Holyrood powers threaten to weaken Union, warn MPs

The Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Picture: PA
The Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Picture: PA
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THE “significant” impact on the UK of sweeping new powers being handed to Scotland after the referendum has not been fully considered and has the potential to “weaken the Union”, MPs have warned.

The UK Government is now being called upon to set up a body to consider the “in the round” effect of the proposed devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by the Commons’ political and Constitutional Reform committee.

It could even hasten the advent of a formal written constitution for the UK or “Statute of Union”, a report today finds.

The Smith Commission agreement on more powers for Holyrood set out ambitious proposals to hand sweeping new powers over income tax and welfare to Holyrood in the aftermath of the referendum No vote, agreed by all the pro-Union parties.

But a report by Westminster’s Public Affairs Committee today warns that the speedy timetable for change has been “over-ambitious and impractical”.

“The result is a set of draft clauses which clearly fall far short of a credible draft bill and require far more work,” the report states.

Committee chairman Graham Allen says he is a supporter of greater devolution and insists – if done properly – this can strengthen the ­Union. But this could backfire if Scotland’s enhanced responsibilities aren’t mirrored south of the Border where demand among councils for greater powers are growing.

“In England in particular, if it’s piecemeal and isn’t entrenched in the way that progress in Scotland has been entrenched, then I think that is missing the most fantastic opportunity to strengthen in the Union,” he said.

“The Union clearly doesn’t see devolution as a passing phase or something to apply to one or other countries in the Union, it’s something that everybody buys into often at different levels and different speeds.

“If we do that, that will strengthen the Union, if we miss this opportunity to strengthen English local government then it could weaken the Union.”

Despite the Smith commission commitment to establishing the role of Holyrood in statute, the committee warns that this is unlikely to be achieved because the “principle of the sovereignty of Parliament.”

It does state that Holyrood is effectively permanent because it is “inconceivable” that any future Government would scrap it. But the report adds: “A Statute of the Union, or a full written constitution, could provide greater legal certainty over the status of the Scottish institutions.”

It comes as new research finds most people in England believe Scottish MPs should be banned from voting on English only matters at Westminster.

They want more powers devolved to English cities and regions – and want a referendum to vote on the changes, a survey off 4,000 people by Edinburgh University has found.

Three-quarters of people across most of the English regions support English votes for English laws, which would mean laws for England only being passed by MPs representing English constituencies.

The appetite for greater powers for English cities and regions is also high, with more than half of people living in England wanting more devolution for their own areas.