Fears that House of Lords will seek to ‘interfere’ in devolution after new Stronger Union report
An MP has raised fears that the House of Lords will seek to interfere in devolution following the publishing of a report suggesting that peers should mediate between the Senedd and UK Government.
The House of Lords’ Constitution Committee published its blueprint for Building a Stronger Union in the 21st century today, which suggests that “the House of Lords should strengthen its scrutiny of bills that engage the Sewel convention”.
The Sewel Convention applies when the UK Parliament wants to legislate on a matter devolved to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
“We believe the absence of any meaningful dialogue between Parliament and the devolved legislatures on legislative consent matters is a gap in the legislative process,” the House of Lords report said.
Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams however said that the influence of the Lords would not be welcome in devolved matters.
“The House of Lords has no place in devolved business,” the Arfon MP told Nation.Cymru. “The people of Wales don’t need aristocrats and Tory donors to interfere with our modern democracy.
“The Lords have also worryingly rejected the merit of impartial, legal oversight of the Sewel Convention, instead endorsing the status quo.
“In a premiership marked by lies and corruption, this report is tone-deaf to how the Union’s outdated customs can be exploited by Westminster politicians. This is not the future that Wales deserves, wants, or needs.”
The suggestion also drew criticism from the SNP, who told the Scottish National newspaper that they would oppose any such move.
“It is difficult to take seriously a report on democratic structures by a body which is the most egregious example of a lack of democracy in the UK,” SNP constitution spokesperson Tommy Sheppard MP said.
“The unelected, unaccountable and unrepresentative House of Lords is never more so than when it comes to attitudes to the governance of Scotland. Not one single member of that private members’ club supports independent self-government for Scotland – a position that is now favoured by a majority of the Scottish population.”
According to the report, improving the shared governance of the UK will require a greater degree of respect and partnership between the different layers of government than exists at present.
The committee argues the UK’s constitutional arrangements can provide the best of both worlds for its constituent nations. It says this requires significant devolved autonomy complemented by the pooling of resources and sharing of risks, to ensure greater resilience in its collective response to challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
The committee has expressed concern about what it calls the tendency to ‘devolve and forget’, and while it welcomes the Government’s stated commitment to the Union, it believes it needs to set out a clearer vision about how it will be shaped in the 21st century.
The report says: “Parliamentary sovereignty remains a fundamental doctrine of our constitution. While the UK Parliament could, in theory, legislate to abolish the devolved institutions; in reality, it would not do so, and certainly not without the express consent of relevant voters in a referendum, as recognised in the devolution statutes.
“This illustrates the political constraints which in practice circumscribe the legislative supremacy of the UK Parliament. As with other political constraints, there may, from time to time, be tensions in their operation.
“Parliament’s legislative authority must continue to be exercised with respect and restraint if the Union is to be strengthened.”
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