Appearing before the Lords Constitution Committee on Tuesday, the Cabinet Office minister was asked if the UK Government would have contingencies in place if there were to be a vote in favour of independence in the future.
Westminster has long rejected the idea of another referendum, rejecting any request from the Scottish Government for the powers to hold one, with the Prime Minister and his cabinet voicing their opposition to a vote.
Under questioning from Lord Hennessy Mr Gove said: “For a host of reasons, I don’t think we should be having a referendum anytime soon, but should there be a referendum in the future, I think it is important that we learn lessons from the 2014 referendum.
“The lesson that you’ve pointed out is a fair one.
“I make no criticism of people involved in the Edinburgh Agreement or anything after that – where they were entering uncharted territory – but of course we could learn from that about what might be a better approach in the future.”
When asked if he was making a pledge, Mr Gove sidestepped, saying: “I hope that I’ll be enjoying my retirement by the time the next referendum comes along, but that’s in the hands of others.”
The committee meeting, held to look into the union, also looked at the matter of legislative consent.
Under the devolution settlement, if Westminster is looking to legislate in devolved areas it should ask for consent from the necessary parliament using a legislative consent motion (LCM).
The LCM is non-binding, as was seen following the passage of the Internal Market Act and the UK Government’s Brexit deal, both of which were opposed by devolved administrations.
The UK Parliament should only legislate in the absence of an LCM exceptionally
When asked about the use of LCMs, Mr Gove told the committee they must only be used in “exceptional” circumstances.
“I believe that the principle of consent is very important,” he said.
“The UK Parliament should only legislate in the absence of an LCM exceptionally.”
Currently, LCMs are only mandated by convention – meaning they have no legal backing – and Mr Gove said he would be against putting legislative consent “on a statutory basis”, adding: “There are some things that I would rather not see decided in the courts.”
But he did concede that there could be ways to strengthen the process around legislative consent.