Author Archives: Alan Trench

About Alan Trench

Academic, non-practising solicitor, close watcher of devolution in the United Kingdom and similar systems around the world

A legal jurisdiction for Wales?

This post also appears on the Institute of Welsh Affairs’s blog, ClickonWales, here

The debate about whether there should be a legal jurisdiction for Wales, so that Wales would no longer share a system of law and courts with England, has rumbled on for some time.  Plaid Cymru issued its own paper on the subject in 2010.  In 2012, it was the subject of a consultation by the Welsh Government as well as a major inquiry by the National Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.  The proposition received a conditional endorsement from the Assembly Committee, which noted the legal differentiation between England and Wales that was already underway and the implications of that for a shared England-and-Wales jurisdiction.  However, the Welsh Government’s enthusiasm for the idea had disappeared by time it submitted evidence to the Part 2 inquiry of the Silk Commission, when it said, ‘While it would not be appropriate to establish a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales now, such a development is very likely in the longer term and action can be taken which would help to ensure a smoother transition to such a jurisdiction in due course.’  More recently, support for a Welsh legal jurisdiction has come from Justice for Wales and from Plaid Cymru.  The relationship of a legal jurisdiction to a ‘reserved powers’ model (an issue that has concerned me since 2005, and previously discussed HERE (my evidence to Silk Part 2) and HERE) means it is now highly topical.

Part of the reason for the limited support from the Welsh Government is the complexity of the issue, the costs and concerns that any further devolved functions would not be fully funded, but also the fact that the issue became something of a Christmas tree.   Many of those giving evidence hung onto a devolved jurisdiction their own wish-list of functions they thought should be devolved – whether that be the criminal law, policing, offender management, the court system or the civil law.  There may be strong arguments for devolving each of these functions – Justice for Wales base their case on the advantages of devolving a number of functions relating to the operation of the courts and the legal system, and the advantages of devolution.  This approach may be good advocacy, but it doesn’t always reflect clear thinking about the problem.  There are a number of distinct questions to be addressed:

  • Should Wales constitute a distinct legal jurisdiction?  If so, to achieve what goal?
  • How separate should a distinct Welsh jurisdiction be – what institutions, functions or arrangements presently operating on an England-and-Wales basis need to operate separately if Wales were to become a distinct legal jurisdiction?
  • How devolved should a distinct Welsh jurisdiction be?  What functions should be devolved and under the control of the National Assembly and Welsh Government?

To answer the first, the case that Wales should constitute a distinct legal jurisdiction as part of the move to a ‘reserved powers’ model is a strong one.  Writing the recent WGC/Constitution Unit report on this, it was clear that a number of important issues need to be regulated to ensure that the National Assembly can legislate effectively for Wales, but also does not affect England when it does so.  A Welsh legal jurisdiction is not the only way of doing so, and the report sets out some of the measures needed if there were not one – notably ways of determining which body of law applies in any particular court case.  But a Welsh jurisdiction becomes the easiest, clearest and most direct way of addressing those problems.  Given the need we identify to devolve powers in relation to both the civil law generally, and the creation of criminal offences, there is a further reason for a legal jurisdiction: to help the public understand the nature of the powers of the National Assembly and the fact that ‘things will be different’ in Wales, as well as manage these matters from a more technically legal point of view.  These are essentially technocratic arguments, but they are powerful ones regardless of other considerations.

The second question above has attracted many answers – the ‘Christmas tree’ problem noted in connection with the Welsh Government’s consultation.  Plaid Cymru directly addressed this by setting out two models for a Welsh jurisdiction, a ‘minimum’ and a ‘maximum’ model.  Their ‘minimum’ model includes a separate prosecution service, administration of the courts and of justice, appointments of judges and magistrates, and a distinct legal aid system.  (They also propose that these functions are devolved, answering the third question.)

However, whether establishment of a Welsh legal jurisdiction needs to involve establishing any separate institutions that replicate the current England-and-Wales ones is open to debate.  At present, Wales has all the elements of a legal jurisdiction: a territory, an identifiable body of law applicable within that territory (with not one but two legislatures to pass laws), and courts to administer that body of law along with legal professions and the related institutions needed to give effect to court proceedings.  The problems that are most pressing arise from the fact that (except for territory) these elements are also those of England.  A simple way of addressing the problem is simply to create two units out of the one, while allowing the two to continue to share their resources and operations.  Thus one could provide that the courts of the single jurisdiction of England and Wales – the magistrates’, Crown and county courts, High Court and Court of Appeal – will become, instead, the courts of two jurisdictions, of England and of Wales.  All those presently qualified to sit in those courts would continue to do so, but when they were adjudicating cases relating to England they would sit as the courts of England, and when adjudicating ones relating to Wales they would sit as the courts of Wales.  The existing levels of decentralisation of the courts would mean that in many cases Welsh courts would sit in Wales, with judges from Wales, and there might be good reasons to ensure that was so for the lower courts sitting at first instance (magistrates’, Crown and county courts).  At the same time, a shared relationship with the courts and legal system of England would ensure Wales had ready access to the specialist expertise and resources when that was needed, whether for urgent business or highly technical areas of law like Chancery matters or intellectual property.  By the same token, solicitors and barristers currently admitted in England-and-Wales would be admitted in both England and Wales.  As a result, Wales would gain a legal boundary that best addresses the problems of a reserved powers model, but without losing advantages of the shared jurisdiction or adding to the costs of running the courts and legal system.

This would mean a change in the status of the law; the laws of Wales would not in general automatically be the same as those of England.  The substantive change would be less great and immediate, since they would only be different insofar as they were devolved.  Devolved law-making powers mean this is already happening, as much because of changes made for England at Westminster as what happens in Cardiff Bay.  The move to a reserved powers model will necessarily increase the scope of substantive legal change, as to work effectively it needs to include devolving powers in relation to the civil law and the creation of criminal offences.  Even to the extent that the National Assembly would have power over the law of contract (for example), it would have some good reasons not to use this in far-reaching ways, given the open and porous border with England – the more so if areas of law like consumer protection remain reserved (as it is for Scotland).

What this offers is a way of establishing a legal jurisdiction for Wales that is distinct, without necessarily being separate.  Whether it should be separate is another issue.  There are clearly many who think that a legal jurisdiction must necessarily bring with it differentiation of various functions – a court system, legal professions and so on, and that normatively it should do so.  However, it is not clear why that is the case.  There may be good arguments to have separate as well as distinct systems (and to devolve those systems), but they are different questions from those about having a Welsh legal jurisdiction.

There are of course clear precedents for having separate legal jurisdiction without necessarily also devolving control of them.  Northern Ireland has been a separate legal jurisdiction since 1922, when it was formed by severing the former jurisdiction of Ireland when the Free State was created.  The legal system was under the control of the Stormont Parliament until direct rule, but from 1972 until 1999 was under Westminster’s control (though much ‘domestic’ legislation for Northern Ireland was made by orders in council rather than primary legislation).  Scotland remained a separate legal jurisdiction after the Union of 1707, with protections for the legal system, the Court of Session and criminal appeals included in the Articles of Union – but under Westminster’s control until 1999.  Even Wales retained a distinct system of courts (the Court of Great Sessions) after its legal absorption into England from 1542 until 1830.

Part of the attraction of a ‘minimal’ distinct-but-not-separate Welsh legal jurisdiction is that it directly deals with the problem that presently needs to be addressed.  The most pressing problem is the entangled nature of the England-and-Wales legal jurisdiction, and its implications for a ‘reserved powers’ model for the National Assembly.  Other questions about what should be devolved and how are more complex and there is clearly little agreement about them.  (There also seems to be little inclination in the Wales Office to take such issues on.)  Trying to resolve those now risks letting the best be the enemy of the better.  Perhaps the way forward would be to leave those issues for resolution later on; put in place a minimal jurisdiction now, and resolve other questions later on.

Otherwise, there are three options.  One is another protracted and obscure constitutional debate about a legal jurisdiction, which will delay any action to implement the Silk Commission’s Part 2 recommendations or the St David’s Day process.  The second is an incomplete and highly complex form of reserved powers, which itself will need unpicking and reconstructing in due course, so this will only be another interim arrangement not a durable and lasting settlement.  The third is to ditch the St David’s Day process recommendation of reserved powers altogether.  Following the puzzling judgment in the Asbestos Diseases Costs case, that’s highly unattractive, as it is now almost impossible to give clear advice about what devolved legislation will be within the Assembly’s competence. The Secretary of State can’t go backward and can’t stand still – so will he accept the logic of the situation in delivering his commitment to move forward?

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Filed under Courts and legal issues, Legislation, Plaid Cymru, Wales, Westminster

Plaid Cymru and a Welsh legal jurisdiction

Plaid Cymru is, so far as I know, the only political party in Wales to have taken a position on the issue of a Welsh legal jurisdiction. (The Welsh Government has, but that’s a government not Labour Party matter.)  Responding to the recent WGC/Constitution Unit report, Leanne Wood said such a jurisdiction was ‘essential’.

This is not policy-making off the cuff.  In 2010, Plaid Cymru held an internal discussion about the establishment of a Welsh legal jurisdiction and the form it should take.  As their ‘consultation paper’ from that exercise isn’t otherwise available, and given the developing debate about this issue, with Plaid’s permission I’ve uploaded the paper in PDF format.  The English version is available here, and the Welsh one is here.


Filed under Courts and legal issues, Legislation, Plaid Cymru, Policy issues, Wales

Justice for Wales’s pamphlet on a Welsh legal jurisdiction

The Welsh legal group ‘Justice for Wales’ published its pamphlet on the case for a Welsh legal jurisdiction, and extensive devolution of the legal and justice system, last week.  There’s news coverage of it from the Western Mail here and BBC News here.  I don’t necessarily agree with their arguments (and I’ll have more to say about questions of a Welsh legal jurisdiction shortly), but their ideas certainly ought to be considered seriously.

As Justice for Wales doesn’t have its own website, readers may wish to download their pamphlet from this blog.  The PDF of the Welsh version is here, and that of the English one is here.




Filed under Courts and legal issues, Policy issues, Wales

Making ‘reserved powers’ work for Wales

The debate about a ‘reserved powers’ model for the National Assembly has to be one of the most obscure legal issues to enter public debate.  The basic idea is straightforward: that the powers of the National Assembly should be defined by setting out what it cannot do, rather than by defining ‘subject areas’ where it does have power to pass laws.  The idea is scarcely novel – it was mooted by the Richard Commission in 2004, and repeated by the Silk Commission in 2014 – but it has acquired political legs following the St David’s Day process with all the parties agreeing to adopt it.

A ‘reserved powers’ approach would offer a number of significant advantages.  It would mean that Welsh devolution works in a similar way to that in Scotland and Northern Ireland – important both symbolically and as a way of making it clearer to the public how a devolved UK works.  It also offers a way to resolve the puzzle created by the UK Supreme Court’s jurisprudence about devolution, and particularly its judgment in the reference about the NHS Recovery Of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill, [2015] UKSC 3, by enabling the Assembly to legislate for all matters save expressly those reserved to Westminster.  In broad terms, the Scotland Act 1998 provides a valuable model – not necessarily so much in the list of reserved matters in Schedule 5 as in the provisions of the Act for identifying the scope of those reservations and interpreting them in the courts.   At present, the list of proposed reserved matters suggests a list of matters Whitehall departments do not wish to see devolved, unsupported by any wider rationale or principle.  That is not the right way to proceed when drafting a constitution.  It needs some clearer and stronger basis, rooted in a conception of what the UK needs to do at the centre (and why), and what is best done by devolved governments.

The difficulty is that the reserved powers model is not straightforward to apply.  It raises a complex set of legal issues as well, beyond simply deciding what matters should be reserved and which should not.  (That issue is already causing a number of problems – as discussed earlier HERE.)  As part of an august group assembled by the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University and the Constitution Unit at UCL (and including Sir Paul Silk and Sir Stephen Laws, former First Parliamentary Counsel), I’ve been looking at these issues in some detail over the summer, and our report considering them has just been published.  It can be downloaded in PDF format here.

There are three key difficulties.  One is the UK Government’s proposal that criminal law and procedure be reserved.  The problem is that criminal offences are often created to ensure that ‘ordinary’ legislation is effective – creating the possibility of a fine or something more serious for breach of regulations, for example.  This could be dealt with by reserving the law relating to key criminal offences such as murder, theft or treason, but otherwise allowing the National Assembly to legislate for criminal matters as well.  That will lead to a significant shift in how the criminal law works in Wales, though, even if policing, the courts and the criminal justice system remain under Westminster’s control.

The second difficulty is the proposal to reserve civil law and civil procedure.  Under the present arrangements, the National Assembly has no direct powers in this area, but equally it has changed the rules considerably in this area through its existing powers.  Legislation like the new rules on organ donation involve a change in the law of agency to enable consent to donation to be deemed; the Renting Homes (Wales) bill makes significant changes to the law of landlord and tenant.  Again, the Assembly needs these sorts of powers in order to be able to make effective laws.  The civil law, like the criminal law, is not a subject – it is a mechanism used to achieve certain objectives, many of which are now devolved.  Remove powers over the civil or criminal law, and the result is a hobbled legislature that cannot in fact do its job.

The third difficulty relates to the legal nature of Wales, and the single legal jurisdiction of England and Wales.  Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own, separate, legal jurisdictions.   This means that laws passed by the Scottish Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly have effect only within those jurisdictions.  Wales doesn’t, and that causes confusion.  Laws passed by the National Assembly are as much part of the law affecting Teignmouth as that for Tenby, and in some circumstances can have legal effect in England as well.  That needs to be regulated, in the interests of people in both England and Wales.  One can devise specific mechanism to regulate issues of applicability of laws and their enforcement, within the framework of a legal and court system shared between England and Wales.  Alternatively, one could establish a Welsh legal jurisdiction, distinct from that in England if not separate from it.  That raises the question of what a Welsh legal jurisdiction needs to involve or might involve.  (For an argument for a separate jurisdiction, the legal group Justice for Wales has just published a paper – see here for a news report.  Their pamphlet is available HERE.)

What worries us – the group of lawyers, former civil servants and advisers who drafted the report – is that these issues may be ducked in the desire to produce another devolution bill quickly.  (Indeed, the Wales Office’s initial reaction suggests that is exactly their intention.)  If these matters aren’t got right, the likelihood is another round of constitution-making for Wales in a few years’ time, during which the working of Welsh devolution will be hampered and messy, to the detriment of the people of Wales and indeed the whole of the UK.

This post also appears on the Constitution Unit’s blog, here, and on ClickonWales, here.

UPDATE: The press release for the launch can be found on the WGC’s website here.  There’s news coverage from the Western Mail  here, and BBC News here.  It was also covered on BBC Radio Wales (both Good Morning Wales and Good Evening Wales), and Radio 4’s The World at One.

The London launch seminar on 5 October (at which Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Stephen Laws, Professor Richard Wyn Jones and I spoke) was live-tweeted, and a Storify of the event can be found here.


Filed under Courts and legal issues, Legislation, Publications and projects, Wales

A ‘reserved powers’ model of devolution for Wales: what should be ‘reserved’?

This post also appears on ClickonWales, the Institute for Welsh Affairs’ blog, here.

Since at least 2004, when the Richard Commission proposed one, there has been significant support in Wales for adoption of a ‘reserved powers’ model – as Scotland and (in a different way) Northern Ireland have.  The call was strongly endorsed by the Silk Commission in its Part 2 report and became UK Government policy with support from all four main parties following the St David’s Day process.  There seems to be an assumption now that a reserved powers model is essentially a technical matter and that the Scottish model can and will be taken off the shelf and applied, with appropriate modifications, to Wales.  That might not be a bad way forward – there’s a good deal to be said for the Scottish legislation, though it’s not a magical way to solve all problems.  But real devils also lurk in the detail of what ‘appropriate modifications’ might be.

What appears to be underway is a process by which Whitehall departments are consulted about what functions they want to see retained, and what they are happy to let go.  The Welsh Government is a marginal player in this process, if it is a player at all, and the Wales Office does not appear to have a strategy to go with its consultation list.  The first fruit of that trawl appeared in the Powers for a Purpose Command paper published in February at the end of the St David’s Day process, as Annex B.

As part of a joint Wales Governance Centre and UCL Constitution Unit research project on a reserved powers model for Wales, we decided to look at what Annex B proposes, and how that relates to functions that are reserved in Scotland, or reserved or excepted in Northern Ireland.  (Northern Ireland has two categories of powers; excepted powers, on which the Assembly can’t legislate at all, and reserved powers on which it can legislate if the Secretary of State consents.)   A table showing our analysis can be downloaded here.  It shows whether there are precedents for proposed Welsh reservations from Scotland or Northern Ireland, and what the nature of those reservations is.  A second table (available here) is a summary of the first, limited to those matters which are not reserved for Scotland or Northern Ireland.

 Those reservations can be put into three categories.  One is matters where there are clear reasons why the UK, as a state, needs to retain control of particular matters.  These are matters that are reserved for Scotland and also retained (usually as excepted matters) for Northern Ireland – matters like the constitution, foreign affairs, the currency.  There are also matters that are related to the social union (like old age pensions and national insurance) or the economic union, like competition law or consumer credit.

A second category is matters that relate to functions that there was no agreement about reserving – notably policing, offender management, and civil and criminal justice.  Some of these reservations may create serious difficulties for other aspects of devolution; this is notably the case for the proposed reservations of civil and criminal law.  If policing and criminal justice are not to be devolved matters, there is a logic in retaining such matters as control of criminal records, firearms or riot damages at UK level.  That case is more tenuous when it comes to such matters as regulating the private security industry, the use of CCTV or anti-social behaviour, but there is still a logic to it given that initial decision not to devolve criminal justice.  By the same token, retaining civil law makes reserving such matters as legal aid or claims management logical.  Retaining such functions as land charges, land registration or inter-country adoption is less so; again, these merit a substantive policy discussion.

The third category is proposed reservations which have little or no relation to other functions that are being reserved, and are not reserved for Scotland or Northern Ireland.  This is a baffling mixed bag of a list.  It includes teachers’ pay, student loans, non-energy minerals, licensing the sale and supply of alcohol, licensing entertainment and late-night licensing, the safety of sports grounds and the control of dangerous dogs and hunting with dogs.  In each case, it is hard to see the rationale for retaining these; there is no vital UK interest at stake, there is no obvious connection to other reserved functions, and there is no sign of any serious political or policy discussion about retaining them.

The UK Government may well change its proposed reservations as discussion between the Wales Office and Whitehall departments progress.  This is simply based on an analysis of what it proposed in February.   If it publishes a revised list of reservations, it may well be worthwhile to repeat this exercise for that list.

A ‘reserved powers’ model is not something that can simply be pulled off the shelf to solve some ‘technical’ legal problems.  It raises a set of major questions about the division of powers between the UK and devolved Welsh tiers of government – which government should be responsible for what.  That calls for a carefully-thought through approach by the UK Government followed by an open public debate, engaging the Welsh Government, the political parties and Welsh civil society.  It mustn’t go by the board.


Filed under Courts and legal issues, Legislation, Publications and projects, Wales, Westminster

English votes for English laws: a brief comment

Given Tuesday’s Commons debate and vote against the Government (also reported in a Guardian liveblog here), I thought it was worth reposting here an amended version of a short piece which appeared earlier on the Democratic Audit blog

Chris Grayling’s proposals for English votes for English laws (EVEL) should not be much of a surprise.  They are very largely a straightforward implementation of ‘option 3’ set out by the party in the December 2014 Command paper, endorsed in a speech by William Hague in February 2015 and set out in the party’s election manifesto.  The Conservatives will claim credit for having done what they said they would.

In doing so, they have not addressed some key problems.  First, they have abandoned the McKay Commission’s test of provisions having a ‘separate and distinct’ effect for England.  That had the merit of principle.  Instead, the test is whether a provision ‘relates exclusively’ to England.  But, second, that test is mis-applied; provisions may relate to England in a legal sense but have a major effect on devolved governments, whether through the Barnett formula and consequential changes in funding, or their effects across a border (a major issue for Wales if not Scotland).  This means, third, that the problems arising from a piecemeal approach to constitutional change have been maintained and aggravated, not resolved.

There are ways of implementing EVEL that would give England the distinct voice in the Union that it badly needs.  That needs a much further-reaching reconstruction of how legislation works, and perhaps the machinery of government too.   We canvassed these issues in the recent Bingham Centre devolution review, and set out a path to achieve it.  (The report can be downloaded here.)  Instead, the Conservatives have ticked a box on their to-do list, but stored up yet further constitutional problems for the future.  To work properly, EVEL needs to form part of a much broader programme of reform in Westminster and Whitehall, not be a one-off revision to Commons procedures.

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The Bingham Centre devolution review: the UK at a constitutional crossroads

This post also appears as a guest post on the Centre on Constitutional Change blog here, the LSE’s British Politics and Policy blog here, and the Institute of Welsh Affairs blog ClickonWales here.

The impact of the Scottish independence referendum has been wide-ranging. It raises a number of questions about how the UK works as a whole and its territorial constitution, as well as ones about Scotland.  But for all the importance and urgency of these issues, they have not yet been subject to any wide-ranging or sustained scrutiny.  A new report from the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, available here, seeks to change that and look at what issues the UK as a whole will need to address in the coming months and years.  The review commission has been chaired by Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, and its membership is here and remit is set out here.

The Commission’s starting point was to consider the implications of the piecemeal, ad hoc approach to devolution taken so far.  Its view is that this has reached the end of its road.  The knock-on effects of the Smith Commission proposals for Scotland mean that this now creates serious constitutional difficulties beyond Scotland.  A more systematic view, considering the UK as a whole, is badly needed.

The first big recommendation to address that is a Charter of the Union, to be passed as a Westminster statute with consent from the devolved legislatures, and setting out key principles for the working of a devolved union.  These draw on what already applies – they include such principles as respect for democracy, the rule of law, autonomy of each government and comity and respect for each other in their dealings with each other.  Subsidiarity and social solidarity are also key principles for the Charter of the Union.

The Charter would accompany the specific devolution statutes for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so they would need to be construed in accordance with it and its principles would govern further considerations of devolution – and indeed changes at UK level.  It would therefore set out a clearer constitutional framework for the UK as a whole, rather than the current ad hoc approach to three distinct arrangements plus an evolving pattern for England.  This might be a staging-post to a written constitution, but it would certainly put the UK’s territorial constitution at the forefront of its constitutional debates over the coming years.

The second major recommendation relates to funding arrangements.  The review is clear that the Barnett formula has had its day.  It does not deliver equity between the various parts of the UK.  It does result in a number of unintended policy spillovers between England and the devolved tier of government, and it gives the Treasury a huge degree of control and scope to make subjective judgements about how the UK’s finances as a whole work.  These are incompatible with the sort of devolved Union that the UK has become, and will only become worse.  The block grant will become increasingly subjective as adjustments are made to allow for devolved tax capacity, to pay for devolved welfare functions in Scotland, and by application of the ‘no detriment’ rule intended to help separate tax policy decisions by both devolved and UK governments (both the subject of forthright criticism by the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee).  This ‘multiple black box’ approach will become a source of nothing but disagreement and intergovernmental tension.

The Commission’s proposals entail reform of the UK’s devolution finance arrangements, of the easy parts as soon as practicable and of the more difficult ones over time.  The machinery needs an independent, impartial body to advise on financial matters and calculations.  There also needs to be an effective way of resolving disagreements and disputes when they arise, rather than ones that leave the initiative in the hands of the UK Government as at present.  And the block grant arrangements need to be put on a statutory basis rather than resting on a Treasury ‘Statement of Funding Policy’, and be subject to external scrutiny and audit

Linked to this is the need for a wider debate about welfare and the Union; how much the Union is responsible for delivering social solidarity and how, and the ways this relates to the arrangements for funding devolution.  This political choice has such wide-reaching effects it needs to be explicitly debated, not implied by other decisions.

The third major recommendation relates to ‘English votes for English laws’.  The report supports the principle that bills or provisions which satisfy the McKay Commission’s test of having a ‘separate and distinct effect’ for England should be subject to consideration by English MPs alone, within the House of Commons.  The problem will come with identifying what these bills are.  The government of the day may have a view about this, but ultimately deciding this will have to be a job for someone with authority and expertise or access to it, so probably the Commons Speaker.  It will need to take into account not only the policy implications of a decision about health, education or policing, but also the financial implications.  This will be tricky, and is an argument for both disentangling devolved and non-devolved finances and for separating the way finances and policy are considered within Parliament.

The fourth major set of recommendations relate to the UK Government, and particularly Whitehall. Whitehall needs to pay much more attention to devolution concerns; it needs to ensure that the machinery of intergovernmental co-ordination actually works; and it needs to reinforce ministerial capacity.  The last is a strong reason for a single Secretary of State for the Nations and Regions, or for the Union.  The absence of an effective overview at ministerial level has made the disjointed structure of the UK much worse.  Without much greater care about what devolution means, and the relationship between devolved and non-devolved functions, it will be impossible to distinguish between devolved and non-devolved financial matters or between legislation that has a ‘separate and distinct’ effect for England and that which does not.  Treating devolution as some sort of add-on or variation from an English ‘norm’ has also had its day.

In September 2014, Scottish voters chose to stay in a reformed Union rather than leave it.  There is strong public support for greater self-government in Wales and England as well.  Northern Ireland, as part of the Union, needs and deserves a system that works effectively.  The Commission’s proposals are designed to lay the groundwork for a union that delivers on those demands.




Filed under Conservatives, Devolution finance, English questions, Northern Ireland, Publications and projects, Scotland, Wales, Westminster