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Justification for a Federal Option for the British Isles

[Initially written in 2001 (updated subsequently)]

The federal option requires consideration and public discussion for a number of reasons, including the following:

A] Reform of the House of Lords.

The Government has taken the preliminary step of abolishing the rights of most of the hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords, thereby committing itself to a permanent reform of the House. The federal option will provide an answer to the question as to how to proceed with the permanent reform. My view on the matter is as follows: In recommending a model for the reform of the House of Lords, one ought to consider the fact that the British system of government is no longer a unitary one. It has changed into a decentralised one - almost into a de facto, if not de jure, federal one. As a matter of strict law, the Westminster Parliament might be able to repeal the Devolution Acts, but that is theory and has no relation to reality, to use the language of Viscount Sankey LC in British Coal Corporation v The King (1935) AC 500 at p. 520 with reference to the Statute of Westminster vis--vis the Dominions. This is the point that I made in my submission to the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords. I recommended that the reformed House of Lords ought to be elected by the Regional Assemblies. Of course, this means that there has to be an English Parliament together with other Regional Assemblies. Otherwise England would will be unrepresented in the reformed House of Lords effected on this basis. However, my current position is that the Upper House ought to be appointed by the governments of the federating units i.e. the regional governments. The justification for this approach is to be found in my articles entitled " How to Avoid Nuclear War between India and Pakistan" and " A Peaceful Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict", available on this website.
This calls for consideration of the federal option.

B] A Federal Solution to the Problem of Northern Ireland - as an Alternative to Devolution with a Power-sharing Executive

The impasse over decommissioning of terrorist arms is due to an underlying issue. That is this. The Unionists seek peace on the basis of status quo i.e. no change in the status of Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom. The Nationalists want an end to violence on the basis of a change in status quo ie. re-unification of Ireland. It appears that there is no room for compromise between the parties on this issue. The unionists insist on the surrender of arms by the terrorists including the Nationalists so that the latter will have no means of bringing about the unification of Ireland. The Nationalists on the other hand are not prepared to give up arms until their political objective of the unification of Ireland is achieved. If they decommission prior to reunification, then they feel that they would be deprived of the means to put any pressure on the parties concerned to realising their objective. This explains the impass over the issue. Therefore the problem calls for an alternative approach which could be the federal option involving the whole of the British Isles as proposed in my book 'A Federal Constitution for the United Kingdom - An Alternative to Devolution' (1997).

A re-united Ireland as part of a federal United Kingdom retaining its separate membership of the United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe and a role in foreign affairs, is likely to meet the Nationalists' demands. The federal option would permit Northern Ireland to stay within the United Kingdom and could provide effective guarantees of the Protestants' rights in a re-united Ireland and make provisions for their meaningful role in the mainstream of life, both in the Irish and the federal British context. This is likely to be acceptable to the Unionist.

Consequently the federal option as proposed in my book has the potential of meeting the fundamental demands of both sides to provide the basis for a settlement.


C] The Government White Paper on Devolution: Your Region, Your Choice: Revitalising the English Regions (Cm5511, May 2002)

The White Paper proposes elected regional assemblies for those English regions where there is public support for them. It does not propose devolution of substantial executive powers, let alone legislative powers. A pre-condition for such a devolution is the abolition of county councils, thereby installing a new layer of local government which would be too remote and too expensive. The proposal is in fact about changes in the system of local government which do not answer the 'English question'. This boils down to the proposition that, whilst Scotland can have an assembly with powers over legislation and taxation, the English assemblies, if established, can have no such powers. It leaves unanswered the so-called West Lothian question: Why should Scottish MPs be allowed to vote at Westminster on English issues, when English MPs would not be allowed to vote on Scottish issues devolved at Edinburgh?

Devolution in England will never be an answer to the West Lothian Question unless regional assemblies have as much power as the Scottish Assembly and Britain becomes a truly federal state. [M A Fazal, A Federal Constitution for the United Kingdom - An Alternative to Devolution (1997) Preface xv-xvi]

Furthermore the Government White Paper does not address itself clearly to the question of regional disparity among the devolved territories. Increasingly this is becoming a challenging issue in all the federations and even within the European Union. Consequently regional equalisation is a relevant issue in the context of devolution/ decentralisation. It is dealt with in my website articles: 1. How to Avoid Nuclear Between India and Pakistan, 2. A Peaceful Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. However, the Government White Paper does not seem to disclose any sensitivity on this issue.


D] In the context of the current debate over independence for Scotland, it is submitted that the Scottish demands can be accommodated within the federal scheme as proposed in my book entitled “A Federal Constitution for the United Kingdom-An Alternative to Devolution (Dartmouth, 1997). The federal model constructed in this book provides for the maximum independence/autonomy of the federating units consistent with federalism, provisions for equalisation of the units of the federation so that the poorer/weaker units can catch up with the stronger/prosperous ones rapidly (the theme of equalisation has been further developed in my articles on the peaceful resolution of international conflicts available on this website) and a role in foreign affairs for the units of the federation thus enabling Scotland to be a member of the European Union, the Council of Europe and even the United Nations. Therefore the federal constitutional settlement as proposed in my book IS CAPABLE OF MEETING SCOTLAND'S DEMANDS IN FULL WHILE AT THE SAME TIME RETAINING THE UNITY OF THE UNITED KINGDOM. In view of the importance of maintaining the integrity of the country, this proposal calls for consideration by the relevant parties.

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