MPs split on how to take devolution forward

To sneak it out at midnight 01 on a Bank Holiday is hardly a rousing vote of confidence in the Commons report, Devolution: A Decade On.
” Fundamental change” is needed to the regional governance of England which is “stuck in a devolution time warp.” They hint an elected Lords might have a role in representing the nations and regions and better liaison is needed between the Scottish, Welsh and and NI administrations and Whitehall. They’re right there: it’s a real pain to work out how health, education policies etc., are diverging and to compare notes to make them more effective. And yes, reform of the Barnett formula for financing the regions is “long overdue.” So what’s new? The Justice Committee MPs confess they can’t agree what to do next – nor, they might have added but don’t say, with the party machines allow them to agree for party political reasons. This sad outcome is further evidence that MPs need a real job to do other than fiddling their expenses. The Scotsman flatters the committee by carrying a report. Summary below the fold. 22 May 2009 / Embargoed until 00:01 on Sunday 24 May 2009


In its report “Devolution: a decade on” published today, the three-party Committee analyses the “English Question” and the possible answers to it, pointing out that hardly anyone among its witnesses was content with no change, but that there is no consensus on what the changes should be.

Chairman of the Committee, Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP said:

“Devolution has radically changed the way Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are governed and is changing the governance of the United Kingdom, but England, which has 84% of the population, is the unfinished business of devolution—stuck in a pre-devolution time warp, while the rest of the UK has moved on. The funding formula is also a relic from earlier times, taking no account of the current need of the various nations and regions of the United Kingdom”.

“The implications of having an English Government and First Minister as well as a United Kingdom Government and Prime Minister have not been the subject of much public discussion and are politically significant. Approaches which make the UK Parliament into a federal parliament or treat English laws differently at Westminster raise questions about the nature and role of the second chamber which need to be considered as part of the discussion of Lords reform: clarification would be needed about whether, and if not why, the Second Chamber should consider “English” laws when it did not consider the laws of Scotland”.

“These are major political as well as constitutional questions which are for Parliament as a whole to consider. It is our belief that as devolved government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland develops in profile and substance, Parliament will come under pressure to consider these questions”.

On relationships between Scotland, Wales and Whitehall the Committee agree that “while the awareness of devolution in Whitehall has improved since … 1999, there is no doubt that there is still a considerable way to go in achieving consistent and effective practices in dealing with devolution issues across all Whitehall departments. This should not only involve a full and comprehensive understanding of the policy areas that have been devolved to Scotland and Wales, but also full appreciation and consultation so that Welsh and Scottish interests are taken into account in policy making in reserved or non-devolved areas which will have an impact on the UK as a whole”.

(As so often, Northern Ireland is left out).

The Committee conclude that the Barnett Formula is ”no longer fit for purpose and that reform is overdue. We urge the Government to publish its position as a matter of some urgency and to proceed to devise a new formula which is needs based, takes into account regional disparities in England as well as in Scotland and Wales, is transparent and is sufficiently robust to enable long-term planning”.

  • dave

    “(As so often, Northern Ireland is left out).”

    The authors acknowledge that devolution in NI is a different beast and don’t address it for that reason.

  • AdamsandLoughgall

    NI is certainly a different beast when it comes to dealing with all the Westminster expenses excesses.

    In England, Andrew McKay and spouse Julie Kirkbride are being persecuted mercilessly for doing what Peter and Iris Robinson did – ie claim two second home allowances. Up to £48k in a single year.

    Yes McKay and Kirkbride claimed for 2 different houses – one claimed the family home as the second home and the other one claimed the second home as the second home – which means one of them didn’t do anything wrong!.

    The one who who claimed for the family home as a second home only did what Home Secretary Jacqui Smith did – and she is still in her job.

    Also, McKay/Kirkbride did not rip the ass out of the food allowance like the Robinson’s did. and they have offered to pay back some money. But whatever their protestations, their political careers are now in tatters.

    Meanwhile the greedy Robinsons carry on regardless. Bogus, albeit within-the-rules Westminster expenses claims, are funding the Robinson Gransha Road mansion in Castlereagh. This would not be tolerated in any other part of the UK.
    Shouldn’t the Swish Family at least have the decency to return some of their ill-gotten gains?

  • Comrade Stalin

    In England, Andrew McKay and spouse Julie Kirkbride are being persecuted mercilessly for doing what Peter and Iris Robinson did – ie claim two second home allowances. Up to £48k in a single year.

    It’s not exactly the same is it ? Do the Robinsons actually own the properties they’re claiming on ?

  • Seymour Major

    England, because of its population size as a proportion of the rest of the UK, can not be looked at in the same way as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The broader question, “what is best for the UK?” has also got to be taken into account.

    There are negatives to all of the “solutions” proposed.

    The Conservatives are committed to addressing the “West Lothian Question”

    The Conservatives are against devolution to England, preferring instead, to increase the power of Councils. Readers may find this post interesting

    On Barnett, the DUP have been pulling their hair out over this (couldn’t resist the pun). They have to accept the reality that there is cross-party consensus that the system is outdated. It has to be and will be reformed, whether they like it or not. Joel Barnett, the Minister who presided over its design 30 years ago, himself said that the system was only meant to be temporary until something more appropriate could replace it.

    In terms of the relationships between Whitehall and the devolved administrations, the Conservative policy is to enhance and improve these relationships.

    I dare say that if David Cameron’s premiership is successful for quite a few years, PR will start to appear attractive to the Labour Party. At the moment it is not. The “first past the post” system of electing Westminster MPs has worked for Britain because it has delivered stronger government. On the other hand, the mathematics of the state of the UK political parties indicates that in a PR system, the Lib Dems would be perpetual “kingmakers” being likely to be a junior partner in every coalition government.

    In Northern Ireland, we have dysfunctional government with the dominant parties embroiled in a sort of “Punch and Judy” show. One minute they are abusing each other. The next minute, they are working together. There is no such thing as collective cabinet responsibility and you can be in power and in opposition at the same time.

    There are many examples that we could discuss to demonstrate the dysfunctionality of the Power-sharing system. Northern Ireland’s future really lies in the hands of its people. The Power-sharing political apparatus is designed to accommodate sectarian politics.

    If the Northern Ireland people want an end to power sharing, they need to find a way of shaking off sectarianism. That means that at least one of the four biggest parties has to become a true cross-community party. Only then will Northern Ireland be ready for Constitutional reform.

  • AdamsandLoughgall

    Comrade Stalin

    Yes the Robinsons do own the property and they have claimed some £160k on it altogether. they are more than paying off any normal mortgage and heading for a significant capital gain courtesy of the taxpayer.

    Much the same as IPJ paying over the odds for the office belonging to his father-in-law – the taxpayer eventually pays for the entire asset.

    As I said, this stuff would not be tolerated in any other part of the UK – politicians are currently falling like ninepins