COMMONS

Committee reports on constitutional implications of draft Scotland clauses

22 March 2015

In its report, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee calls upon the incoming Government post-election to consult upon the consequences for all parts of the UK when introducing legislation to implement the Smith Commission Agreement.

During the Scottish independence referendum campaign, political commitments were made which led, after the "No" vote, to the convening of the Smith Commission, the purpose of which was to facilitate an agreement for further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament.

The Committee acknowledges the political reasons for swift publication of the clauses, but is concerned that this has been at the expense of broader consideration of the consequences for the future of the UK. The Committee is "disappointed" there was no attempt to provide for full pre-legislative scrutiny of the clauses by this Parliament. The incoming Government should recognise, and consult upon, the consequences for all parts of the UK when introducing legislation to implement the Smith Commission Agreement and other proposals on constitutional reform affecting the Union.

It also says Government should establish a mechanism for considering the effects of proposed devolution settlements in the round, together with the trends towards decentralisation in England, to ensure that change strengthens the Union.

Graham Allen MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"Although we recognise the political reasons for the the swift pubications of draft clauses to give effect to the Smith Commission Agreement, it is disappointing there has been no attempt to provide for full pre-legislative scrutiny of the clauses by this Parliament.

Following the Scottish independence referendum, a great opportunity to consider devolution across the UK has been missed. It is important that a similar opportunity, when the a Scotland Bill is introduced in the next parliament, is not missed.

We believe that the next Government should establish a mechanism for considering the effects of proposed devolution settlements in the round, together with the trends towards decentralisation in England, to ensure that change strengthens the Union.

It is worth noting that greater certainty about the constitutional arrangements for the UK could be achieved most effectively by codification of the UK’s constitution. With a written constitution, the rules of the game at constitutional moments like this would be clear and transparent, and removed from the realm of political wrangling and uncertainty."

The Committee concludes:

  • Draft clause 1 claims to affirm the permanence of the Scottish Parliament. The Committee says the Scottish Parliament is permanent and its abolition inconceivable. While the legal claims made in the clause could be misunderstood, it could provide a further political obstacle to attempted abolition.
  • Draft clause 2 does not give the Sewel Convention the force of statute, but may strengthen the Convention politically. It fails to acknowledge that the Convention extends to legislation affecting the competences of the devolved institutions. The presence of the word "normally" in the Sewel Convention, and the applicability of the Convention to legislation affecting the competences of the devolved institutions, be addressed in any redrafting of draft clause 2.
  • Draft clauses 3 to 9 are largely uncontroversial, save that the drafting of clause 3 is unhelpfully impenetrable. The drafting of clause 3 in particular should be reconsidered; the cost of the Electoral Commission’s functions in relation to Scottish Parliament elections should be considered; and consideration should be given to some additional safeguard for ensuring that changes to Scottish Parliament electoral boundaries must have broad cross-party support.
  • The Wales Office should take account of this report when preparing legislation to give effect to the Government’s proposals for further devolution to Wales. 
  • The next Government should establish a mechanism for considering the effects of proposed devolution settlements in the round, together with the trends towards decentralisation in England, to ensure that change strengthens the Union.

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