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

Conclusions and recommendations

The future shape of the Union

1.  In the three post-referendum proposals for further devolution, each developed separately and to be implemented bilaterally, it is difficult to perceive the 'new Union mindset' which the First Minister of Wales has championed, and easier to perceive a 'devolution mindset' where powers are handed down from Whitehall along bilateral channels. As the devolution settlement matures, the implications for the operation of the Union as a whole of each transfer of powers must be fully taken into account. (Paragraph 35)

2.  We welcome the level of public debate and engagement in Scotland over its constitutional future, both during and after the referendum campaign. Despite the high levels of awareness of constitutional debates, we note with concern the limited timescale for the public and civil society to be consulted as part of the Smith Commission process, and the similarly limited formal opportunities for consultation and deliberation on the Smith Agreement and the Government's draft clauses. This rushed process cannot substitute for a full deliberation on the constitutional future of all elements of the United Kingdom. (Paragraph 43)

3.  The Government has accepted the Smith Commission proposals for greater involvement of the UK Parliament and the devolved institutions in the functioning of the intergovernmental arrangements for devolution. We welcome the proposal of the Smith Commission that the UK Government and the devolved administrations should lay reports on the implementation and effective operation of the revised Memorandum of Understanding before their respective legislatures. We further welcome the proposal for stronger and more transparent Parliamentary scrutiny inherent in the proposal that conclusions of all inter-administration committee meetings be reported as a matter of course. (Paragraph 52)

4.  A commitment to regular reporting to Parliaments is beneficial, and promotes transparency at the heart of the intergovernmental process. However, if there is no corresponding mechanism for Parliamentary scrutiny of such reports then they are in danger of becoming formulaic. We therefore recommend that the House of Commons develop a mechanism for systematic and effective scrutiny of the intergovernmental operation of the devolution settlement. A quadripartite Devolution Committee, comprising the three territorial select committees and the committee with oversight of the Government department with responsibility for constitutional policy, could be established along the lines of the present Quadripartite Committee on Arms Export Controls. Such a committee could consider the regular reports to Parliament from the Joint Ministerial Committee, undertake the tasks contemplated by the McKay Commission, and keep the operation of the devolution settlement under review. (Paragraph 53)

5.  We acknowledge the benefits to the Union, and to relationships with the devolved institutions, of territorial Secretaries of State and Ministers who can provide effective liaison between the UK Government and the devolved institutions. It is important to the Union that all its elements are represented at the Cabinet table. (Paragraph 56)

6.  We recommend that the Government review the resources and structure of the departments which presently support the territorial Secretaries of State, with a view to more effective management of the territorial constitution. (Paragraph 59)

Devolution within England

7.  The transfer of powers away from the centre, to local communities best able to access them, determine how they should be delivered and hold authorities accountable for their delivery, is a fundamental principle which has been ignored by the political systems in all nations of the UK for too long. (Paragraph 74)

8.  We are concerned that the options set out by the Government for further devolution within England lack clarity and urgency, setting out broad themes for discussion—and even broader caveats—instead of substantial proposals for devolution which are accessible to all communities in England. There is a clear risk that without further impetus early in the new Parliament the programme of devolution may remain at the level of deals with cities, city regions and local economic partnerships, without the genuine transfer of power from the centre to localities which many are seeking. (Paragraph 75)

9.  The level of democratic debate on devolution within England is rising, and several substantial proposals for reform have already been made. We recommend that the Government establish, in the first six months of the new Parliament, a commission to review proposals for further devolution within England and to reach agreement on a suite of powers which local authorities can draw down where they can demonstrate demand and popular support. Such legislation should be introduced no later than May 2016, for implementation by May 2017 at the latest. (Paragraph 76)

10.  For too long the response to demands for further devolution in England has been met by the dismissive twin responses of "England must decide what it wants" and "England has shown no interest in deciding". Those excuses no longer hold water, for a consequence of the heated debate over independence for Scotland has been a re-examination, in each city and county of England, of the relationship it has, and wishes to have, with Whitehall. As the submissions we have received from many local authorities, local political parties and campaigning groups has shown, the structures of power and governance in England risk promoting economic and structural inequality. There is, therefore, a broad and urgent debate to be had about the constitutional structures within England. We have previously indicated that such a debate could be held as part of an England-only precursor to a constitutional convention. (Paragraph 77)

11.  A Convention for England, held over the term of the next Parliament, with broad popular representation from the public and civil society, could examine the relationship between England and the United Kingdom and develop a process for further agreed devolution from the centre to regions and localities. (Paragraph 79)

Devolution and the House of Commons

12.  Detailed and definitive proposals for implementation of English votes for English laws have not been made available to the House, or to this Committee, in time for any proper consideration in this Parliament. While the Leader of the House has now set out the scheme which he would like to implement, there has been no opportunity for the House to examine the means he proposes to give it effect. Any such proposals would have wide-ranging implications for many aspects of the House's business, and the procedural and practical implications would require detailed examination before implementation. We recommend that the Procedure Committee in the new Parliament give detailed scrutiny to the procedural and practical implications of any proposal to introduce 'English votes for English laws'. (Paragraph 101)

13.  We note the proposals made by each of the major parties for implementation of English votes for English laws. The implementation of any proposals will be a matter for the new House, and such proposals may of course be varied in the light of that House's composition and the composition of the Government. It is not for us to seek to bind a new House; but we invite the new House, when examining any proposal to implement 'English votes for English laws', to consider the potential impact on the United Kingdom of a situation where an administration, in order to govern effectively, must demonstrate it has the confidence not only of the whole House but also of English Members. (Paragraph 104)

The process of further devolution

14.  Proposals for devolutionary change in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England have been made at what appears to be dizzying speed since the Scottish referendum result in September 2014. Political commitments have been made on the implementation of further devolution for Scotland, and those commitments should be honoured in full. It is nevertheless time to examine what the proposals for change mean for the Union as a whole, and how our United Kingdom, built on the twin principles of Union and Devolution, is functioning for the benefit of all its citizens. Such an examination might be undertaken most appropriately in a constitutional convention, with citizen participation, to commence no later than the end of 2015. (Paragraph 110)

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Prepared 29 March 2015