Wales politics

Peers debate 'mess' of UK constitution - and football

Here at Westminster, the government has rejected growing calls for a constitutional convention on the future of the United Kingdom after the Scottish referendum.

Or has it? Whip and spokesman Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Liberal Democrat, told the House of Lords this afternoon there was no public demand for a convention and he had not heard any major political party suggest it. But he appeared not to rule out one in future.

But he admitted a convention would be a radical and rational step and encouraged a Welsh Labour peer to continue to campaign for one.

The historian K.O. Morgan, Lord Morgan of Aberdyfi, told him a convention would allow the government to address the "mess" of the current constitution.

He asked: "Would not a constitutional convention help to clear up the mess firstly by clarifying the muddle over asymmetrical devolution, by clearing up the devo-max in Scotland that cannot speak its name, by re-asserting the authority of the Westminster parliament and above all at long last doing something about England and showing that England is not simply a bad football team?"

Lord Wallace replied: "We'll leave the football team to one side. Constitutional conventions have on the whole taken place after revolutions in the United States, in France and elsewhere to go as far as a constitutional convention for the whole of the United Kingdom would itself be a radical and rational step. I encourage the noble Lord as a rational radical to pursue that but the public has currently no demand for it and I have not yet heard any major political party suggest this."

First Minister Carwyn Jones has regularly called for a convention to look at the way the UK works and those calls have got louder as the Scottish referendum approaches.

Former Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley told Lord Wallace: "Whatever the outcome of the referendum in Scotland, whether it's a 'yes' vote or a 'no' vote the status quo is unlikely to be the final resting point of the argument.

"That being so, surely a piecemeal approach is not acceptable, particularly when in Scotland the government appear to be offering taxation powers which were recommended by Silk for Wales but which the government has rejected for Wales. So on what possible basis can there be a coherent progress when that is the approach taken by the government?"

Lord Wallace told peers that ministers had set up the Silk commission in Wales, the Calman convention in Scotland and the McKay commission to look at the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons. The government does not at present contemplate a further broader convention

Labour peer Lord Foulkes said those commissions had caused the problem because there was growing concern of the "piecemeal" nature of constitutional change and what he called "the English democratic deficit".

Lord Wallace said the Kilbrandon Commission had looked at the broader question but had taken four years. "It is not felt that a commission of that length would help." He said the government was moving on the English question, with moves towards decentralisation within England.

My sense was that he may have declined the suggestion of a convention but he certainly wasn't ruling one out after September's vote. Alternatively, Lord Morgan could always launch a revolution to bring it nearer.