing an inquiry into citizenship in the context of the curriculum and the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, had made some speech, preparing the ground for a Scotsman becoming Prime Minister, about the nature of Britishness. More than anything, isn’t that what we need to resolve-who we are-rather than how we govern ourselves? There is no particular consensus about that.
Chair: You have 15 seconds.
Stephen Williams: Unless we get some consensus on that, how we will have different cabinets, constitutions, voting systems and so on, does not really engage with people at all.
Lewis Baston: I take the point. On the other hand, shall we say the lack of conclusion to that discussion of Britishness is a bit of a sobering one?
Q29 Stephen Williams: The Americans are American, aren’t they? They resolved that in 1789. The Australians are Australian, whether they are from New South Wales or Victoria. But are we British?
Lewis Baston: In a sense, this is a bit of an English problem, isn’t it? Because Welsh and Scots feel comfortable with multiple identities and there are different identities there. Britishness is a multinational thing. Within England it seems to have a slightly more inclusive connotation than Englishness, in terms of ethnicity and so on. The problem is that discussion started by Gordon Brown didn’t seem to really lead anywhere, possibly because the English didn’t feel it was important. In a way, if you are Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, or members of minority nations within Britain, it is clearly important and it is the sort of thing you work out. Whereas I think the English are rather lazy about it.
Chair: Peter, can I ask you to be fairly quick on this, as I have three colleagues who still have not asked a question.
Peter Facey: I am not a fan of the last Government’s Britishness conversation. It seemed to be attempting to have a single identity, which meant that you were having a conversation on Britishness in England but you were not having the same conversation in Northern Ireland or in Scotland and Wales. The English had to be British and everybody else was having a conversation about other things, and I don’t think it works that way. If you go to places like America and you ask somebody, "Are you Texan?" they have a clear idea of what a "Texan" means and that it actually means something.
My wife is from Western Australia. Trust me, the Premier of Western Australia has a very clear view of the interests of Western Australia, as distinct from the interests of Australia. He is Australian, yes, but Sandgropers-as they are called-have a clear sense of identity. Clearly they have a chip on their shoulder about everybody on the east-they want to take their money so they don’t like it. We are a multinational state. I am from Devon; I am proud of it. I am English, I am proud of that as well. I live in Cambridgeshire, I am very proud of that, and I am also British. The idea that I should take one identity, because Gordon Brown says I should, and wear it uniformly is ridiculous.
Q30 Tristram Hunt: Let’s drill down into how it is going to work. We have heard that in Iceland there were 950 members. In your ballpark, how many people would it involve? I know this isn’t written in stone but just give us a sense of it. How many people would it involve? What is the relationship between those elected and those randomly selected? Will there be delegates? Is there space carved out for the Welsh, Northern Ireland, the Scottish and English? Just give me the framework.
Lewis Baston: In the brief sketch I had, I was envisaging something like 100 to 150 directly elected on a regional basis-the nations and regionally within England. We have about 100 to 150 of them: 50% of the Assembly, as was the case in Australia, an element chosen by lot-I am pragmatic about the way of doing that-and other elements obviously because we are an intergovernmental-
Q31 Tristram Hunt: Sorry, 150?
Lewis Baston: 150-odd directly elected.
Q32 Tristram Hunt: Another 50 chosen by lot?
Lewis Baston: Say another 50 chosen by lot, and then 100 appointed from the parliamentary and governmental and local government units, so 300 in totality.
Q33 Tristram Hunt: Yes, okay. So 25 England, 25 Wales, 25 Northern Ireland and also Scotland-parliamentarians?
Lewis Baston: Parliamentarians, local government figures.
Q34 Tristram Hunt: Local government as well?
Lewis Baston: Yes. I would wish particularly in the English context for government beyond the centre to be included.
Q35 Tristram Hunt: Sure. Would those be selected by party or would those be institutionally put forward? How does that work?
Lewis Baston: I think they should be there as representing institutions. As I note, they should not be mandated by those institutions. I would wish the constitutional convention to work in a deliberative way and not have to have people representing things, reporting back.
Q36 Tristram Hunt: But you are going to have a self-fulfilling prophesy, aren’t you? Those who do not have a problem with the woollen jumper unravelling and a Burkean conception of what a constitution is, will not necessarily be putting themselves forward through a more rationalist Robespierre vision of how you do it.
Lewis Baston: Sure.
Q37 Tristram Hunt: Apart from those chosen by lot, you will end up to a degree with those who want the end-
Peter Facey: We have taken a slightly different view. The fact is there is no perfect way of doing this. There are lots of different models. You can choose your model and each one comes with its own problems. On the whole, we have said that it should be around 200 people in total, because it needs to be small enough to actually have a conversation with itself.
Q38 Tristram Hunt: These are public concerns. This will be in Church House, open gallery-
Peter Facey: It needs to have different stages in the learning process, and to go out as well, not just being in our ivory tower. On the whole, we have gone for the majority being chosen by lot, so effectively a grand jury.
Q39 Tristram Hunt: Who guides them? What is the committee that is guiding their processes?
Peter Facey: Normally there is a secretariat. You have to work out how you put experts in. The reality is there is no such thing as a neutral expert, so which experts you put in, how you put them in, affects it. We have said that a third should be from existing elected officials and that effectively, in the case of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they should be chosen from their Parliament. Their Parliaments should decide how they are represented. In the case of England, because there is nobody to represent England, what we have said is that the parties should decide. It should be divided on what the basis of the parties’ vote is in England, but the parties should then decide on who represents them.
Q40 Tristram Hunt: And those parties that do not have Members of Parliament, like UKIP?
Peter Facey: Yes, personally I would include them, but the problem is if you look at UKIP on the last general election, their percentage of the vote at the election is very small. Again, this is the difficulty of what you do about England. The advantage of letting the parties choose is you could choose MEPs, MPs and councillors and the parties could decide the mix themselves. I think, in trying to work out who speaks for England, it is just too difficult to say who does, because the reality is nobody does. You have to make the best you can, and I think leaving it to the parties and saying, "Okay, you choose electoral representatives from it but you decide yourselves whether there should be a more localist or national party"-
Q41 Tristram Hunt: What if a party does not want to participate? What if the Conservative Party takes the view that we have a conservative belief in constitutionalism and we-
Peter Facey: If the Conservative Party does not want to take part, then I do not think a constitutional convention would actually happen. If what is the largest governing party in the United Kingdom decides it does not want a constitutional convention to happen, you are not going to get it.
Q42 Tristram Hunt: That is just a hypothetical. I think all of those problems can be overcome. Then it is set out in statute so it is a Government Bill. Where does the conversation end? Do each of the devolved Administrations sign up to what the constitutional convention comes out with, or is this a sort of process?
Peter Facey: You have to say that this is a process. You have to accept that this is the UK Parliament and Government setting up a process for the United Kingdom. I do not think you can do it on the basis of asking each part of the United Kingdom to sign it and opt into it. You are not going to give Devon the right to opt in or opt out.
Q43 Tristram Hunt: No, but what if the convention comes up and says, "Well, actually, we believe in a more coherent United Kingdom and that means withdrawing, for example, tax-raising powers from Scotland"?
Peter Facey: That is why I said at the beginning in terms of my evidence that you have to accept the nature of the settlements that have already happened. I do not think you can take away from Scotland without going to Scotland and giving the right to accept or reject. If you are going to say, "The price of the continuation of the United Kingdom is the abolition of the Scottish Parliament" I think you have to accept that the Scots have some say in that.
Q44 Tristram Hunt: Essentially, this becomes a process for the transition toward federalism? This becomes a process of managing federalism, does it?
Peter Facey: Bluntly, I think we are heading towards a quasi-federal state. We now have Parliaments and Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have law-making powers, which are in the process of getting tax-raising powers, which are protected by referendums so that the centre cannot take their powers away. On any kind of definition, that is a quasi-federal state. We are no longer a unitary state.
Q45 Tristram Hunt: But we should not kid ourselves about what the nature of the constitutional convention would be, because there would be an awful lot of people who have a different conception of what the state should be, and this is actually about how we manage going forward into a federal framework.
Lewis Baston: Yes, the agenda that faces us is how to cope with this sort of asymmetric quasi-federal thing that we have. There are different coherent arguments to it, but the practical politics and constitutional thing is that we cannot go back; we cannot revert, if we ever were one, to a uniform unitary state. It is about managing how to run an asymmetric quasi-federal state, yes.
Peter Facey: The convention could, of course, come up with a solution that says that we move back to a unitary state. That would give the option then to the people in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland, whether or not they wanted to accept that or not. I do not think it would. I do not think you should write into it and say, "It has to be this". The political reality is unless you are going to go to Scotland and basically say, "Your choice is to stay in the unitary state or leave-"
Q46 Tristram Hunt: Yes, I think we have it, but it is basically managing a conveyor belt. Finally, in terms of public engagement, I think we are all quite interested and excited by this, but if you are going to get delegates and things, was it British Columbia where they did the delegate elections at the same time as the general elections, or-
Lewis Baston: No. In BC they had a semi-random process; they sent out invitations to a random sample to participate. People who were interested enough to then turn up to a meeting chose among their number at the meeting. You actually did get a kind of sifting of people who just were not interested, would not turn up to the meeting. Ireland is intending to do a fully random version. We shall see how that works.
Q47 Tristram Hunt: Are we generally of the opinion that the Irish one is going into the sands?
Peter Facey: Irish political commentators seem to be of that opinion. It is not because of the nature of the convention, i.e. the mixture of appointed and non-appointed. It is the fact that the Government is basically removing issues from the convention. What are left are fairly minor technical issues.
Q48 Tristram Hunt: I do not understand what they are trying to get to the root of because I would have thought the Irish political system is relatively-
Peter Facey: At the last general election in Ireland there was a lot of conversation about the need for political reform, about the nature of the state, about the role of the Catholic Church, about whether or not you need a second chamber or not-
Chair: Multi-member constituencies.
Peter Facey: Constituencies, the nature of the electoral system, all those things.
Q49 Tristram Hunt: Incredibly technical political science?
Peter Facey: It is.
Lewis Baston: It is a load of political science issues.
Peter Facey: They had some meaty issues. For instance, one of the big issues at the election was whether or not there should be a second chamber. The Government has decided that that should not go to the constitutional convention, so they have taken that out. They have already had a couple of referendums. They have left a number of technical issues that are even more technical than the electoral system. You have constitutional technicalities being put into this process, which is why lots of people who were calling for a constitutional convention are now going to say, "If you are going to take away all the big issues, what is the point of doing it?"
Q50 Mr Turner: I must say I do not think this will work and I do not even want it to work particularly. There are so many points one can follow up, but let us start with one of them. Do you know what "garden centre unionists" means?
Peter Facey: No.
Q51 Mr Turner: It is the majority of unionists in Northern Ireland who have nothing to do with politics. In a way, that is true for the whole of England, I think. Most people are not interested in politics. They will go and vote and that is the end of it. In both those countries, or rather in one province and one country, they cannot have proper elections, or rather they can have proper elections but they are not allowed to disagree. Is that going to be changeable? Is that not the responsibility of your convention? Is that something for the Ulster people?
Peter Facey: If you are doing it on the future of the United Kingdom, the bit where we all join together, then you have to say that those issues-I have a lot of sympathy with what you say-are for the people of Northern Ireland to decide in terms of their structures. They have had a long constitutional process that is not at an end through the peace forum and through the Belfast Agreement, and there are people in Northern Ireland who are making the point that the present constitutional framework is a crisis framework and not-
Q52 Mr Turner: So that is a local issue?
Peter Facey: Yes.
Q53 Mr Turner: Fair enough, because I think the same is true in England. In fact, it is not England. We are a local country, a lot of local communities within one England. I do not think there is any way you can sort it out except where people want to come together themselves. For instance, say we have Cornwall, which may or may not be English, but at least you can understand it being a local decision rather than part of a national decision. That is why I felt you were giving a dangerous and irrelevant conversation about Bristol, because Bristol is as far from Cornwall as it is from London. Let us abandon this idea of regions, accepting the-
Peter Facey: I agree with you.
Mr Turner: I realise, yes. But we seem to keep coming back to these problems of regions. Regions are okay for London and they are not okay for-
Peter Facey: We get caught up in the language. What is a region? Is Essex a region? Essex has 1.3 million people.
Mr Turner: Yes, but it is a county. That is what we mean by a county.
Peter Facey: Okay, call it a county, call it a region-
Mr Turner: No, I am sorry, it is a county. It is not a region. That is a fact.
Peter Facey: There is a geographic place called Essex, which is a county and some of our counties are shires-I will be careful here with the historian on the panel-which existed in some ways before England existed. The way you described England is the way personally I would describe it. Anybody who knows my views will know I am an ultra-localist. I think we in England have to have the right to have a conversation about the nature of how we are governed. I do not think that means that we have to take the view that we will have the same political institutions that are right for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I am not an advocate of those because I think that there is a danger that what you would do in England would be for the comfort of our cousins in Scotland and Wales and impose centralism on England. But that does not mean that we do not have the right to them if we want them. It means that we have a right to a space to decide on how England is governed.
I do not think you can have the complete conversation about the nature of the governance of England in a UK constitutional convention. What you can have is a group of people who have responsibility to think about whether there needs to be an English process or not, and whose job is to protect the rights of the people of England to have that conversation if they want to have it.
Q54 Mr Turner: But the danger is, you see-I think the figure cited was 200-that does not include the Isle of Wight. My constituents in my island could be completely ignored. Having people from the south-east would not represent us in any way. I do not know who would be representing them in the south-east. The south-east is fortunate not to have a large county in the middle of it, but in the west country, the chances are Bristol would have four or five people because it is easy for them. It is the Cornwalls and the Isle of Wights and probably the Norfolks and the Cumbrias that are ignored.
Peter Facey: Which is why we have suggested that the random solution is actually better. You cannot have 200 people, or fewer than 200 because of the other nations, who represent the diversity of England. Again, we need to recognise that England itself is going to have to have a conversation as to how it is governed. The role here is to look at the UK institutions and not necessarily work out what a settlement for the Isle of Wight is. Ultimately I would like to see a settlement in England that allows powers to be drawn down to the communities of England if they want them, so that the people of the Isle of Wight can decide from a menu of things what it would like to have and we do not assume that what works in Cambridgeshire or, for that matter, what works in Manchester, should work on the Isle of Wight. But that is a conversation that we within the space that is England need to have. With all due respect to friends from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, I do not know why the people of Edinburgh need to be involved in that.
Q55 Mr Turner: Exactly, and that is why I think it is necessary to have a very brief conversation for England, but we do not need to involve Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland. It would actually be quite convenient to do it at the same time as their referendum. We have a group of people who do represent them-and those are the English Members of Parliament-so we can do it here. If they need an extra person, okay, they can have two whom they appoint or whatever. But the point is you have to do it through something that exists. You could do it really randomly. The problem is 90% of those would not be bothered. They might if the law required them on the basis of a jury to turn up.
Peter Facey: I have greater faith that they probably would. Bluntly, if people are given the honour and the responsibility-where you say to people, "Here is a duty", and you do involve them in processes, they are probably more responsible than people actually think they are, according to evidence from around the world. I may be wrong. To be honest, you would not know until you ran the process.
I suppose the question I come back to is: we have to decide on the nature of the UK because the UK is where it is. Again, yes, there is a conversation for England and I think somebody needs to look after the rights of England to have that conversation, but we are at a juncture where the nature of the UK state is changing. We can just simply take the view, and it is a perfectly legitimate one and it would be very British of us, to basically say, "We will let the conversations of the distinct parts go their way, and then what happens at the centre-the cards fall where they may". What we are saying is we think that you should attempt to have a UK conversation about what the nature of the UK state should be. Do you think that that is important to maintain and keep, or are you effectively saying that you do not really mind whether that flag across the way exists anymore?
Mr Turner: I care very much for it, but I do not believe we can do it by a policy. It has to be brought. We have to do it from the bottom and that means we have to raise the money, apart from anything else, not the public purse. We have to find it absolutely essential that we get this money and find it ourselves, however much it costs.
Chair: That was a good comment, Andrew, but it was not a question, so if I cannot tempt the witnesses to respond to your comment, we will move on because I am trying to squeeze the other Andrew in.
Q56 Andrew Griffiths: Thank you, Mr Chairman. Time is brief so I will try to keep this short. Gentlemen, you talked about the desire to have this conversation with the general public. You want to have a conversation with the man on the Clapham omnibus as well as on the Glasgow omnibus and the Cardiff omnibus. Peter, I think in your presentation you also talked about whether you should have a blank sheet of paper when you look at what the convention should be discussing. If you were surmising what the man on the Clapham omnibus would like the convention to discuss, what are the top three or four issues you think that he would want us to debate? That is to both of you.
Peter Facey: I have never been good at necessarily attempting to speak for the man on the Clapham omnibus or even on the Cambridge to Royston bus. I think the central question has to be: do we want, collectively as a people of the United Kingdom, to keep the UK state? If the answer to that is "Yes", what things should we govern and decide collectively together and what things should we decide apart? In the case of where I live, we are having new towns being built, effectively. Is that a decision that should be taken by the UK Government? So Scottish MPs should decide on it, or is that something that should be taken lower? Should the UK decide on the education system in Northern Ireland? So what is it we do collectively and what is it we do apart? Ultimately, it will also come down to who pays for what bits, because basically if you are on the Royston bus-well, you would not be on the Royston bus, because it only runs once a week. If there were a daily Royston bus, you would be concerned about your fuel duties, who pays for it, what services you are paying for and where it is. If we are going to have a grand process, then it needs to be the grand questions of: do we want the UK; if so, what is the UK for; what things do we collectively do together and what things do we do apart-that conversation. If you want to have a more narrow conversation, I would not suggest you have a constitutional convention in the sense we have done. You do other things that could involve the public in it. You could involve the public in quite narrow issues in lots of ways. But if you are asking me the big question, the big question is basically: does that flag exist, do we want it to exist, what does it represent, how is it governed and what is its future?
Lewis Baston: Yes, what is the UK? What does it do? What is it for? That is obviously the key one. If you are talking about a Clapham omnibus, yes, I keep coming back to this vacuum that is England, political England and the need to work out something about that. There has to be some sort of conversation about funding. If you look at opinion polls, one of the most pro-Scottish independence regions is the south of England, because there is a perception-and we can argue about how justified it is-that the south-east funds the rest of the country. There is also the perception in the rest of the country that the south-east sucks the life out of the rest of the country. There are issues to do with-not only within the UK but within England-this sort of funding balance and resources, real stuff. You want power and, as Peter said, there is this, "What is local?" question.
I think we do get tremendously muddled sometimes about this. To what extent is it legitimate for MPs to say how many houses you should build in rural Cambridgeshire? For instance, should only London MPs have a say over stuff that is to do with London? London is a little bit of a shadowy part-devolved bit of England. Is there a kind of West Hampstead question or something whereby London MPs can vote on public transport support in the rest of the country? There are all sorts of little things like that and I think people may not volunteer these things. Of course, you have the EU as well, because the EU’s relationships with the UK state and with the bits of the UK state are multilateral, too.
Q57 Andrew Griffiths: You bring me on to my second question, which is the elephant in the room, really. If we are going to talk about the constitutional future of the United Kingdom, then surely the public would expect us to be talking also about our relationship with the EU. Wouldn’t that have to be a central part of any convention?
Lewis Baston: I think that is right, you would have to have that. Certainly, I have rather a blank piece of paper view on the mandate of this body and, yes, it would be one of the first things people would say. The EU is obviously of huge importance to the constitution of the UK and the separate bits. It has to be part of the mix, yes.
Peter Facey: There is a danger in trying to do everything. I do not think you necessarily need the constitutional convention to decide whether or not Britain would be in the European Union or not, but you cannot discuss the governance of the United Kingdom in the modern world as it exists today and not take into account the European Union because it is impossible. We are part of the European Union, so you need to work out how that is affected and what it means. For the record, I think ultimately we will have to have a national conversation, a referendum-whatever you want to call it-on the European question. Personally, I think it is a matter of when we have a referendum on whether we stay in the European Union, not if, and that is from someone who personally is a pro-European. I do not think it can be avoided, but I do not think you necessarily need to say that this constitutional convention does everything because I do not think anybody can do everything within limited resources.
Q58 Andrew Griffiths: If what you are saying is true, that you have to have a discussion about Europe and our relationship with Europe as part of the convention, it would be crazy to ignore it. Isn’t that the reason why a convention will never happen because no Prime Minister is going to cede that decision and the power to make that call to a convention?
Peter Facey: To a large degree it is an irrelevance, in the sense that I think we are on a process towards having a referendum on it anyway. The more that you try to play King Canute about it, the worse it is going to get. There are lots of reasons not to have a constitutional convention. It may be too difficult to do, but I do not think the European one would be the issue that you say, "We are not going to do it because of this".
Q59 Andrew Griffiths: I suppose what I am saying, though, is that the convention would force the hand of the Prime Minister, and that this is something where a Prime Minister would want to be on the front foot and doing at their own volition rather than something that was forced on him by a convention.
Peter Facey: If you went around political commentators and politicians and asked them, without publishing their views afterwards, whether or not within 10 years or 15 years we will end up having some sort of conversation referendum on the process of whether we are in the European Union, a clear majority would probably think that we would within that time scale. I do not tend to ring up Prime Ministers, and they do not tend to ring me up either, but I would say that on this issue you do not worry about constitutional convention. You would worry about the pressure from politicians, MPs, newspapers, constituents, and the pressure of events is more likely to produce that than any constitutional convention.
Lewis Baston: I take the point that I think was implicit in your question, that in preparing a report at the end of the constitutional convention the report of the recommendations of the convention might be incompatible with EU law, membership of the EU possibly, full stop. What do you do in that eventuality, because in a sense approving the convention report would implicitly mean withdrawal? How do you cope with that situation? I do not have an answer. My thought was prompted by your question just now, but it is something that obviously in setting it up you have to consider. Whether you have some sort of explicit process whereby, as with the Human Rights Act, you have to flag it up and say, "We are knowingly going beyond EU law here, otherwise it would be interpreted in some way as being compatible with the EU." It is a complicating factor. You would probably need some sort of legal counsel attached to the convention to explain these wrinkles. But you raise a good point.
Chair: Colleagues, thank you very much. The witnesses, too, thank you so much for your contributions today. You have started the constitutional convention conversation in microcosm, whether it is a national one or something else. We have had some great philosophy as well as politics this morning. It is a forerunner of something that we could all have on a much wider basis, so it has been very interesting. What we will do-and we always do this anyway-is make a point of circulating this sort of interaction to future witnesses and, indeed, to the senior politicians we are going to see in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and hopefully, when we have figured out who it is, in England. Thank you so much.