Labour has a proud record of delivering on political and constitutional reform, and on devolution.
Between 1997 and 2010 we brought in freedom of information, created a Supreme Court, abolished most of the hereditary peers and protected people’s fundamental freedoms through the Human Rights Act. On devolution, it was Labour that devolved power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and returned to the people of London their city-wide government. And Labour has led the fight to defend the Union and will continue to do so.
Further devolution to Scotland is now on its way as we honour the vow made to the Scottish people in the referendum campaign, but this is only part of the change we need to see in the way our country is run. People in England and Wales are crying out for more power and responsibility, and it is up to us to respond.
That’s why we will devolve power over skills, transport, and economic development to cities and county regions in England, and we will put Welsh devolution on a new legal footing.
Devolution has been right for the country because it has brought power closer to people, but we know it has raised new questions in its wake about how decisions are taken and by whom. It is right that we ask these questions, but fiddling with the constitution in a fragmented and piecemeal fashion, as the Prime Minister is doing, is the wrong way to go about it.
That’s why Ed Miliband has called for a Constitutional Convention in which members of the public, civil society and elected representatives would sit down to discuss these complex questions and work out a set of proposals. The aim is to break out of the traditional top-down, Westminster-knows-best approach which people are fed up with. We are offering a new and exciting alternative.
One of the questions we need to answer is how Parliament should now go about its work, given that power is increasingly being pushed out from Westminster to the nations, and city and county regions of the UK. We want to replace the House of Lords with a Senate of the Nations and Regions because this would help bind together the constituent parts of the UK and improve democratic legitimacy.
And as Ed Miliband has made clear, we also need to enable English MPs to have greater scrutiny over legislation that only affects England, given the powers that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly now have. Last year the Government commission led by Sir William McKay looked at this very issue. Their report included the option of a change in the way legislation is dealt with at Westminster; a committee stage made up of only English MPs who would scrutinise and amend legislation that applies only to England. We should look at Sir William’s approach of an English (or an English and Welsh) committee stage because it is right that English MPs have a key role in considering such legislation. The political balance on this committee would need to reflect English (or English and Welsh) MPs as a whole and ensure all English regions were represented.
Done in the right way, this would be a sensible reform which would strengthen England's voice without ending up creating two classes of MP, and it must now be considered as part of the constitutional convention process. What we must not do is inadvertently undermine the union of nations that is the United Kingdom. Hasty proposals, drawn up in a secret Whitehall committee chaired by a former Tory leader, as David Cameron is doing, is not the right way to go about it. It just won’t wash with the British public.
Nor will we jeopardise the future of the Union for narrow advantage, especially when so many people have fought so hard recently to preserve it.
The truth is that the Tories seem now to have given up any hope of winning a majority of UK MPs at the next election. By contrast, Labour can truly lay claim to be the party of the Union, and only a Labour Government will be in a position to deliver the change we need for the whole of the United Kingdom.
Hilary Benn is the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Sadiq Khan is the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice (with special responsibility for Political and Constitutional Reform)