Tomorrow (Tuesday October 9th, 2018) will see the First Reading of a Private Peers Bill in the House of Lords entitled Act of Union Bill. In this article I will attempt to explain the contents of the Bill to you and what it could mean for Scotland.
(8 hours into writing this I can finally post it, so please see my fundraising thing below).
Firstly I must point out that a Private Peers Bill is the Lord’s equivalent of a Private Members Bill introduced in the House of Commons and these rarely progress very far. In order to be passed into law it would have to proceed through each stage in the Lords and Commons in the same manner as any other Bill.
You can read the full text of the Bill here.
Who is behind the Bill?
The Bill is being introduced by Lord Lisvane (Robert Rogers) who is a crossbench peer (essentially not affiliated to a particular party but he was personally nominated for his peerage by David Cameron).
The Bill is the result of 3 years of work by the Constitution Reform Group (CRG). The CRG is lead by a steering committee comprising of the Marquess of Salisbury, Caroline Roberts, Daniel Greenberg, David Burnside, David Melding, Gisela Stewart, Lord Lisvane, Lord Hain, Shana Fleming, Sir Menzies Campbell, Joanna George and Sir Paul Silk.
What does the Bill propose?
The Bill starts off with a brief summary of its main purpose which states:
- The rule of law and equality before the law.
- The protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.
- Defence of the realm and the conduct of foreign relations.
- The promotion of tolerance and respect.
- Equality of opportunity.
- Provision of a safe and secure society.
- Provision of a strong economy.
- Protection of social and economic rights, including provision of access to education and health and other social services (including the National Health Service).
- Benefiting from shared history and culture.
Part 2 of the Bill (which comprises sections 3 to 7) refers to the rules and procedures around Central Policy Areas, we will discuss what these Central Policy Areas are later but for now think of them as what things will be reserved to the UK Parliament. There isn’t really much to note about this part of the Bill at this time but feel free to read it yourself.
Part 3 (sections 8 to 14) refers specifically to England and in particular the options of setting up either an English Parliament or putting in place a system of English Regional Devolution depending on which option receives the most votes in the commencement referendum (more on this referendum later)..
Section 8 explains that this part of the Bill makes provision for a directly elected English Parliament should the majority of the people of England vote for one in the commencement referendum.
Section 9 (2) says that Members of the English Parliament will be elected for the same constituencies as the current English Westminster ones meaning that there would be (as it stands currently prior to any boundary changes) 533 Members of the English Parliament.
Section 10 lays out the provision that the English Parliament will have legislative competence over any matter that is not within a central policy area (again I will be listing those later).
Section 11 introduces the alternative option of Regional Devolution. Should the majority of the English people vote for this option this would see the UK Parliament being the legislative body for all English non central policy area matters. This section also gives powers to cities and regions in England to establish arrangements for devolved government so essentially regional assemblies.
Section 12 essentially upholds the current EVEL rules where only English Members of the UK Parliament would be able to vote on English devolved matters.
Sections 13 & 14 set out the rules and procedures for English cities and regions to take control of devolved matters with the main point being that separate local referenda would need to be held to allow this.
Moving onto part 4 of the Bill we come to the Scotland specific sections (15 to 19).
Section 15 states that the Scotland Act 1998 would be amended to give the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government legislative competence over all matters except those central policy areas reserved to the UK Parliament.
Section 16 concerns elections to the Scottish Parliament and in particular conferring the powers currently held by the Secretary of State under sections 12 (Power of the Scottish Ministers to make provision about elections) and 12A (Power of the Secretary of State to make provision about the combination of polls) of the Scotland Act 1998 to Scottish Ministers.
Section 17 would repeal section 35 (Power to intervene in certain cases.) of the Scotland Act 1998. This would prevent the Secretary of State being able to make an order to the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament prohibiting a Bill being passed for Royal Assent if they had grounds to believe that it would be incompatible with any international obligations or the interests of defence or national security, or indeed any bill which would make modifications to the law as it applies to reserved matters where the Secretary of State had reasonable grounds to believe it would have an adverse effect on the operation of the law.
Section 18 of the Bill would repeal section 58 (Power to prevent or require action.) of the Scotland Act 1998. Basically this removes the power of the Secretary of State to order a Member of the Scottish Parliament to desist from introducing a piece of subordinate (secondary) legislation.
Section 19 refers to Public Money in Scotland. It would repeal the following parts of the Scotland Act 1998:
- Section 64 (4) and 64 (5) – (payment of designated receipts from Scottish Consolidated Fund into the Consolidated Fund)
- Sections 66, 67 and 67A – (borrowing by Scottish Ministers)
- Section 68 – (borrowing by statutory bodies)
- Section 72 – (accounts of loans to Scottish Ministers)
I’ll be going into financial implications later but for now if you wish you can read the relevant sections of the Scotland Act 1998 by clicking on the links in the section numbers.
Parts 5 and 6 (which include sections 20 to 24) are very very brief (especially the Northern Irish part) but provides for the following amendments to the Government of Wales Acts:
- Providing for matters concerning elections to the Welsh Parliament / Senedd Cymru to be legislated by the Welsh Parliament / Senedd Cymru itself.
- Removing powers of Parliament to intervene in the affairs of the Welsh Parliament / Senedd Cymru.
- Removing powers of Government to intervene in the affairs of the Welsh Government.
- Removing controls on payments out of the Welsh Consolidated Fund.
- Removing existing controls on borrowing by Welsh Ministers.
I find it highly interesting that a lot of detail was put into the Scottish section and not the Welsh or Northern Irish ones.
Now we move onto Part 7 (sections 25 to 34) of the Bill which concerns the role of the UK parliament and again we will have 2 options in the commencement referendum namely:
- Abolish the House of Lords, or
- Restructure the House of Lords
Let’s deal first with sections 25 to 30 which would apply if the majority voted to abolish the House of Lords.
Section 25 introduces the principles of the part while section 26 outlines the restructuring overview.
Section 26 (1) states that the House of Commons will be known as the United Kingdom Parliament (UK Parliament).
Section 26 (3) states that a scrutiny committee will be set up as detailed in section 29 to oversee the UK Parliament with delegates elected by the subnational Parliaments.
Section 26 (4) states that a scrutiny committee will be set up for each of the subnational Parliaments which will be constituted by the Members of the UK Parliament elected by the peoples of that nation or part of the UK in accordance with section 30.
Section 26 (5) defines subnational Parliaments as:
- The English Parliament.
- The Scottish Parliament.
- The Welsh Parliament / Senedd Cymru
- The Northern Ireland Assembly
Section 27 goes on to describe the make-up, role and function of the UK Parliament.
27 (2) states that the UK parliament will consist of 146 members from the 4 nations or parts of the United Kingdom. (No breakdown of this figure seems to be available).
This UK parliament would have exclusive legislature competence over the Central Policy Areas (again I’ll be listing those later) but all other matters would be devolved to the subnational Parliaments.
Sections 27 (5) and 26 (6) worry me quite a bit:
Section 28 lays out the procedure for abolishing the House of Lords.
Section 29 would set up the UK Parliament Scrutiny Committee. 29 (1) says that each of the subordinate (sheesh I really hate that word) Parliaments would elect members to it. 29 (2) and (3) defines their role.
Section 30 says that the elected Members of the UK Parliament will act as the scrutiny committee for their nation or part’s subordinate Parliament.
So basically in our case if the option to abolish the House of Lords was chosen it would mean that elected MSPs would oversee (and have to approve) the work of the UK Parliament and the Scottish Members of the UK Parliament would oversee the work of Holyrood (and likewise have to approve).
Moving on to sections 31 to 34 which would apply if the commencing referendum was to return a majority in favour of Restructuring the House of Lords rather than abolishing it.
The restructuring overview in regard to the scrutiny committees for the subordinate Parliaments would apply as above but in respect of the UK Parliament we would see the following:
Section 33 would see the House of Lords reduced to 392 members (292 elected and 100 appointed).
Now 33(2)(a) & (b) seem to contradict each in regard to elected members so I’m wondering if there is a typo so specifically this:
- At least 65% of the whole of the UK to vote for it, and
- A majority of each of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to vote for it.
Section 57 states that this referendum would have to take place between 10 and 14 months after the Bill gaining Royal Consent.
The Referendum questions would be:
So you promised to tell us what the Central Policy Areas are.
Yes indeed, this list of 24 things would be the reserved areas and everything else would be devolved (note that I’ll expand on some things in another post).
- The Crown.
- The United Kingdom.
- The Following Acts.
- Ministers of the Crown.
- Foreign Affairs.
- International treaties and conventions.
- Membership of the European Union.
- The European Economic Area.
- Human Rights.
- Central Bank Functions.
- Monetary Policy.
- Government Borrowing (Will be addressing exceptions in a future post).
- Regulation of Financial Services.
- Taxation (Again more to come in a future post as we will have extra tax powers).
- The Supreme Court.
- National Security.
- Emergency Powers (Okay wtf does this one mean??).
- The Civil Service.
- Political Parties.
I’m approaching 2500 words and 8 hours on writing this, I’ve covered the main things that will affect Scotland.
But I have to reiterate that these type of Bills never get anywhere.
Saying that, if we could never get independence then I’d like to see a lot of these proposals implemented as it is definitely better than the status quo but independence will always always be the preferred choice.
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