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UK’s piecemeal devolution has left Union under threat, warn Lords

The Union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is under threat because of the piecemeal way powers have been devolved, a new report from the House of Lords Constitution Committee has warned.

The committee said that greater oversight of the devolution process as a whole is needed for the United Kingdom to remain united.

The report also criticises the Barnett Formula, saying it “makes a mockery” of the idea of fair distribution of resources because it means more revenue is raised and spent locally.

It warns that there is a risk of undermining the Union because of “real or perceived unfairness” between services in different areas due to policy and funding differences and that full fiscal autonomy would “break the Union apart”.

Lord Lang of Monkton, chair of the committee, said: “We must stop taking the Union for granted. Since 1999, devolution has been largely demand-led and piecemeal. The Committee saw no evidence of strategic thinking about its cumulative impact on the Union as a whole.

“The Government does not seem to recognise the pressures being placed on the United Kingdom by the ad hoc, reactive manner in which devolution has taken place, and continues to take place. It's now time to focus more on the Union.”

The committee recommends that the UK government fundamentally rethinks its attitude to devolution, including by ensuring that future devolution proposals are accompanied by a detailed Devolution Impact Assessment.

This should include current devolution deals within the UK. Although the committee welcomes the principle, it says that they are being conducted too fast and without enough oversight.

It said there is no current answer to the ‘English Question’, referring to the fact that England lacks independent political representation despite being the largest nation in the UK.

It is currently conducting a review to ascertain the effectiveness of ‘English votes for English laws’, and finds that more ambitious solutions, such as an English Parliament or Regional Assemblies, are impractical.

Other recommendations include reviewing the concordats between the UK Parliament and the devolved administrations at once every Parliament, providing departmental concordats and advice to civil servants on working with devolved administrations.

It says that the government should consider restructuring the Civil Service to accommodate devolution and handle devolution referendums such as the 2014 vote on Scottish independence like elections, with a period of purdah imposed.

The Newcastle University Centre for Urban and Regional Development has called for an independent commission to review devolution, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution has called the current process ‘piecemeal and incoherent’.

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Stuart Parr   26/05/2016 at 16:52

An English Parliament is absolutely workable and necessary. Not only is it workable, it would save almost half a billion a year on the cost of government.

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