Ulster Unionist Peer Lord Empey has briefed Westminster’s Constitution Committee, which is conducting an inquiry on the Union and devolution, and informed them that a key warning from the Northern Ireland experience, is that the UK Government must not merely ‘devolve and forget’.
During the evidence session, Lord Empey outlined the feelings and sentiment of the Northern Irish people towards the Union, the benefits and failings of devolved powers and the need for a co-ordinated UK-wide approach to constitutional matters.
Lord Empey said:
“I welcome the Constitution Committee’s inquiry as it is a debate that needs to be had in light of the recent ad-hoc approach of devolving powers throughout the UK regions. The Scotland Bill and the first usages of English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) have served to further highlight the disparity in the levels of devolved powers across the UK. We must address the lack of any tangible overall strategy as this approach is damaging to our unwritten constitution and the Union.
“I explained to the Committee that the Belfast Agreement made it evident that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the Union. Since 1998 we have witnessed a clear rise in support for the Union from across our province. The agreement allowed Northern Ireland citizens to clearly and comfortably express their cultural and national identities. If we are to construct a UK-wide strategy to reinvigorate the Union, we must not simply adopt a one-size-fits-all approach as the modern United Kingdom contains those who relate to multiple cultural and national identities.
“A key warning from the Northern Ireland experience is that the UK Government must not merely ‘devolve and forget’. The UK Parliament has a responsibility to oversee and set standards for devolved governments. On the same note, devolved powers must be accountable to Westminster, as UK tax payers deserve to know if their money is being well spent or not.
“I eagerly await the Committee’s report on their inquiry and wish them well in their efforts to ensure that our Union remains strong, relevant and effective.”