There Should be an English Parliament
Devolution in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales has been viewed as a positive step. However, there remains a discrepancy as there is no devolved body in place for England. There is growing resentment within England that this is not the case, as there is a percieved inbalance in decision making between England, and the other members of the Union. MP's have started to take notice of the "english question" with the Conservatives leaning more towards a "english votes for english laws" policy, where as Labour and the Liberal Democrats favour regionalism. [[http://devolutionmatters.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/the-english-question-seen-from-westminster/]]
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English Devolution is a necessary step in ensuring English issues are dealt with
The Westlothian Question
Labour has 38 Scottish MPs, compared to the Conservative Party's single Scottish MP. They are using their Scottish MPs to pass legislation that would otherwise lack the support to pass.
Don't forget that Labour also has 29 Welsh MPs who can be ordered to the lobbies to vote for laws that only apply in England.
England is the largest and most populous country
England has the largest population and largest number of constituencies but is the only home nation without its own parliament. Surely England should be the most independent of all the home nations when it comes to political decision making due to these two factors.
Scots and Welsh MPs have in fact already forced legislation on England against the wishes of English MPs because MPs split along party lines. Such legislation includes top-up university tuition fees, foundation hospitals, [[Meg Russell and Guy Lodge , Constitution Unit, School of Public Policy, University College London - January 2006, http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/files/preleases/2005/CU%20PR%20Labour%20and%20Scottish%20MP%27s.pdf%5D%5D 42-day detention, changes in the planning laws, select regional committees - and even approval for the 3rd runway at Heathrow to which the Conservatives put down a blocking amendment supported by majority of English MPs but rejected through the intervention of MPs from Scotland and Wales who were asked to support the Government to prevent Brown's administration from being destabilised.
This was of course not the case the other way round. English MPs could and regularly did force policies on to the fringe countries that they would not have voted for themselves.
It would allow cut backs in Westminster
It would give England recognition and representation
Debates about matters affecting only England are deliberately confused with terms like "our country" and "the country".
England has no direct representation in Europe. Our other regional entities on the other hand are much better off as the EU likes power being devolved to the regions. The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments have EU offices in Brussels.[[http://www.ukrep.be/scotland.html]] The extra profile that a regional parliament can give has been shown by Scotland, Alex Salmond has engaged in whiskey diplomacy at the Copenhagen conference[[Jonathan Watts, Alex Salmond's whisky warning to world leaders in Copenhagen, guardian.co.uk, 15/12/09, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/15/alex-salmond-copenhagen-whisky%5D%5D
An English Parliament would solve all situations where England is not represented.
A properly resolved English Question gives all of us a say, not just one faction
However, this has left a big question at the heart of government, which has also had a knock-on effect culturally:
“How should England be governed?”
This is often referred to in the media as “The English Question”; it is a question that the major political parties have, so far, avoided answering in a satisfactory manner. In fact, the major parties seem to avoid any mention of England and Englishness altogether.
They have either pushed the British agenda or wished to impose the regionalisation of England against the will of the people. The failure of the English regional assembly referendum in the North East in 2004 was due to the proposed assembly being no more than a glorified county council, whose geographical area and powers were dictated from the centre, without consultation with the grassroots.
But there has also been a current of thought, that to debate England and Englishness is inherently racist. This has led to a subsequent reluctance to either encourage the flying of the flag of England or to celebrate St George’s Day.
This has acted as a marvellous recruiting sergeant for parties and organisations of the right and far-right, such as the BNP, with their promises of an English “Folk” Parliament – with its ensuing visions of Apartheid-era South Africa – and the English Defence League.
Therefore two aims need to be addressed. The first aim is to articulate, debate and resolve the various aspects of the English Question, in particular with respect to providing England with a legitimate political voice.
The second aim is to identify a vision for the various aspects of England and Englishness that is not nationalistic in nature, but draws on the experience and contributions of all who engage in the debate. For England is a country; it is not a colour, a race or a religion.
Where there’s disagreement on the aims, let's hope to come to an accommodation that’s acceptable to all involved. Where there’s agreement, let's articulate the most appropriate way of taking things forward.
Currently the right seem to be in the driving seat with regard to the English Question. If we can offer a collective, forward-looking, dynamic and all-inclusive vision of England and Englishness that the people of England can sign up to, as opposed to the nationalistic jingoism and flag-waving of the right, the balance can be redressed.
Adapted from the article "The left-wing case for an English parliament" by Dave Dyke on Left Foot Forward, published 18th March 2010. [[http://www.leftfootforward.org/2010/03/the-left-wing-case-for-an-english-parliament/]]
The Union needs to be re-invented for the 21st century
In the 21st century, the continuance of the Union should rest on the consent of the peoples of all of the British nations. By granting devolved assemblies to Scotland and Wales in 1998, the Labour party has opened the next chapter in the life of the Union.
Through referendums, the people of Scotland and Wales opted for substantial home rule. In Scotland, devolution was preceded by the Claim of Right for Scotland, which recognised that the Scottish people had a sovereign right to determine the form of government best suited their needs. This document was signed by, among others, Gordon Brown.[[http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1999/06/99/scottish_parliament_opening/380989.stm]] The Claim echoes the International Convention on Civil & Political Rights (1976), Article 1 of which says "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."[[http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cpr.html]] The people of Scotland are therefore entitled if they wish to opt for independence. If they did so, and Unionist politicians are curiously reluctant to allow them to exercise this democratic right, this would break up the United Kingdom which was formed by the Union of England and Scotland, agreed by each Parliament, in 1707.
The people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland also have the right to determine their own futures. This was admitted by the British Government in the case of Northern Ireland, which is free to join the Irish Republic if its people vote to do so. The people of England have not been offered their own assembly, let alone independence. Yet since 1998, the sense of a reclaimed English identity has been strengthening. If this is not offered a political channel, we will eventually see breakaway parties gaining votes in England. The Union has much in its favour. Seeking the consent of the people would secure its future. Ignoring the English Question, hoping that it might 'go away' risks that future.
England is the only country in the United Kingdom that does not have the right of self-legislation
It has been argued that England is too big - that the North has little in common with the south. Come on! On a world scale, this country is tiny! And though a Londoner might barely be able to understand a Geordie, and vice versa, it does not alter the point that England is, under the present system, disenfranchised, because the Cockney and Geordie can't campaign, stand or vote for an English parliament. Arguing to split England up into Euro-regions is, to my mind, an attempt to divide and rule. England needs a legislature that can decide her affairs without external agendas from the other nations overruling the common good from within.
England needs a regional government
Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland are smaller units with their own parliament but England would not be sensible if it was divided into one separate parliament. Instead it should be divided into areas and built up like a regional government. This was the original plan as part of Labour's devolution process. To suddenly create an English Parliament would be a slapdash response to a more serious political problem aimed only at appeasing a minority of nationalists.
The reason that regional goverment failed to get much popular support in England may be that the proposed Regional Assemblies were percieved to be Westminster's representatives in the regions, rather than a genuine committment to create regional devolution.
For better or worse, the Labour party created the Scottish and Welsh assemblies to give those nations ' national focus'. Devolution to English regions would leave England without such a national focus. Labour's plan for England did not provide England with regional governments comparable with the Scottish and Welsh assemblies. The powers proposed were more limited even than those transferred to the NAWA. The Conservative Bow group considered a proper devolution of powers but that never became policy.
The regions themselves, with the exception of Yorkshire, have no historic or cultural identity. They are simply lines on the map. The only part of England that might conceivably need its own devolved assembly is Cornwall but Labour's proposals mean that Cornwall is governed from Bristol rather than Truro. England is not a 'huge area'. It is a small country in terms of size. While the English form 80% plus of the UK population there is just as much diversity in Scotland (where two native languages are spoken) and in Wales. The Outer Hebrides have little in common with the cities of the Lothian’s - except that they are Scottish.
Even more importantly, the people of England clearly do not want regional government. There was a mere 15% support in the latest British Social Attitudes Survey. Regionalisation is a top-down policy imposed by the British Government. Localisation could be better effected by allowing existing councils to make strategic or ad-hoc arrangements to cover matters of mutual interest. Regions may be the Napoleonic solution to the governance of England but they are not the democratic one.
We do not need another layer of representation
An English Parliament does not have to be in London. Either the English or British Parliaments (at a certain cost) could be sited somewhere north of Watford, thus helping to reduce the North-South divide.
The Scottish Parliament is hardly 'local' to the Outer Hebrides and even less to the Orkneys and Shetland Isles.
People certainly want more decisions taken locally so long as this does not exacerbate the 'post code lottery'. For example, people are upset if car-parking is free at hospitals in some areas and not in others, of if certain drugs are available in some areas but not in others. The English Parliament would have powers comparable to those of the Scottish Parliament and would represent England's national interests (which are not identical with those of Scotland and Wales).
The 'hole that needs to be filled' is called England. English taxpayers should be able to elect MPs who will enact health and education policies for England without interference from Scotland and Wales.
The population of England dwarfs all other devolved regions and would create an uneven and unstable Union.
A better solution is a move to a full federal Union where the population of each federal region is as pragmatically equal as possible (as was Labour's original plan for devolution). England is not one homogeneous region, and has a clear north-south divide. Federal regions would allow less well off regions to introduce policies that would be more befitting to the more local needs e.g. the North East could reduce corporation taxes to attract more investment to that region. This would help to reduce the north-south divide by reducing the excessive concentration of political and economic power that currently exists in the South East.
Another good idea would to be to give the English federal regions more meaningful names than the purely geographical "South West" or "North East" etc. These names could be taken from the rich ancient heritage of the regions e.g. Dumnonia, Mercia, Northumbria, Brigantes etc.
England already dominates the Union.. Creating a federal UK between nations would not therefore increase English domination and might conceivably lessen it, as devolution has begun to show.
The English Parliament would only become 'more important' to the English on matters of English domestic policy, just as the Scottish Parliament is now more important than Westminister for the Scottish people on these matters.
England is no more or less 'homogenous' than Scotland or Wales and indeed regional differences in England are less significant than those in Scotland, as suggested elsewhere in this debate.
The trouble with setting up artificial regions in England is two-fold: first, it is precisely that they are artificial. Dreaming up names that pre-date the unification of Englannd under Athelstan over 1000 years ago makes them anachronistic and inaccurate as well as artificial.Secondly, even the Labour party never contemplated a degree of regional devolution for England equivalent to devolution in Scotland or Wales. It was not a serious programme for decentralisation. The Bow Group paper, mentioned earier in this debate, went further taking devolution its logical conclusion. If implemented, this would have caused more problems (and conflict) than it would solve. It would create what Will Hutton called 'a witches' brew of internecine rivalry ' (just as in the seven kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England). There are problems even today over transfers of payments when Welsh people receive treatment in England. Reducing corporation tax is not a straightforward matter either as, this month, the devolved adminstrations are hesitating over supporting a possible reduction in their coporation tax - because it would mean that their 'federal grant' was proporationately reduced.
The arguments in favour of regional assemblies could be made as a reform of English local government, replacing counties with regions, and this was part of Labour's plans. The evidence so far is that there would be no diminution in the North-South divide, no significant economic gains for poorer regions and no serious decentralisation of government.
What England needs are what Ben Bradshaw called the 'joys of devolution' - the right to implement English domestic policies within England without tthe veto of MPs from the devolved countries. That means removing the British government from the internal government of England.
What do you think?