A New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy
Report of the Commission on the UK’s Future
Every country faces a crisis this winter.
But the crisis we face in Britain is not just short-term – it is deep-seated.
The immediate crisis has been caused by the aftermath of Covid, the war in Ukraine, energy price rises, and inflation.
But it is also a crisis made in Downing Street, with economic mismanagement condemning us to recession, the biggest cut in living standards for fifty years and the return of austerity.
And there is also a long-term crisis that arises from an incompetent and ideologically driven government that has failed to deliver acceptable levels of investment, economic success and good paying jobs.
At the root of this failure is not just an outdated neo-liberal economic dogma, but also an unreformed, over-centralised way of governing that leaves millions of people complaining they are neglected, ignored, and invisible, all too often left to feel as if they are treated as second class citizens in their own country.
When we should be unleashing the potential for growth and opportunity in every part of our country, the continuing over-concentration of power in Westminster and Whitehall is undermining our ability to deliver growth and prosperity for the whole country.
This is a vicious circle. The more we lag behind economically the more people feel abandoned by an unresponsive system of government. So what is bad for our economy is also bad for our democracy.
Yet what Britain has been offered is cosmetic change when Britain needs real change.
This report offers a fresh start – with proposals to create a virtuous circle where spreading power and opportunity more equally throughout the country – with the right powers in the right places – unlocks the potential for growth and prosperity in every part of the country, and in doing so revives people’s faith that we can all benefit from a responsive and accountable system of government.
Those who build the present in the image of the past will miss out entirely on the challenges of the future. But recent economic and political failures have left our country ill-equipped for the huge challenges of a fast-changing world – the digital revolution, the medical revolution, and the green revolution – and for the response to climate change, supply chain shortages, global conflict, and automation.
Our economy needs a massive increase to its growth rate. Our health service needs to meet a backlog running into millions of patients and the complex needs of an ageing population. Our education system needs to equip our young people for a radically changing world of work.
Every part of our society needs to find new ways to work together to meet the existential threat of climate change for this generation and the generations to come.
But the way our country is run is preventing us from making the changes we need for that better future.
A Country of Potential
Things need not be this way.
For everywhere you travel in the United Kingdom you can see potential waiting to be tapped, talent yet to be developed, and ability still to be realised.
Go to Leeds and see the potential of the city’s booming tech start-ups which have nearly doubled the capital they’ve raised in just a year.
Go to Glasgow and visit the £1bn Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and imagine how, with encouragement and investment, the city’s precision medicine revolution could change the life chances of millions in just a few years’ time.
Go to South Wales and see the new innovation hub which aims to create a global cyber security cluster – a 22nd century sector, never mind a 21st century one.
Go to Stoke or Grimsby and admire the way in which two towns are working to re-invent themselves through exploiting the opportunities of advanced manufacturing and the green revolution.
Go too to Prescot to see Shakespeare in the North, to Scotland’s National Book Town of Wigtown, or consider the National Theatre’s recent staging of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood and you will see a United Kingdom whose common cultural heritage is endlessly reimagined and reinterpreted by communities its length and breadth, with our very diversity a source of pride.
And these are just a few illustrative examples of the potential that exists outside of the South East of the United Kingdom. Later in the report we identity clusters of inventors, entrepreneurs and skills which, with a supportive environment locally delivered, can create tens of thousands of new well-paid jobs and a new sense that we are all in this together.
We start from basic strengths built on the ingenuity of the British people. Our universities are among the best of the world. Our inventiveness – from Tim Berners-Lee’s development of the World Wide Web, to recent cutting edge advances in vaccines – is world beating. Our research institutions are admired in every continent. And English is the most used language in more countries than any other.
The Scourge of Inequality
Despite this promise, the truth is that we remain a country where too much potential is untapped, too much talent unrealised, too much innovative capacity underdeveloped, and too much creative impulse left with no outlet.
Because, for too long, we have developed only some of the potential of some of the parts of our country, not of everyone, everywhere in the country. Talent is everywhere, but opportunities are not equally spread.
Our Commission was shocked by internationally recognised evidence from Professor Philip McCann. Half the UK population live in areas no better off than the poorer parts of the former East Germany, poorer than parts of central and Eastern Europe. He showed us that that half the population lives in areas where people are poorer than the US states of Mississippi and West Virginia and the quality of life is no better than in Tennessee and Alabama – some of the poorest states in the USA.
But despite the commitment to the pooling and sharing of resources to meet needs where they exist across the United Kingdom, regional economic inequalities have undermined the lives of millions in places cut off from the chance of a better future – and this is reflected in far shorter lives, worse health, far lower wages for the same jobs, and far fewer educational opportunities in some parts of the country than in others.
Today, London and the South East attract 72% of new R&D-intensive jobs, and 45% of all private investment, and enjoy double the average UK infrastructure spend per head. And in the absence of new investment, only London out of every major city has higher than average productivity.
We must stop leaving half the country out of our economy, and we must stop flying on only one wing. Everyone in the South as well as the North loses out from an unbalanced economy, with, congestion, higher housing costs and accelerating inflation in one part of the country, and underemployment, people forced to leave where they grew up for opportunity and often depopulation in another.
So instead of developing only some of the potential of some of the country we must now develop all of the potential of every part of our country.
And to achieve that Britain needs not only an irreversible shift in opportunities across the country – but an irreversible shift in prosperity. It requires a bigger vision than ’Levelling Up’ – because it is not enough to move a deprived area up from the bottom rung of the ladder to the second bottom rung.
The potential of the British people – of all these towns and cities and many others across the United Kingdom – to contribute to our continued technological, cultural, and industrial re-invention is immense and with the right support limitless.
In this report we show that the New Britain we want to build will be an equal opportunity economy – where, with the right powers in the right places, every community can play their full part in delivering national prosperity.
The equal opportunity economy will be a balanced economy, ending the debilitating long term divide between South and North. Because we will address supply chain bottlenecks, skills shortages and underinvestment, our equal opportunity and balanced economy will no longer be the inflation prone economy we see today.
So Britain needs an irreversible shift in opportunity, income and wealth across our whole country. But that will only be guaranteed through an irreversible shift in power, outwards to people across the country. To deliver security and prosperity for all parts of the United Kingdom we must change not only who governs but the way we are governed.
The Loss of Trust
In our research we set out to find how people in all parts of the United Kingdom felt about their future. A poll conducted for this Commission found that by huge majorities of 70-80% people feel invisible to their political leaders.
The further we went from the centre of our country’s political power – Whitehall and Westminster- the stronger the sense of neglect and the deeper the loss of trust.
“Whoever in London thought of that?” was a common refrain when people expressed their frustration at mistakes of policy and failures in delivery. Millions of our fellow citizens do not think democracy works for them. We found that:
- A clear majority – more than 50% of adults – in all places and supporters of all parties currently believe it doesn’t matter who you vote for, nothing will ever really change in Britain.
- Even more – a figure consistently above 60% – believe that Britain has a ruling class who will always rule the country no matter what happens.
- By a majority of two to one millions today think that their local economies are held back by Westminster.
- And while individual MPs do important and respected work, national politicians as a class are today the least trusted people in Britain.
Perhaps more worryingly most voters feel that ‘Britain does not care about their future.’ It is a tragedy if the British people who care about Britain feel that those who govern Britain do not care about them.
These sentiments don’t just threaten Britain’s economic prospects: they threaten the very existence of the United Kingdom.
They undermine the well-documented desire for national unity and people’s desire to feel they are part of something bigger than just themselves – part of a common endeavour and ‘in this together’.
The Change Britain Needs
Nobody who cares about the future of the United Kingdom can ignore the glaring injustices that remain unaddressed across the country, and the clear flaws in the way we have been governed.
For too long we have put the power and resources needed to rebalance our economy and improve people’s lives all over our country in the hands of a small number of people in Westminster and Whitehall.
The UK is the most centralised country in Europe. Too many decisions affecting too many people are made by too few. The deadening, controlling hand of central government is, as we will show, stifling initiative and development throughout the country. The standard right-wing Conservative answer to leave everything to the free market will not work either. Instead we must put more control in the hands of people nearest where they are in every area of the country. Indeed, the challenges we face are now so complex – and the needs of our country are so diverse -that no matter how well-intentioned the powers-that-be are, the one size fits all solutions of the past, imposed from the top, cannot work to the benefit of people everywhere.
So while many of our immediate economic problems can be fixed by pursuing better policies, by stopping the race to the bottom in our economy, Britain, needs change that runs much deeper – giving the people of Britain more power and control over our lives and the decisions that matter to us.
Changing not just who governs us, but how we are governed, will address a system of government that the British people perceive is broken.
All the evidence from recent experience is that putting too much power and control in the hands of a few leads to bad decisions and bad outcomes.
- It led to austerity because we were told by the centre that “there was no alternative”.
- It led to the failure to deliver a coherent UK wide industrial strategy to support British jobs.
- When Covid hit, our faulty wiring was exposed – with central government and local government too often at odds with each other and local leaders rightly complaining that centrally imposed uniform decisions were not founded on an accurate understanding of local needs.
Cutting off too many communities from economic growth and shutting out too many of our people out from the political process are not just flaws in the way that system is operated: they are in the nature of the system itself.
Brexit has not delivered the control people were promised. Britain hasn’t taken back control – Westminster and Whitehall have.
And our over-centralised system has shown itself to be open to abuse –the conventions of our unwritten constitution ignored; conflicts of interest allowed to fester; the use of patronage intensified, and ethical standards – and advisers on ethics – swept aside, ignored by a conservative political class that has tried to act without constraint.
Meanwhile, decisions of vital importance to communities – including the allocation of funds under Levelling Up – are made for increasingly naked party political reasons, further undermining trust.
All of this makes the case for a radical devolution of power to locally elected and locally accountable representatives best placed to identify the needs and opportunities in their own areas, and to unleash the potential that exists everywhere throughout the country.
Our aim must be to put power and resources in the hands of communities, towns, cities, regions and nations, to make their own decisions about what will work best for them.
Our vision must be to ensure that no matter which party is in government, and no matter where they reside, all people and all areas can enjoy the same access to opportunity and prosperity and right to be listened to. Our aim can be summarised as equality of opportunity for all, unfair privileges for no one.
Our Plan for Reform
So to ensure Britain can enjoy the system of government it deserves, we need radical change. In this report we set out a vision of a New Britain founded on a new relationship between our government, our communities, and the people.
A New Britain that gives the British people the power and respect they and their communities want and rightfully deserve to build their own futures.
Over the last two years, our listening exercise has led us to hear the voices of people right across our country. Whether they voted Labour or Conservative, Leave or Remain, Yes or No, they are telling us the same story.
In Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is a united voice across communities demanding change – one that is aimed squarely at realising Britain’s untapped potential and giving everybody a fair and equal voice in our politics.
And it is not change at the edges, tinkering here or there.
The individual changes that we recommend are in our view, common sense reforms that have widespread support across party and geographic lines, but taken together they add up to a radical blueprint for the significant and serious change that people the length and breadth of this country have told us that they want to see.
Firstly, we propose a New Britain of shared purpose.
The purpose of the New Britain should be grounded in the shared values and aspirations that unite the people across our country and to make that possible we need to build new constitutional foundations.
Our constitution should guarantee rights and ensure opportunities – offered by the UK to all its citizens so that all individuals in every place can benefit equally from our shared resources.
And our proposals offer the chance to pursue faster change within a reformed country that treats us all as partners.
Secondly, at the centre of our reinvigorated democracy is ensuring the right powers are in the right places.
Our starting point is a modern system of decision making that does not start from the top – but starts from the people and is grounded in new ways of consulting, participating, and deciding.
Thirdly, we propose a root and branch reform of our centre of government.
To create a new and more responsive centre we must clean up Westminster, rooting out unearned privilege and addressing unaccountable power.
That is why we put forward detailed proposals for abolishing the current undemocratic House of Lords, the fundamental reform of which has been the official goal of successive governments for a century, and replacing it with a democratic chamber that is permanently closer to the British people because it is more representative of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.
But this is not in itself enough to clean up the centre. We need new rules to make politicians more accountable for their behaviour. We need new protections against unacceptable influences on our democratic process, and free our politics from the excessive influence of wealthy donors and in particular the use of foreign money.
We need to prevent the overriding of constitutional conventions that the most previous administrations have accepted as the norm.
We also believe that as part of our new constitutional settlement, there must be a safeguard to ensure that change is permanent as well as profound. This we believe, can be achieved by a smaller, more representative, and thus more legitimate and trusted second chamber- a democratic Assembly of the Nations and Regions – capable of ensuring that power cannot be clawed back to the centre by future governments.
Fourthly, empowerment of our towns, cities and regions.
To enhance our democracy and to improve our economy we must empower towns, cities and regions and nations so that they can make decisions not just about their social priorities but about their economic renewal closer to home.
Across England, we recommend that every town and city is given the powers needed to draw together their own economic and social plan and take more control of their economic future.
In particular we believe that by empowering Mayors, Combined Authorities and local government in new economic partnerships, we can create and advance a supportive environment for the dynamic new clusters in the digital, medical, environmental and creative industries in a new pro-growth strategy, and make every part of our country more prosperous. Enabling our cities, regions and nations to be economic powerhouses in their own right is essential to deliver fairer and more equitable UK-wide economic growth.
Fifthly, a new voice and new status, and new powers, for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as valued parts of the United Kingdom. Our recommendations will give the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a new opportunity to benefit from not only a unique and mutually beneficial combination of self-government and shared government but from a new status we propose each of these nations can enjoy within the United Kingdom.
We recommend embedding this new principle of shared government in the way Westminster and Whitehall works – giving each part of the Union a respected voice in joint decision making, and creating new ways to drive better co-operation.
We recommend strengthening the powers that deliver self-government in the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – based on the principles that devolved self-government should be permanent, expansive, and each elected body held in equal esteem.
There is of course always going to be a role for government at the centre in ensuring an equitable allocation of resources throughout our country, without which we can never be a United Kingdom where all feel treated fairly. But that is not the same as the centre micro-managing and directing what happens in every community. That must change and the balance of power must be reversed.
So our proposals represent a radical rebalancing of power between the centre and those it serves, between the local and national, thus securing a better balance between the local autonomy people desire and the cross-national cooperation that we know we need. Our approach is: as much autonomy as possible, as much cooperation as necessary.
A Reunited Kingdom
Taken together, we believe these reforms can strengthen the United Kingdom for the challenges ahead and bring the peoples of our constituent nations and regions far closer together – connecting our financial centre with new clusters of industry and technology; reconnecting our towns with our cities and our devolved nations with Westminster; and reconnecting our politics with the needs and voices of our fellow citizens.
The economic message is clear. The United Kingdom that built the modern world was not a trickle-down nation: it was a country where innovation and growth rose up from ports, factories and warehouses across every part of the land. To succeed in the modern world and to realise the United Kingdom’s vast potential, we must once again harness the talents, skills and resource of every nation, region, town and city in the land.
Our first industrial revolution was built around mobilising every city and region of the country, backed by the great global city of London. We will only achieve success as a country by rebuilding Britain’s cities and regions as new economic powerhouses spread across the nation.
Not one part moving forward at the expense of the other but all moving forward together, all communities partners in progress, built on the central proposition that in every area of the country we deliver equality of opportunity and fairness of outcome.
The recommendations in this report will help to achieve the irreversible shift in opportunity, wealth and power that we believe that our country is ready to support. This will, help bring a fractured and divided country back together.
Executive Summary of Recommendations
Our first set of recommendations set out how we deliver our vision of a New Britain. Our aim is that each citizen as a member of our country can expect government
- to treat all parts of the UK fairly,
- to guarantee rights and ensure a minimum level of living standards,
- to respect the decisions made by local and devolved authorities.
But today, none of these ambitions gives rise to a legal duty.
Our first recommendations, therefore, seek to embed in law these common understandings and duties of Government:
- The political, social, and economic purposes of the UK as a Union of Nations, which the overwhelming majority of people in the country already accept, should be laid out in a new constitutional statute guiding how political power should be shared within it.
- The common desire for more local control should be reflected in a legal requirement, to require decisions to be taken as close as meaningfully and practicably possible to the people affected by them, so putting power and opportunity closer to each citizen.
- There should be a constitutional requirement that the political, administrative and financial autonomy of local government should be respected by central government.
- There should be an explicit constitutional requirement to rebalance the UK’s economy so that prosperity and investment can be spread more equally between different parts of the UK than it is today, thereby equalising living standards across the country over time.
- There should be new, constitutionally protected social rights – like the right to health care for all based on need, not ability to pay – that reflect the current shared understanding of the minimum standards and public services that a British citizen should be guaranteed.
Our second set of recommendations ensures the right powers in the right places in England so that every town and city can take control of its economic future and have its fair share of resources to play its part in creating prosperity open to all.
There is now an overwhelmingly strong economic, social and political case for ensuring the right powers are in the right places:
- New regional clusters of connected industries can provide the high-paying good jobs we need and increase demand and wages in the everyday economy. To deliver this it is necessary to bring cities, towns and other areas together as part of a coordinated economic strategy.
- Local and devolved decision makers are already substantially more trusted than central government to make decisions in the best interests of their area. There is also clear evidence that people want more of a say on the issues that affect their lives, meaning we need double devolution – pushing power as close as possible to people and communities.
Giving England’s towns, cities, regions, and nations the right powers and resources to make a full contribution to the UK is thus a central part of our recommendations. We need a locally-owned and fairly-resourced prosperity plan for growth in every part of the country, under which cities, towns and communities will take power from the centre and use it in their communities. Our recommendations are:
- Towns and cities across England should be given new powers to drive growth and champion their areas.
- The UK needs a radically reformed suite of place-based, innovation-led R&D programmes, with Mayors and local leaders in all parts of the UK playing a key role in design and delivery. This should include the replacement for EU regional funding, and future support for the Strength in Places Fund.
- The UK Infrastructure Bank should be given an explicit mission to address regional economic inequality in the provision of infrastructure.
- The British Business Bank should be given a new remit to promote regional economic equality in access to investment capital. It should do this by bridging the equity finance gap outside of London and the South East, and should be renamed the British Regional Investment Bank to reflect this change.
- There should be an economic growth or prosperity plan for every town and city to contribute to our shared prosperity, owned by Councils, Mayors, towns and cities working in partnership.
- 50,000 civil service jobs should be transferred out of London, saving at least £200m per year, and more Agency and Public Bodies Headquarters moved out of London. We identify the first dozen of possible candidates.
- Local government should be given greater long-term financial certainty to enable them to invest more confidently in their areas’ futures.
- Local government should be given more capacity to generate its own revenue with new fiscal powers.
- Local leaders should be able to take new powers from the centre, through a new, streamlined process to initiate local legislation in Parliament.
- There should be “double devolution” that pushes power closer to people – giving them and their community the right to have more of a say on the issues that affect them, the services they use and the places they live.
Our third set of recommendations concerns Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The Commission’s blueprint is intended to give the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a new opportunity to benefit from the unique and mutually beneficial combination of self-government and shared government that their nations enjoy: the opportunity to pursue faster change within a reformed UK.
We have listened to the voices of people in Scotland and Wales and understand the deep sense many have of being morally and politically abandoned by the present UK government and the desperation for greater agency – feelings shared equally across much of the UK.
We have accepted the challenge that those who believe in the UK as a positive force have to and will offer a better and more trustworthy prospectus for change than independence. The alternative we put before the people of Scotland and Wales is better than either costly and destructive independence and a stagnating status quo: change within the United Kingdom that can entrench self-government in Scotland whilst improving shared government across Britain and we believe that our recommendations offer not just faster and safer change, but fairer change.
In the past, governments have answered the desire for change in Scotland and Wales by announcing a shopping list of powers, but then practicing a policy of ‘devolve and forget’, which has led to division and resentment. The way forward is to consider all measures that are best to reinforce self-government within the United Kingdom without losing the benefits that co-operation on concerns common to us all can bring.
Our proposals are therefore intended to combine self-government and shared Government:
- To entrench the constitutional status of self-government across the nations of the UK;
- To ensure Scotland and Wales have, with Northern Ireland and the cities and regions of England, a permanent voice not just in the House of Commons but in a reformed second chamber, an Assembly of the Nations and Regions, charged with safeguarding the institutions of self-government;
- To secure the benefits of co-operation between Scottish, Welsh and UK institutions, because we can achieve more within our islands working in partnership than ever we can achieve working on our own;
- To broaden the powers held by the Scottish and Welsh governments to help improve public services and prosperity.
So, our proposals take us beyond today’s binary debate that has focused too long only on which powers are held by whom without thinking of the benefits of co-operation to all. So we set a path for how Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, alongside the towns, cities and regions of England can be respected voices in Britain regardless of which party is in Government, and how shared objectives can be delivered by shared institutions.
In Wales, our proposals strengthen self-government for a new era, but we are mindful that the Welsh Government has set up an independent Commission to make recommendations on constitutional issues. We know that we can rely on the Welsh Labour Government to publish its Plan for Wales that employs to the full the powers of the Senedd and, at the same time, maximises the benefits from co-operation across the United Kingdom.
In Northern Ireland, our proposals can help restore and strengthen devolution, consistent with the principle of consent and the commitments of the Good Friday Agreement and at the same time, improve the prospects for economic growth and good employment prospects for the people of Northern Ireland.
In Scotland, we propose economic, social and constitutional innovations that can make the UK work better for the Scottish people and ensure the people of Scotland are more comfortable with a reformed and more equitable United Kingdom.
By showing the path to reform in both Scotland and across the United Kingdom, we end the debilitating dilemma of the Conservative years – between independence under the SNP and an embattled status quo under the current Government.
Our proposals form the basis of a new way forward for Scotland and the UK – greater power to enact economic and social change through the Scottish Parliament but also within a permanently reformed UK that shares social and economic objectives for better jobs, better public services and shared prosperity.
As a result of these recommendations, a future Labour government in Scotland can deliver new social and economic measures more rapidly and with much less risk and upfront cost than the SNP’s current prospectus for independence, which would see years of Brexit-style negotiations, currency chaos, and immense pressure on Scottish jobs and public services.
Our recommendations strengthen the powers of self-government in the devolved nations, to manage their public services and economies and ensure a distinct voice on the world stage.
- Enhanced Protection: Scottish devolution should be constitutionally protected by strengthening the Sewel Convention and protecting it from amendment through the new second chamber.
- Enhanced status internationally in devolved areas: the Foreign Affairs reservation should be amended to permit the Scottish Government, with the agreement of the Scottish Parliament, to enter into international agreements and join international bodies in relation to devolved matters.
- Enhanced status for MSPs: Members of the Scottish Parliament should enjoy the same privileges and protections as Members of Parliament In relation to statements made in their proceedings.
- Enhanced local control: there is a strong case for pushing power as close as possible to people in Scotland, and consideration should be given to establishing new forms of local and regional leadership, such as directly elected Mayors.
- Enhanced opportunities for co-operation to mutual benefit: there should be not only enhanced self-government for Scotland but strengthened cooperation with the UK Government to address the challenges Scotland faces today.
- Enhanced access to economic resources for Scotland: the British Regional Investment Bank should maximise support for innovation and investment in Scotland, in conjunction with the Scottish National Investment Bank and the European Investment Bank.
- Enhanced protection: Welsh devolution should be constitutionally protected by strengthening the Sewel Convention and protecting it from amendment through the new second chamber.
- Enhanced role for Members of the Senedd: the Welsh Senedd’s members should, if desired, enjoy the same privileges and protections as Members of Parliament in relation to statements made in their proceedings.
- Enhanced powers: new powers should be made available to the Senedd and Welsh Governments, including embarking upon new powers over youth justice and the probation service.
- Enhanced access to economic resources for Wales: the British Regional Investment Bank should maximise support for innovation and investment in Wales, in conjunction with the Welsh Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.
- We support devolution in Northern Ireland, consistent with the principle of consent and the commitments made in the Good Friday Agreement and wish to see it restored and strengthened.
- Enhanced access to economic resources for Northern Ireland: the British Regional Investment Bank should maximise support for innovation and investment in Northern Ireland, in conjunction with Invest NI and the European Investment Bank
Our fourth set of recommendations focus on our institutions of shared government. By giving each part an equal and respected voice in joint decision making and creating new institutions to drive better co-operation we will embed in Westminster and Whitehall a new culture of cooperation in pursuit of shared goals across the UK.
Despite the success of self-government, there has, since the dawn of devolution, been too little shared government. So it is time to reform how the political centre works to make ours an enabling state that encourages and realises the talent and energies of people in all parts of the UK. Our recommendations, therefore, fulfil the desire for local power while recognising the need for national co-operation.
New, legally mandated Councils of the Nations and Regions and of England will replace the present Joint Ministerial Committees and will now include not just devolved administrations but local leaders from within England in shared decision making, so never again can central Government treat communities in the high-handed way we have seen too much during Covid and at other times when local Government has been ignored:
- There should be a ‘solidarity clause’, a legal obligation of co-operation between the different levels of Government and institutions across the UK.
- The UK need a new and powerful institution to drive co-operation between all its governments – a Council of the Nations and Regions.
- The structures of co-operation and of central government and Parliament should respect and recognise those areas of decision making that are England-only.
- Joint policy initiatives in areas of common interest, from climate change to security, should embed co-operation between different levels of government.
- International trade policy should be made more inclusive of devolved leaders across the UK and have an explicit focus on reducing the UK’s regional economic inequality.
- UK-wide departments and public bodies should, as a matter of course, be obliged to make space in their governance and oversight arrangements for national and regional representation.
Our fifth set of recommendations will start the process of cleaning up our politics – making politicians more accountable for their behaviour and fighting back against the excessive influence of donors.
Any change cannot succeed without restoring trust in our political system through new rules and more effective enforcement of the rules governing Ministers’ and MPs’ behaviour:
- We must clean up our politics with new rules for politicians and civil servants, new powers to clamp down on outside earnings for MPs, new laws to eliminate foreign and corrupt money from UK politics, and powerful new institutions to enforce these, to replace the current institutions that have failed.
- There should be a greater role for the public in making and enforcing the rules followed by politicians.
- There should be a powerful new anti-corruption Commissioner to root out criminal behaviour in British political life where it occurs.
Our sixth set of recommendations will clear out the indefensible House of Lords and replace it with a smaller, more representative and democratic second chamber to safeguard the new constitutional basis of the New Britain.
The unelected House of Lords is completely indefensible today. Our country requires a new, democratically legitimate second chamber. That second chamber should perform a function that a second chamber is best able to do: ensure that the constitutional limits on government power are obeyed, that power is truly shared with the devolved legislatures and across England, and give voice explicitly to the different nations and regions of the United Kingdom.
- The House of Lords should be replaced with a new second chamber of Parliament: an Assembly of the Nations and Regions.
- The new second chamber should complement the House of Commons with a new role of safeguarding the UK constitution, subject to an agreed procedure that sustains the primacy of the House of Commons .
- The new second chamber must have electoral legitimacy, and should be markedly smaller than the present Lords, chosen on a different electoral cycle – with the precise composition and method of election matters for consultation.
Our final recommendation is on taking these changes forward.
All of our recommendations can be delivered and have an impact within a single Parliamentary term, and the evidence suggests there could be strong popular support for our proposals for change and reform.
But the British people are the most important stakeholders in the conversation about the future of our country, and we believe these recommendations should form the start of a conversation about a New Britain and require public consultation and further development.
- We recommend that the necessary consultation and preparatory work should begin now, and this should include a ground-up conversation with the people of Britain.