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Lord Foulkes: If we do not examine options for a Federal government, we face the inevitable break up of Britain

4 min read

We need a comprehensive devolution of all services in England to regional authorities and an indirectly elected 'Senate of the Nations and Regions' to replace the House of Lords, writes Lord Foulkes.

The result of the 2016 Referendum did not just herald our sad withdrawal from the EU, it started a process which could end in the breaking up of the United Kingdom.

The clamour for Scottish Independence is growing and it will be increasingly difficult for even the Tory Government to resist a second referendum on Scottish independence.

And in Northern Ireland, as the different regimes in the UK and EU move further apart, the arguments for a United Ireland will become more compelling.

At present the UK Government is hoping they can counter these centrifugal forces with the tinkering changes to central government proposed by Lord Dunlop. They will soon be disabused of the effectiveness of such measures.

So, what is the alternative that could stop the break-up?

Today at Lords Questions I will be raising yet again the idea of a Federal United Kingdom which I have been pursuing for many years now, sadly so far to little effect. But the need for an alternative constitutional future for the UK is now more urgent and maybe more likely to receive attention.

Each time I raise it, the familiar objections resurface. “England is so much bigger than the other countries”. “John Prescott tried it before and failed” and “We are already devolving powers in England and more is planned”.

However, the English democratic deficit is one of the reasons we need some change, Prescott’s plan was an Assembly with no teeth in one region only and the current devolution in England is a hotch --potch of different schemes with many areas left behind.

What we need is a comprehensive, coherent but not uniform devolution plan for England and then an overarching arrangement which brings in the other three countries.

My personal favourite would be maximum devolution of all services, including health and transport to regional authorities in England and an indirectly elected Senate of the Nations and Regions to replace the House of Lords.

But my personal view is not the only option and probably not the best and certainly should not be seen as an Aunt Sally which has been set up to be knocked down and distract attention from the principle.

Instead we need to look at how we achieve an agreed plan. For this we do not need a crystal ball when we can study history.

In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament and administration was devised by a Scottish Constitutional Convention representing political parties, trades union and employers, churches and other civil society bodies after widespread debate and consultation. The blueprint of the Convention was then implemented by Parliament with relatively little change.

I am now suggesting, as is Gordon Brown, that the Government should set up a UK Constitutional Convention to examine options for a Federal or Confederal United Kingdom, which would consult widely and report to Parliament to enable it to introduce legislation to implement the recommendations.

We shall be urging people and parties to join in the campaign to persuade the Government to accept this idea, which is increasingly accepted by academics and politicians as the preferred way forward.

However, if we do not succeed, we should follow one other aspect of the Scottish precedent and set up our own Convention with Labour, the Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Northern Ireland parties as well as all parts of civil society, which would consult through citizen’s assemblies and other means, produce a plan and then put it to the Government.

If we even then fail to persuade this Government we will nevertheless have an agreed plan which can be legislated for by the next Government and implemented quickly, as was Scottish devolution.

We will also have an alternative to the break up scenario that otherwise stares us in the face as the only option.

If we do not succeed I fear we will face the inevitable break up of Britain. 


Lord Foulkes is a Labour Member of the House of Lords.

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