Devolution and the Union

20th November 2014

You can watch this debate here

And find the hansard here:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm141120/debtext/141120-0003.htm#14112054000177

The Liaison Committee met this morning, and we had in front of us the Prime Minister. The subject was devolution. There were times during that discussion when I felt that the Prime Minister was too chilled out for his own good about devolution. There was a lack of urgency. It was almost as if the problem had been resolved because a referendum had taken place in Scotland. He used expressions such as, “We need to settle this down now,” or, “There is no need to rush these things.” The Scottish referendum was important inside Scotland of course, but outside it allowed us to realise what we could do with a level of engagement and participation that should excite us all given some of the threats to our broader political system in the Union. There are risks.

Also since the general election we have seen the rise of an extreme right-wing party. It is polling up to 25% of the popular vote in opinion polls. These are serious issues that can be addressed at least in part and often in large part by giving power back to people, by engaging them in the political system, by involving them and by ensuring that they feel they own their democracy rather than want to vote for an apolitical party.

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On the Barnett formula, of course there will have to be a method of equalisation and redistribution of some description. We are a family of nations and we need to look after each other, just as we do in equalisation in local government.

Mr Allen: I suspect that the hon. Gentleman, as someone who tried to leave the family of nations, does not speak with quite the authority he may think he has.

Ms Abbott: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the issues arising from the current debate on devolution and the Union is that of more powers for our great cities? As the London Finance Commission and the Independent City Growth Commission have set out, there is a strong argument for many of our great cities to be allowed to keep more of their property taxes and to empower people in those cities.

To continue the dialogue with my friends on the SNP Bench, double devolution—in other words, taking stuff beyond the devolved settlement and into local authorities, and even into neighbourhoods and communities—is one of the things we need to press when we discuss devolution, rather than run after the bone the Prime Minister threw out at 7 am on the day after the referendum. Such key things need to be on the agenda when we talk about devolution.

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If we are going to do this, we—particularly my own party—have to come to terms with the concept of giving genuine independence to local government, just as most local governments in most western democracies enjoy. For the first time in this country, local government would be equal rather than subordinate and supplicant, holding out for, in effect, charity from the centre. That needs to be entrenched and beyond easy repeal.

 

<p 0px;="" border-right:="" vertical-align:="" baseline;="" white-space:="" normal;="" border-bottom:="" text-transform:="" none;="" word-spacing:="" color:="" rgb(0,0,0);="" outline-width:="" padding-bottom:="" padding-top:="" font:="" 13px="" 16px="" verdana,="" arial,="" sans-serif;="" outline-style:="" padding-left:="" margin:="" 0px="" 15px;="" border-left:="" letter-spacing:="" outline-color:="" invert;="" padding-right:="" background-color:="" rgb(255,255,255);="" text-indent:="" -webkit-text-stroke-width:="" 0px"="">We are opposite the building that used to house the Greater London council, which on the whim of a particular Prime Minister—although it could have been any of them—was abolished, as were other tiers. We need to entrench local government, rather than give it powers that could be taken away at a later date. We need to give it its own life. It is pointless giving people powers unless we give them the right to have what Scotland has pioneered, namely an assignment of income tax to ensure that it can maintain its financial certainty. A second Chamber made up of representatives from the four nations of the Union is also key. Let us not be modest; let us be ambitious for devolution beyond Scotland.