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Constitutional Convention

Volume 588: debated on Tuesday 18 November 2014

I have made clear my support for a constitutional convention to ensure that a new constitutional settlement is robust, fair and engages the public. It is clear, especially in the wake of the Scottish referendum and the ongoing work of the Smith commission, that our current constitutional settlement needs root and branch reform, but it must come from the bottom up and be based on the views of the voters, not politicians. I very much hope that we will be able to secure cross-party agreement for a full constitutional convention in the near future.

The First Minister of Wales, the right hon. Carwyn Jones, has asked for a long time for a full constitutional convention, which would allow people from all parts of the UK to discuss a complex issue with the sobriety and time that it needs. Will the Deputy Prime Minister stick by that, or does he intend to jump on the bandwagon of the Prime Minister’s knee-jerk proposals?

I do not think there is anything knee-jerk about the constitutional questions that are now being examined, regardless of whether a constitutional convention is established. The Smith commission needs to, and will, proceed according to the timetable that has been set out in mapping out the next chapter of radical devolution north of the border. Within Government, we are of course looking at the arrangements in this House for debating and voting on matters that affect only English and Welsh MPs. However, all those things can proceed without disrupting the wider need to embrace the public and generate ideas across the country, so that we can introduce root and branch constitutional reform across the United Kingdom, which I think will be needed in the next Parliament.

The hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey) has reportedly asked the Deputy Prime Minister to do a deal with the Tories on English votes for English laws. I heard the Deputy Prime Minister’s earlier answer, but can he unequivocally rule out such a deal and promise that the question of devolution will be decided not in Westminster but by the British people as part of a constitutional convention?

I urge the hon. Lady’s party to engage in this issue of what is called English votes for English matters. It is difficult, and it is a dilemma. My party has been clear that what we want is for the people’s votes to be reflected in any arrangement in this House, not simply the allocation of votes to one particular party. That is where there is a difference of opinion between the coalition parties. We should grapple with that, and, as ever with constitutional issues, the more we can do that on a cross-party basis the better.

Everything will be subject to the publication of the deliberations of the Cabinet Committee currently being chaired by the Leader of the House, and we hope to publish something in the not-too-distant future.

We have a great democrat at the Dispatch Box at the moment, and as usual he of course is right that we should get on with constitutional reform where we can. The House voted by 283 votes to nil for the European Union (Referendum) Bill. Not a single Liberal Democrat voted against it, yet some vicious rumours are going around in the media that the Deputy Prime Minister blocked the money resolution so that debate on the Bill would be halted. Will he take the opportunity to put that lie to rest and say that he was in favour of the money resolution?

I would be delighted. I was fully in support of the money resolution for that private Member’s Bill, and for the Affordable Homes Bill on the spare bedroom subsidy, which the Conservative party blocked. If the hon. Gentleman did not like what happened, he should address his own party’s leadership, not me—[Interruption.]

I was quite enjoying that, Mr Speaker.

The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware of the anti-Westminster mood around the country, and he has spoken of anomalies in the way our country is governed. I welcome his support for a peoples-led convention, which the Lib Dems, the Labour party and other parties all support. Why does he think the Conservatives are so against that proposal?

My understanding is that all parties are reflecting on this matter, but as the right hon. Gentleman says, many individuals believe that at this important juncture in the constitutional development of our country, we cannot just hoard the debate here in Westminster; we must open it up to the public and ensure that we look in the round at all the different bits of the constitutional jigsaw. I think—as does the right hon. Gentleman—that that can be done only through a constitutional convention, and I hope that all parties will agree with that in the not-too- distant future.