My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Leader of the Commons.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the Command Paper on the implications of devolution for England, which the Government are publishing today. The House will recall that on 19 September my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a commission, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, to take forward the commitments to further devolution in Scotland made by all three UK pro-union parties during the referendum campaign.
On 27 November, after the publication of the Smith commission’s report, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland announced to the House that draft legislation to implement its recommendations would be prepared by 25 January and presented in a Bill to Parliament following the general election. The Prime Minister also said that a new and fair settlement for Scotland must be accompanied by an equivalent settlement for all parts of the United Kingdom. This is a fundamental issue of fairness for all the people of the United Kingdom. Just as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, so it follows that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have the opportunity to have a bigger say over theirs.
The Wales Bill has completed its final stages in Parliament, and the Secretary of State for Wales is leading a cross-party process to move towards a fair and lasting devolution settlement for Wales. The Northern Ireland Secretary is hosting talks on a number of issues, including reforms to make the devolved institutions work more effectively. Depending on progress, in particular putting the Executive’s finances on a sustainable long-term footing, the Government stand ready to introduce legislation to devolve corporation tax, with a view to seeing it on the statute book during this Parliament.
Today’s Command Paper covers proposals on decentralisation within England and proposals on English votes on English laws. It sets out the position of each of the coalition parties, just as the Command Paper on Scotland did for the three parties. We invited the Labour Party to submit its own proposals for publication, but it declined to do so.
The Scottish Secretary has been able to work in Scotland on a cross-party basis. The talks held by the Secretary of State for Wales have been on a cross-party basis. It is only on matters concerning England that the leadership of the Opposition is hostile to cross-party talks. However, the contribution to our thinking by leaders of local authorities, including from the Labour Party, has been welcome and constructive.
There has been a significant shift in where power resides in the United Kingdom in recent years. Since 2010 the Government have undertaken the most radical programme of decentralisation within England in a generation. In addition to the significant new powers for local communities, there are now five combined authorities, 15 directly elected local authority mayors, a metro mayor in London, and plans for a metro mayor to be elected for Greater Manchester in 2017. The Regional Growth Fund, growth deals and the Growing Places Fund have been made available to all local areas. This summer the Government set out plans to create a ‘northern powerhouse’ and consulted on Northern Futures. Taken together with what we are doing on science and transport infrastructure, this Government have the most ambitious and substantial plan for the north of England of any Government in decades.
Both the parties of the coalition wish to continue this major progress towards decentralisation of power in England, and their ideas are set out in the Command Paper. The Liberal Democrat Party called in the Command Paper for a process of ‘devolution on demand’ to be delivered through an English devolution enabling Bill, under which areas would be able to demand powers from Westminster and Whitehall from a menu of options. This would include many powers devolved to the Welsh Assembly, although the exact powers available would be subject to cross-government confirmation, and the UK Government would retain a list of reserved powers. In order to claim powers, a given area would need to demonstrate that it met tests around geography, population, competence, local democratic mandate, a fair electoral system and a transparent and accountable governance structure.
For our part, the Conservative Party wishes in the next Parliament to continue with the empowerment of neighbourhoods and parishes in England, as well as to see the type of arrangements being created for Greater Manchester agreed elsewhere. This includes a large further increase in neighbourhood planning, greater local accountability and use of direct democracy, such as local referendums on local issues. In addition, Conservatives want to work with local enterprise partnerships and councils to promote jobs and growth, to help local authorities join up different public services, and to work with local business to support jobs and improve quality of life locally. We strongly believe that localism must not be a way of imposing new taxation, and we believe that the Westminster Parliament is and should remain the English lawmaking body.
Decentralisation within England cannot on its own create fairness for England as a whole on policies decided at the UK level but which apply only in England. On the crucial question of the implications for England of devolution in the rest of the UK, fairness for all the people of the UK now requires this issue to be addressed decisively.
Devolution to other parts of the United Kingdom has created the situation in which MPs representing constituencies outside England may vote on legislation which does not affect their constituents, while English MPs are not able to influence these policies in other nations where they are devolved. Both coalition parties believe that this so-called West Lothian question needs to be addressed, and have put forward their proposals in the Command Paper.
The Liberal Democrat Party believes that English MPs at Westminster should have a stronger voice and a veto over English-only issues. Its preferred method of addressing this would be for there to be votes for Westminster elections using the single transferable vote. However, accepting that there is currently no cross- party consensus for this—which is certainly true—they instead propose that the composition of those serving on any new stage, for example a ‘Grand Committee of English MPs’, should reflect the votes of the electorate in England. The Liberal Democrats also believe that measures which unambiguously affect England only, and which are not devolved below the Westminster level, should be subject to a new parliamentary stage before Third Reading or equivalent, composed of MPs proportionately representing the votes cast in England to allow them to scrutinise proposals and employ a veto if they so wish.
The Conservative Party believes that equalised constituency sizes remains necessary to fairness for all voters. We have set out three options for resolving the West Lothian question in the Command Paper. All of them represent a stronger and more binding version of ‘English votes for English laws’ than the work of the McKay commission, but all rest on the guiding principle set out by McKay, that,
‘decisions at the United Kingdom level with a separate and distinct effect for England (or for England-and-Wales) should normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of MPs for constituencies in England (or England-and-Wales)’.
The first option is to reform consideration of Bills at all stages, and was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, in 2000. All stages of legislation relating only to England, or only to England and Wales, would be determined by MPs from England or from England and Wales. The key advantage of this proposal is its simplicity and the absence of any need for any new stages in the legislative process.
The second option is to reform the amending stages of Bills, as proposed by my right honourable friend the Member for Rushcliffe in 2008. Under this proposal, all amending stages of legislation relating only to England, or only to England and Wales, would be determined by MPs from England and Wales. Committees would be in proportion to party strength in those countries. The key advantage of this proposal is that it allows MPs from England, or from England and Wales, to have the decisive say over the content of legislation while not excluding other MPs from other stages and not introducing any new stages to the legislative process.
The third and final option is to introduce a reformed Committee stage and legislative consent Motion, providing an effective veto. Under this option, the Committee stage of legislation relating only to England, or only to England and Wales, would be considered only by MPs from those parts of the United Kingdom. Report stage would be taken as normal by all MPs. An English Grand Committee would then vote after Report stage but prior to Third Reading on a legislative consent Motion. English or English and Welsh MPs would therefore be able to grant their consent to or veto a Bill, or relevant parts of it. Such decisions would have the same status as those of the Scottish Parliament on devolved matters. The key advantage of this proposal is that it would give English, or English and Welsh MPs, a crucial say over the content of legislation and a secure veto over its passing, while not excluding other MPs from its consideration in the full House of Commons. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both invite comment and views on all the options in the Command Paper.
For hundreds of years, the constitutional arrangements of the UK have evolved successfully through taking account of the needs in each century and decade for the giving or withholding of consent. The pursuit of devolution in recent years has been based on the importance of establishing the consent of parts of the UK for the policies particular to them. The next stage of our constitutional evolution must involve that principle of consent being applied to all parts of the United Kingdom.
Whichever of these options is ultimately decided on must be clear and effective in producing fairness for the whole United Kingdom. The Government encourage debate so that this matter can be fully considered and resolved, for the long-term strength of the UK. It is an issue that too many people have avoided for too long, and that can no longer be put aside”.
That concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader for repeating the Statement made by the Leader of the House of Commons. It is good to hear that the coalition is alive and well: this was an intriguing government statement with a series of options between the parties. I think it is rather a pick-and-mix coalition—but hell.
September’s referendum was momentous, not only for the fantastic turnout and the decisive way that the Scottish people voted to stay in the United Kingdom, but also for the way in which it unleashed a devolutionary vigour up and down the country. This is something that Labour, as a party with an unequalled record on devolution, embraces—and it is a debate that we seek to lead. We welcome Westminster further releasing its grip on the levers that run this country—and despite the Prime Minister’s 7 am jitters on the morning after the referendum, all sides of the Chamber will, I hope, welcome the fact that the vow to the Scottish people through the Smith commission is being delivered.
But this is only the beginning of the change that we need to the way in which the country is run. In England, cities and towns are demanding a greater say in the running of their affairs. Labour has responded to these demands, committing to introduce an English devolution Act in our first Queen’s Speech. This will involve skills, transport and economic development. In Wales, we will place Welsh devolution on a stronger statutory footing. It is also right that we look at how Parliament works, as more power is shifted away from Westminster—and yes, we do need to consider ways in which English MPs, or English and Welsh MPs, can have a greater say over legislation that affects only England, or only England and Wales.
What we must not do, only months after the Scottish people voted to keep our kingdom united, is allow our country to be divided by the back door. Nothing we do should jeopardise the future of the union. Last year the government commission led by Sir William McKay looked at this very issue. Its report included the option of a change in the way legislation is dealt with at Westminster: a Committee stage for only English MPs, who would scrutinise and amend legislation that applied only to England. We should look at Sir William’s approach involving an English—or English and Welsh—Committee stage, because it is right that English MPs should have a key role in considering such legislation.
We will study the Command Paper published today by the Government. But our criteria will not be what is in the interest of a political party, but what is in the interests of our country. Ultimately, the way we go about constitutional reform has to change; it must not be done for political advantage. The old “Westminster knows best” approach will not wash any more. Labour, like the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and others, is prepared to put aside tribalism and put our faith in a constitutional convention—a bold and new way of delivering political reform. This will not be made up just of elected representatives, but will give members of the public the loudest voice. The convention should consider the McKay commission approach of an English Committee stage. We hope that the Conservative Party will also support the constitutional convention approach, helping us to achieve the cross-party consensus that the convention idea merits.
Many questions arise as a consequence of the Statement, and today I will pose but a few. Does the Leader agree that it is no longer acceptable for long-lasting constitutional reform to result from deals done by politicians behind closed doors—and that a piecemeal approach to constitutional change for political advantage is also unacceptable? As Vernon Bogdanor said,
“the British constitution is not the private property of the Conservative party”,
or of any other party.
Does the Leader agree that for reform to be successful, there must be consensus? I therefore ask, as I have done in the past: what are her party’s specific objections to a constitutional convention? We are all agreed that change is needed when it comes to laws applying only to England, or only to England and Wales, but as the Command Paper shows, there are several options available. Does she agree that a constitutional convention would be a much better way to consider and decide upon the best option, rather than partisan politicians?
In our debate on devolution on 29 October, the Leader said:
“There will be a time and a place for a constitutional convention”.—[Official Report, 29/10/14; col. 1204.]
I suggest that the time has now come, and I wonder whether the noble Baroness would agree. Noble Lords will know that Labour is proposing to devolve more than £30 billion to the cities and counties of England. I wonder whether the Government support this.
With regard to this House, does the noble Baroness agree that its future should be one of the issues considered by a constitutional convention, and that a democratic second Chamber, drawn from the nations and regions of the UK, would be a means of addressing many of the challenges that result from devolution?
When it comes to constitutional change, we must consider the unintended consequences of our actions, and think through the way in which changes are interrelated and interdependent. This must not be a matter of quick fixes or political stitch-ups, but a considered, consensual approach. That is why it is our firm view that the constitutional convention should take this forward, as part of a wider package of political reforms.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her response to the Statement. We want to approach this whole issue of devolution in a way that enables us to share some common ground. We were pleased that that was possible in Scotland and that all the pro-union parties worked together. All the parties—the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and the Labour Party—are committed to meet the commitment set out by the Smith commission.
As was made clear in the Statement that I repeated, we were very keen to have the Labour Party contribute to our Command Paper, which we published today, so that we could continue that cross-party approach. Therefore, it is a little surprising that the noble Baroness referred to our “behind closed doors” approach, given that the leadership of the Labour Party were invited to contribute to the process, but so far they have sadly declined to do so. However, that is not the case with many Labour leaders of local authorities in all parts of England. My right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons has met Labour leaders of local authorities from Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Liverpool over the past few weeks to talk to them and to hear what they have to say on further devolution within England following the Scottish referendum.
The noble Baroness referred to her party’s proposals to extend greater powers to cities and towns. We have done a tremendous amount during the lifetime of this Parliament to extend greater authority and autonomy to all parts of England. England is far more decentralised now than it has been previously, and is far more decentralised than Scotland and Wales.
The noble Baroness spoke about the McKay commission’s report and its proposals for English votes for English laws. As she rightly said, the McKay commission made several proposals, and the Labour Party is putting forward one of those as its preferred option. That is clearly worthy of consideration. However, since the McKay commission did its work, greater powers have been devolved to Scotland. Therefore, it is our view that we need to consider the current situation, which has led to both parties in the coalition putting forward something which goes beyond what is proposed by the McKay commission.
The noble Baroness mentioned a constitutional convention. The Command Paper sets out the arguments for a constitutional convention and the Government remain open to receiving ideas on it. However, the establishment of a constitutional convention cannot be used as an excuse for delaying what needs to be done now.
The noble Baroness also referred to reforms to the upper House. There was an opportunity earlier on in this Parliament for reforms to the upper House. Members of the opposition party—and, indeed, Members from other Benches in the other House—decided that that Bill should not come forward. Reform of the House of Lords should not be linked to something that is urgent, needs to be done now and addresses a fairness issue to do with English votes for English laws.
No one is arguing that the work of the Smith commission should be delayed for a constitutional convention. No one is suggesting that the work of the Silk commission should be delayed for a constitutional convention. Similarly, a resolution on English votes for English laws cannot be delayed for a constitutional convention. The issue of English votes for English laws must be resolved. There are some options now for resolving it; and it is right that we debate those options.
Could I make it clear that we want the McKay commission’s proposals to be put forward into a constitutional convention? This is not the be-all and end-all, and we see what the noble Baroness and her party are doing as being strictly for political advantage. In terms of the constitutional convention, this is not the long grass. We want a time- limited constitutional convention that would look at all these things, not in a piecemeal way but in a proper and dignified way for the future constitution of our country.
I am a little bit baffled. A lot is happening in terms of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Opposition are not arguing that those changes should be delayed for a constitutional convention. Arising from the result of the Scottish referendum is the need for us to address an important issue, which is about English votes for English laws. That can be addressed quickly and there are some options for consideration. It comes off the back of several reports on the issue of English votes for English laws over many years. This is not about ruling out a constitutional convention or any other bigger issues that might arise in due course; but the issue of English votes for English laws needs to be addressed right now. It can be addressed and it should not be delayed.
My Lords, as the Statement reported, the Liberal Democrats made a positive contribution to the Command Paper before us, setting out clearly our plans to strengthen devolution within England, so that, for example, the people of Yorkshire and Cornwall could have proper assemblies with proper local legislative and fiscal powers, akin to those now available in Wales. Does my noble friend agree that the first priority should be decentralising and devolving power out of this building, and out of Whitehall, and then having a constitutional convention that could look at how different representative bodies in the UK could interact with each other in those new circumstances and with the UK Parliament? Only then will the true, consequent remaining extent of the “English question” be clear. In other words, does she not agree that we should devolve power radically within England first, and worry about rearranging the Westminster deckchairs later?
This coalition Government have done a huge amount to decentralise within England. Much has been changed during our time in office. The key difference between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats in terms of further decentralisation is that we, the Conservatives, support giving far more accountability and authority to people wherever they live, but what we do not support is the delegation of lawmaking out of Parliament. We believe that there should be one place for lawmaking in England—and that is Parliament.
My Lords, I respectfully invite Her Majesty’s Government not to panic in this matter. There are some 120 Members from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, leaving some 530 Members from English constituencies. Therefore, first, does the noble Baroness agree that there is no immediate danger of English interests being mercilessly swept aside constitutionally? Secondly, will she undertake not to take any steps to create either an English Parliament or an English Parliament within a Parliament unless and until a full, detailed and mature study of the constitutional position has been conducted, thus avoiding some of the ludicrous matters which were brought before the House in the last four years?
We have no plans for an English Parliament. That is not contained in the Command Paper before us. We have options for addressing the very important issue of English votes for English laws, which has become more pronounced now that more powers have been devolved to Scotland. Clearly I listen very carefully to any advice that I receive from the noble Lord, but this matter has been around for a very long time. There has been a huge amount of thinking on it and we have now got to the point where we have some clear options, one of which we should implement.
I just do not accept the argument that the noble Lord puts forward. The point is that a huge amount of change is under way in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is a single urgent issue in England that needs addressing. This is not about ruling out a constitutional convention in the future, but that should not delay us in addressing something that needs to be addressed straight away.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that these proposals, together with the proposals for further devolution in Scotland, are regarded by many people outside this place as having been conceived in panic, delivered in haste and furthered by political expediency? Will she not therefore reconsider the Government’s view that there should not be a constitutional convention to look at this matter on the basis of consensus between the parties, which is the basis upon which we should make constitutional changes? The only beneficiaries of this approach have been the nationalists, who are surging in the polls, and this is not a moment to divide the unionists.
I shall try to make this as clear as I can. We are not ruling out a constitutional convention at all. There are clearly matters that some people would like to see addressed in a constitutional convention. We are saying that, in the light of greater devolution to Scotland, there is a need for us to address the issue of English votes for English laws. This is not being rushed into; Parliament has been looking at it for a very long time. We have some clear options, which we are inviting people to debate. We feel that that should happen without delay and that bigger issues beyond that should not be a reason to delay getting on with something that is very important to the people of England.
The Minister does not understand the force of the argument for a constitutional convention, which is that by going on with this piecemeal approach, the Government are playing into the hands of the separatists. I want to see the United Kingdom stay together but this is not the way to do it. We need a constitutional convention and we need it soon in order to deal with relationships between and within the four parts of the United Kingdom. Working things out on the back of a fag packet plays into the hands of nationalists.
I understand the noble Lord very clearly and I hope that he understands me. I am saying to him that I disagree because a lot of change has already happened and is happening. No side of this House or of the other place is calling for those changes to be delayed for a constitutional convention. The Labour Party has been a part of the changes which have been made and which are going through in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is a specific issue that we want to see addressed in England. We absolutely do not rule out a constitutional convention where other matters can be considered. I can see why it is important and that is why we are not ruling it out.
My Lords, when legislation is approved in the other place from which Members of Parliament from Scotland and Northern Ireland are excluded and that legislation then proceeds to your Lordships’ House, will Northern Ireland Peers and Scottish Peers also be excluded?
No, they will not. No one in this House represents an area of the United Kingdom. We are all United Kingdom Peers; we do not have representative responsibilities, so the change in the Commons will not affect the way in which we do our business.
My Lords, I am very happy for you to return to England as soon as possible. I have one simple question for the Government. It seems from some references in the Leader of the House’s Statement in the other place that he is inventing a new polity—a place called England and Wales. What is the constitutional basis of this place, if it ever existed in history, which I doubt, being a sort of cultural historian? Since devolution, it is very clear that every piece of legislation which appears before this House, or indeed within the devolved Parliaments, is defined according to its competence and its territorial application. Therefore, there is no place called England and Wales. Legislation is either for the United Kingdom, for England, for Northern Ireland or for Scotland. The Government must be clear about that. I do not wish to go back to the Tudor period.
I do not think that anybody is asking the noble Lord to go back to the Tudor period. As set out in the Command Paper, there are various points of detail that will clearly be discussed further before any changes are implemented in the way that the other place operates. A Bill, when it comes to this House, will be dealt with in exactly the same way as it is now.
My Lords, there are many matters of constitutional importance on which consultation should take place. Certainly I favour consultation whenever possible. It has to be said that 15 years of constitutional devolution have led to an extremely unsettled position in terms of the integrity of the United Kingdom, possibly because there was not wide consultation and asymmetrical measures were being introduced. There is a burning need to rebalance the constitution of the United Kingdom; we cannot go on as we are. I welcome the proposals that have come forward from my noble friend and the fact that a range of options is included. That opens the case for further consultation, and I hope that the Labour Party will take part in that consultation. There is absolutely no reason why it should not. This matter stands on its own, and it is important to rebalance, in the interests of England and of the United Kingdom, the way in which we govern ourselves. I particularly welcome the reference to an English Grand Committee. I assure my noble friend that the changes we made to the Scottish Grand Committee in the 1990s demonstrated the almost infinite flexibility of such a body. It could play an important part in the future of government within England and, indeed, within the United Kingdom.
The noble Countess is absolutely right. I was not trying to suggest that there are no such Peers here in this House. The point I was making was that Peers do not represent a particular part of the country. We are all Peers representing the public and the national interest at large.
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, what she is saying is that English laws should be made by English votes only in the House of Commons, and that once they come up to this House, which is also a legislative Chamber, anybody—whether they are Scots, Welsh, English or Northern Irish—is entitled to express a view and vote on issues that may not affect them. What is the logic in that?
My Lords, we in this House are contributing to legislation now on an equal footing regardless of where we are from. We do not represent a particular part of the country. I come from Beeston and am very proud of that, but I do not represent Beeston. I am here as a United Kingdom Peer, as is the case for all of us.
Would my noble friend pay particular attention to the intervention of my noble friend Lord Lang, who I think spoke extremely wise words on this matter? I thought that the most striking point of the Statement was the extraordinary contrast between the long list of Labour leaders of major boroughs and major cities in this country who take an entirely different view, as far as I can see, from the unfortunate position of the Opposition.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for that point because he is quite right. It was very welcome to see just how many Labour leaders of local authorities within England wanted to contribute to this process. We are grateful to them and we hope that the Labour leadership will take its lead from them.
My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that for many of us there is a difference between the current Government’s decentralisation programme, where Labour leaders of local authorities are working with the Government of the day, and genuine devolution? I nail my personal colours to the mast of regional devolution in England. I do not believe that the people of the north-west of England, where I live—I accept that I do not represent them—should have their health policies determined by the predominance not only of the Westminster Parliament but of London and the south-east. We have different problems; we need devolution. I want to see a proper examination of that before something is cobbled together as a matter of urgency. What has changed for the Conservative Party that it wants instant action now?
It is open to the noble Baroness to put forward her ideas for matters that should be considered as part of a constitutional convention; that has not been ruled out. However, it is worth reminding your Lordships that regional devolution by way of regional assemblies was tried before and was not successful; it was not welcomed by people in regions. However, we have ensured throughout this Parliament that we have given greater authority and control to all parts of England than had happened before, and we want to see more of that.
My Lords, the truth is that we are now three-quarters of the way to a federal system in the United Kingdom, and it is urgent that the matter is resolved now, by whatever means, rather than at a point of crisis, when a decision may be taken to impose on England something which is deeply unpopular in England and for which England has not voted but for which a majority has been created through a United Kingdom vote, when those other members of our federal United Kingdom would not have the same imposed on them as a result of devolution. We may have walked there by a long and winding path, but this matter now needs to be resolved—and it is better that it should be resolved thoughtfully than in a crisis.
Well, I do not recognise the description of our current situation that the noble Lord is giving. We know that lots of changes have happened. The particular issue that we feel is necessary for us to address has been around for a long time. A lot of thinking has been put into this over many years. We now have some simple options before us, but, as I keep saying, that does not rule out a constitutional convention on bigger issues, if that is what people feel is necessary.
Does the Minister have any worries that this way of proceeding will add to the raggedness of our constitutional settlement and lead to asymmetric forms of devolution, and confuses devolution and delegation? This is an area where many of us fear to tread without great care. Surely, from the start, a constitutional convention, discussion, collaboration and cross-party agreement are all needed.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness and I know how distinguished she is in terms of her very thoughtful approach to matters of great importance. But I can only say to her what I have said to other noble Lords. We are not ruling out the possibility of the kind of approach that she is promoting, but we do not believe that doing that should delay us from addressing a fundamental issue of fairness that now exists which we feel that it is very important to address.
My Lords, is the Leader aware that the Prime Minister’s pledge on the morning after the referendum about English votes for English laws, and the proposals in this White Paper, are in fact an answer to the SNP’s prayers and will reinforce it considerably? Will the Leader also explain why in chapter 2 of the document Decentralisation and Localism in England: Achievements to Date, there is no mention of the singular achievement of the Government in imposing the biggest ever cuts on local government funding to the extent that even Conservative councils believe that by the end of this decade they will be able to provide only statutory services—if them alone?
As the noble Lord knows, what we have done in this Parliament and through this Government is given greater power to local authorities in terms of control of their own finances. They are now in a much greater position than they were before to make the kind of steps that are about real change in their approach to providing services for local authorities.
My Lords, would not my noble friend accept that with three months left of this Parliament and a general election, with all the frenetic atmosphere that goes with it, this is no time to rush a constitutional settlement? The constitution is not the possession of any party: it is the responsibility of us all. I urge my noble friend, while I agree with my noble friend Lord Lang that it is good that there are options in this paper, not to attempt to rush pell-mell before the general election. In the calm—I trust—atmosphere that will follow, we have to try to reach a solution where we do not have two classes of Member of Parliament at the other end of the corridor.
My Lords, my noble friend was a Member of the other place and I was not, but there are already two classes of MPs in the other place. We have at the moment MPs for Scottish constituencies who are not able to vote on matters that affect their constituents, but they are able to vote on matters that affect people in England. We feel that this is a fundamental matter of fairness. It is not something that we are rushing into. This issue has been around for a long time. Five reports have been published on how to address this very important matter over the past 15 years. In the past few weeks, we have done some further thinking and put forward some options. I urge all noble Lords interested in this to come forward with their views—but this is something that it is now right to address.