“Creation of UK-wide frameworks

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 4th December 2017.

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee 6:15 pm, 4th December 2017

I am sorry, I did not realise that I was saying anything particularly provocative—[Interruption.] Yes, there was a referendum, but the constitutional reality has turned into something much more federal in character than the proponents of the original legislation told us it would be.

I do not want to detain the Committee for long. I have chosen to speak in the debate because I am the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which is looking at the relationships between the four Governments and Parliaments of the United Kingdom. We issued a report on inter-institutional relations earlier this year, in the previous Parliament, and we issued an interim report just last week on clause 11. That followed meetings that we held in Edinburgh, which will be followed by further meetings in Cardiff and Edinburgh, and if we can get to Northern Ireland, we will. What was striking about the meetings in Cardiff and Holyrood was how little this kind of interchange takes place, how slenderly we know other individuals in other Parliaments throughout the United Kingdom, and how there are no formal mechanisms for proper exchange between the four Parliaments of the United Kingdom. What a shortage that is!

This debate is less about leaving the European Union and more about devolution. It is about reconciling competing narratives of what devolution in the United Kingdom has come to mean, and about dealing with the lack of trust we have inherited from the present devolution settlement. The debate about clause 11 reflects that.

Usually, when devolved powers are going to be legislated for in this House, there is a great deal of discussion, large numbers of papers are produced in all parts of the United Kingdom and eventually, a piece of legislation emerges with a degree of consensus around it. This Bill emerged in much shorter order. We are told that there was very little discussion about the contents of clause 11. This underlines how, under strain, the reflex of our constitutional habits is not to consult. We in the United Kingdom Parliament, and those of us who support United Kingdom Governments, in the plural, have to recognise that there is a serious gap in our capability to discuss, explore, befriend and understand each other throughout the United Kingdom.