In a polarised world, our legislatures can achieve more by working together
Our political system is too London-centric. That’s why as Speaker of the House of Lords, one of my priorities is to help bring the four legislatures, Holyrood, Stormont, Westminster and the Senedd, together on an equal footing.
Last month, I visited Cardiff to meet with colleagues in the Senedd – the first Lord Speaker to do so. This visit has been a high priority for me in my speakership because we will achieve a lot more by the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures working closely together.
Our evolving constitutional arrangements since leaving the European Union necessitate collaborative working. Every legislature is facing similar global issues: how to help the refugees fleeing from war in Ukraine, how to tackle climate change, how to “disagree well” in an increasingly polarised world.
Westminster must redouble its efforts in reaching out and engaging with all parts of the UK
The benefits of collaborative working were evident at the landmark launch of Interparliamentary Forum (IPF) last month. Comprised of members of the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly, House of Commons, House of Lords and the Senedd, the IPF agreed at the meeting to work together to improve oversight and cooperation over areas such as, the Common Frameworks and Internal markets, the Northern Ireland Protocol and international trade agreements. Our Senedd colleagues will play a crucial role in this forum, bringing parliamentarians together to tackle common issues and share ideas.
Not only was I struck by the warm welcome from Senedd colleagues, but I was also deeply impressed with how open and welcoming the Senedd building itself was. At Westminster, we are currently going through our own process of deciding how to restore and renew the buildings of Parliament. Parliaments are buildings that belong to the people, so I was inspired by its open and accessible spaces. The building bears many of the hallmarks of its architect, the late Richard Rogers, who was a member of the House of Lords.
One of the main points of discussion with my counterparts was the crucial role played by committees in a parliament. The Senedd is conscientious in this respect, with its 16 committees shared between just 60 members examining every subject from health to justice.
The committee system is a good example of how the Lords and the Senedd can collaborate and learn from each other. Members of the House of Lords don’t have constituency case work in the same way MPs do, so instead they dedicate their time to detailed scrutiny of bills and working on committees examining government policy. House of Lords committees produce some of the highest quality scrutiny in the world, producing evidence-based, cross-party solutions to the biggest challenges we face.
There are also several Lords committees which have a firm focus on interparliamentary relations and work well with colleagues in Wales and elsewhere. These include the Lords Common Frameworks Committee and the Lords Constitution Committee, which recently argued for a “reset” of relations between Westminster and the nations of the UK.
Lords committees don’t always grab the same headlines as Commons committees, but the detailed reports they produce, backed up by experience and expertise, help the implementation of good law across the UK.
It’s people such as the former education secretary Lord Blunkett, championing disability rights and educational access, former secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport Baroness Morgan of Cotes examining whether sanctions for digital fraud are tough enough, the former chair of the BBC, Lord Hall looking at whether the license fee is fit for purpose on the Communications Committee. These committees play an important role in scrutinising how new laws passed in Westminster affect people across the UK.
Westminster must redouble its efforts in reaching out and engaging with all parts of the UK. As Lord Speaker, I want to play my part in facilitating this process and this month has been a productive step in the right direction.
Lord McFall of Alcluith is a non-affiliated peer and Lord Speaker.
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