An English Parliament would not deliver devolution for England

It would in fact be Cameron’s constitutional turkey.

It would in fact be Cameron’s constitutional turkey

As Christmas draws nearer so too does the unveiling of the government’s proposals for English votes for English laws. Against the backdrop of the Scottish independence referendum and the rise of UKIP in England, the prime minister sees this as his opportunity to square the circle and give his Conservative colleagues an early present.

Despite the so-called West Lothian question having first been articulated in 1977 and no solution having been found to date, David Cameron thinks he can find one by end of this parliamentary term.

But as the respected constitutional expert – and Cameron’s former Oxford tutor – Vernon Bogdanor has said, ‘a constitution is for life not just for Christmas’.

Indeed, politicians and commentators alike have said that English votes for English laws will mask rather than resolve current constitutional concerns. Following three tumultuous years of talk of Scottish separation, Cameron’s proposals threaten to destabilise the British constitution and the United Kingdom itself.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that English voters are angered by what they perceive as more generous social policies north of the border – the removal of higher education tuition fees, prescription charges and free personal care for the elderly – funded by taxes raised in England.

However these voices seldom mention the massive cuts to college funding, the absence of a cancer drugs fund and the postcode lottery that exists for care in Scotland.

The reality, then, is that devolution, by definition, gives the devolved administrations choice over their policy priorities – while financial arrangements remain a separate and distinct issue.

The Scottish electorate rejected independence at the ballot box and as a result the cross-party Smith Commission has agreed a series of further powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The constitution of the ‘union state’ is shifting, but – as before – commonality and difference have been respected.

But Cameron’s plan to pursue English votes for English laws does not respect the differences between the nations as it will exclude the representatives of some nations from the institution that binds the UK together. At the same time, the debate surrounding it will distract from the real challenge of decentralising power from London to the nations of the UK and the regions of England.

Scotland has been on along devolutionary journey: not only three years of its citizens actively engaging in the independence referendum debate, culminating in a record turnout of 84.5 per cent; nor fifteen years of devolved government; but 300 years of self-administration and a distinct political culture including civic society.

Cameron’s shotgun plans, in contrast, were drawn up during a brainstorm amongst elites at Chequers and are to be discussed by a Cabinet Committee in Whitehall. Labour is the party of devolution and it is right that Ed Miliband has refused to join the Committee.

Creating an English Parliament, or introducing English votes for English laws which is much the same thing, would not deliver devolution for England. Power would continue to be centralised in Westminster and Whitehall.

Indeed, that is why Labour has called for the devolution of economic powers to the cities and regions of England.

A Parliament within a Parliament can also not work in practice. The McKay Commission, which considered the West Lothian Question for the current government, proposed that English laws be considered by a Grand Committee consisting of English MPs. This would mean, however, that policy choices with revenue-raising implications are separated from control over taxation which could lead to political deadlock.

Moreover, if Scottish MPs are to be excluded, so too would Welsh and Northern Irish MPs, as well as those from London, depending upon what was being debated which would lead to a situation described as ‘legislative hokey cokey’.

As many have said, it is also simply not possible to identify legislation that only affects England: funding for the devolved administrations is calculated as a proportion of UK spending and so MPs from outside England retain an implicit interest in the policy choices of the UK government. This is why the SNP’s position to not vote on ‘English laws’ at present is misguided and misleading.

In any case, MPs representing English constituencies have always been able to outvote those representing elsewhere: of 650 MPs Scotland only has 59, for example. Speaking in a House of Commons debate on this issue, Gordon Brown noted that England contains 84 per cent of the UK population, Scotland 8 per cent, Wales 5 per cent and Northern Ireland 3 per cent; also that the smaller nations of the UK need to be represented at the political centre to ensure that their rights are respected:

“If that is not recognised by this government today in this House, it is recognised in America where the rules of the Senate mean that Wyoming—a minority part of the country—with half a million people has two Members of the Senate, as does California with 38 million people. It is also recognised in Australia where Tasmania with 700,000 people and New South Wales with 7 million people have 12 members each in the Senate. It is recognised in the constitutions of Spain, Switzerland, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria and Mexico.

Without a proper constitutional convention, involving politicians and the public alike, as proposed by Miliband, there can be no effective solution to the West Lothian Question.

A convention would undoubtedly be a complicated process, but it is necessary if we are to reconcile the differences left by asymmetric devolution.

In the meantime, it is right that the promises made to the electorate in Scotland are delivered. Rather than trying to reduce the status of Scottish MPs, the government should be building on Scotland’s experience of energising the electorate to build British solidarity.

As the referendum campaign illustrated, we need to speak more about the positive benefits of our ‘union state’ whilst also delivering devolution across the country which respects the history and aspirations of each of the nations and regions. English votes for English laws will do neither, and that is why it is Cameron’s constitutional turkey.

Dan Sharp is a Labour Party member and works for a researcher for a Labour MP

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15 Responses to “An English Parliament would not deliver devolution for England”

  1. Asteri

    There is no thought out proposals for what English devolution would look like. Having a separate English parliament and First Minister of England would be unnecessary and would be like having 2 prime ministers and two parliaments. The regional plan is a better alternative. The problem with this though is that both parties have traditionally been against regional government and previous plans for it have come to nothing. The ‘English regions’ proposal put forward by Blair lacked support because these regions were too big and had no real cohesive identity (Cumbria and Manchester being part of the same region), the countries are too small for autonomy so the best way forward are smaller regions comprised to 3 or 4 countries that have a similar identity e.g. Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset or Yorkshire and Lancashire as another and having London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool as devolved cities.

  2. Asteri

    That should read County’s not countries.

  3. madasafish

    If English Regional Areas were to be adopted and put on the same basis as Scotland and Wales, they would have tax raising and spending powers.And control of Health and Education.

    How long before the South East and London object to subsidising everyone else? About five years is my guess.

    It will not work as the areas will have no recognised identity unlike teh Scots or the Welsh…

    The article starts with the premise that an English Parliament is a bad thing and proves it is a bad thing. Well, who would have guessed that?

    Suppose it started from a clear objective of setting up a realistic method of representing the English? I expect it would find a viavble solution.

    But a viable solution will cut the Labour Party away from its forty odd Scots MPs. So neither this nor any other Labour supporting blog/forum will ever support it.

    So why bother wtih a pointless debate when you have made up your minds before you start?

  4. Robin Tilbrook

    That depends on whether by Devolution you mean localism or an English equivalent to Scottish NATIONAL Devolution?If the latter then NB “The public backs an English Parliament by a margin of almost two
    to one (64% versus 36%)” >>>

  5. Progressive

    Clearly the author of this article doesn’t recognize England as a nation deserving democratic representation in the same way Scotland does, and is therefore an anglophobe. Whether English cities or regions will eventually get more powers is a separate issue entirely. At the moment it is wholly unfair that Scottish MPs can impose laws on England (such as tuition fees in the late nineties; still no apology from the Labour Party for that vile episode). We on the left cannot promote nationhood so avidly in Scotland, and then act to suppress it in England. That’s prejudiced and, according to all opinion polls (and the 2011 census), goes totally against public opinion in the north, south, east & west of England.

    Dan Sharp is taking this position because it benefits him and his party to gerrymander our political system in this way, only giving democracy to nations/regions/entities thought likely to vote Labour. Either that or he’s simply just another New Labour anglophobe. I suspect both.

  6. Wyrdtimes

    Labour hates England and the English that much is crystal.

  7. Selohesra

    There is no need for a separate Parliament for England or for regions – that is just added expense and bureaucracy. Britain & UK needs less rather than more politicians – there are far too many left and right who just trot out party line and soundbites and add no real value
    All that is needed is assessment for each vote as to whether if debated in Scotland it would be Scotland only issue – if it is then let the Scots join debate in England but not vote in relation to England.

  8. Guest

    Keep projecting.

  9. Guest

    He’s you? Nasty.

    Left of who, the three-letter acronym parties?

  10. Guest

    Yea, your one Dear Leader….

  11. Selohesra

    On the sauce again Leon?

  12. EdmundforEngland

    England as the rest of the constituent’s nations of the UK should have an
    English Parliament with the four assemblies having equal grade of devolution.

    The English exchequer should collect all taxes –Income Tax, VAT, Corporation Tax….- and
    pay a quote to The British government to subsidise the reserved matters such as
    Defence foreign affairs… The English government as happen in Germany and
    Canada should establish a system of financial equalization resulting in all the
    English region having equal fiscal capacity per head.

    To reduce costs and number of politicians one of the two chambers of the British
    Parliament should evolve into an England’s Parliament with equal representation
    of each English region regardless population –this model is used in USA and
    other federal countries where California (38m) and Delaware (<1m) have 2 or Australia each state elects 12 senators. It should be located outside London.

    An English constitutional convention should debate and make an agreement about
    these matters. The agreement should be vote in a referendum for the People of

    The another chamber should evolve to a British Parliament –unicameral or bicameral- with equal number of MPs from each nation of the UK with powers in Defence Foreign affairs..

    If you like the idea of an English Parliament sign the

    English Parliament e-petition to The House of Commons

    English Parliament Poll

    Independence Poll

    English Sovereign State Movement

  13. Guest

    Keep accusing others of your issues.

  14. Guest

    So a race to the bottom on tax…unlike Canada or Germany…

    And a unicameral English legislature which means London has no real say, right, and would be leeched off hard. (when it should be it’s own region)

  15. EdmundforEngland

    So a race to the bottom on tax….. unlike Canada or Germany…

    What about Bavarians in Germany
    What about Quebequers in Canada
    What about Basques in Spain
    What about Texan in USA
    What about Tasmanian in Australia
    What about Scots in UK
    What about Welsh in UK

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