I am pleased to share with you the following formal response from Munira Mirza, Director of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit, to our consultation on the Union and Constitution, completed in March 2021.
John Hayward, CPF Manager
Thanks to you and CPF members for another insightful submission, this time on Union and Constitutional matters.
It was of course good to see members extolling the many benefits of the Union, and highlighting the importance of ensuring that we are focussed on strengthening our ties with Wales and Northern Ireland as well as with Scotland. For the UK to prosper, all parts of the Union must prosper, which is why we have placed levelling-up the UK at the heart of our agenda. To deliver on this we have announced a £4.8 billion levelling up fund over four years, of which at least £800 million will be set aside for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. We are also providing an additional £220 million of funding through the UK Community Renewal Fund (UKCRF) that will support local areas as we prepare for the launch of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) in 2022.
The UKCRF will deliver targeted investment across the UK. It will focus on skills to better help people into employment and on investment in local businesses, working directly with local authorities who are best placed to understand the needs of their communities. The UKSPF is the successor to the EU Structural Fund programme, and through it we will be able to maximise the benefits of the leaving the EU by better targeting and aligning spending with our domestic priorities, and by delivering that funding much more quickly now that we are unencumbered by red tape from Brussels. We will set out further details on the UKSPF as part of the Spending Review later this year.
While it did not seem to feature prominently amongst respondents, CPF members interested in the future of the Union should have on their radar the independent review into transport connectivity between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and England, led by Sir Peter Hendy CBE. The Union Connectivity review will offer recommendations later this year on how the UK Government can level up transport infrastructure, enhance access to economic opportunity and ensure an even better-connected Union. Earlier this year, Sir Peter’s interim report highlighted the importance of faster and higher capacity through HS2 to Scotland and North Wales and rail improvements in South-East Wales.
We agree with those CPF members that highlighted a need for local decision making to be both strengthened and made more accountable across the Union. We need more go-ahead local leaders that are pro-business, pro-investment and pro-growth that champion their town, county and or city. The Government has made progress over the past decade through the Localism Act and devolution to English city regions. It is important to ensure that metro mayors not only speak for their areas but take genuine responsibility for taking tough decisions and getting things done. Ben Houchen and Andy Street are models in this respect. We will set out our plans for taking this agenda forward as part of a Levelling up White Paper later this year.
Turning to the courts, we agree that the sovereignty of Parliament is the fundamental principle of the Constitution and that it must not be undermined. A US-style system whereby judges can strike down legislation would be a very bad thing both for the people and for the judiciary. The rule of law is critically important and we should take great pride in the reputation of our judges. At the same time we must remember that the rule of law is not the same as the rule of the courts. Greater powers for the judiciary are not a good thing if it leads to politicisation of the courts.
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 introduced a great number of changes to our constitution. It replaced the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords with the Supreme Court and it significantly changed the role of the Lord Chancellor. These reforms were not properly thought through by the Labour Government and were done in part for internal party management. It is therefore right to take a proper look at the 2005 Act to see if it is working properly, as the Lord Chancellor is currently doing.
Similarly, the Human Rights Act introduced a number of significant changes to our constitutional arrangement. It gave our courts the power to consider whether Acts of Parliament are compatible with an international treaty and it also gave our courts a power to re-write Acts of Parliament to fix incompatibilities. At the same time, our ability to successfully defend British laws before the European Court of Human Rights is enhanced by having our domestic courts consider such issues first. It has been twenty years since the Human Rights Act came into force and so it is right to review its operation. This is why the Lord Chancellor has asked a committee of experts chaired by Sir Peter Gross to conduct a review of the Act and make recommendations. The Government will carefully consider those recommendations in due course.
As announced in the Queen’s speech we will bringing legislation to reform Judicial Review. JR is an important tool to ensure that Government acts within the scope of the powers which Parliament has granted it, but it must not be abused to cause needless delays or to conduct politics by other means. There are indeed areas which should not be subject to judicial review, this includes matters of high policy. Therefore, in the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill (which repeals the Fixed Term Parliament Act) we are putting it beyond doubt that dissolution is not subject to judicial review.
We agree that any discussion about reform of the House of Lords should start with its function. In our view the function of the House of Lords is to be a revising chamber and the House of Commons should have primacy over it. An elected House of Lords would likely challenge the primacy of the Commons, and so it is not an option we are attracted to.
It is also worth highlighting to CPF members interested in these issues that we are enacting boundary reforms, legislating to protect the integrity of our elections, and granting the right to vote to UK citizens overseas for life.
Thank you and the CPF for the continued engagement,