What has happened to “English votes for English laws”?

The obvious democratic imbalance in the post-devolution settlement is the absence of an English parliament. The Scots, Welsh and the Northern Irish have devolved assemblies which are steadily increasing their formal powers and political permanence through the development of a political class concerned only with their own home country. The English neither have a parliament nor the prospect of one, for no House of Commons party is committed to creating an English parliament.

This is no small matter because the  absence of a parliament robs England of a national political focus and voice at a time when other parts of the UK are growing ever more strident in their demands through their devolved political institutions.

But the imbalance is far more than simply the lack of a Parliament. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, despite their devolved powers, still retain cabinet representation, grand committees, select committees and special question times devoted to their local affairs.  

The Scottish Grand Committee is made up of all MPs sitting for Scottish seats. It has rarely met in recent years because the powers given to the Scottish Parliament mean that Bills passed at Westminster affecting only Scotland are rare. However, the committee has not been abolished and could be reconvened. 

The Welsh and Northern Irish Grand Committees are still regularly functioning bodies because their assemblies have lesser powers than those of the Scottish Parliament. That may change in the case of the Welsh Grand Committee because of the extension of powers voted for in the recent Welsh referendum. The Northern Irish and Welsh committees debate issues relevant to their countries. This can be a very wide-ranging remit as it can include such business as the effects of a Queen’s Speech on the two countries. 

The Welsh committee consists of the 40 Welsh MPs, and up to 5 others. The Northern Ireland Grand Committee includes each of the 18 MPs in Northern Ireland, together with up to 25 other MPs.

The Celts have a second bite at the Westminster committee cake, for there are select committees for each of them, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Welsh Affairs Committee.

To complete the Westminster representational hat-trick, there remains within the Cabinet Secretaries of State for each of the Celtic countries.

What does England have? Absolutely nothing: no Parliament, no devolved powers, no Grand Committee, no select committee, no question time, no secretary of state in the Cabinet.

Most obnoxiously MPs from non-English seats can vote on English matters even where, as is often the case with the Scottish parliament, English MPs cannot vote on equivalent legislation for parts of the UK other than England. Thus Scottish MPs voted for Foundation hospitals and increased university tuition fees in England, despite the fact that neither measure will be introduced into Scotland because the devolved Scottish political establishment is against them. The Welsh will be joining the game as they have just voted yes (2011) to the Welsh Assembly receiving similar powers to those of the Scottish Parliament.  

Not content with denying the English a voice, the Blair government attempted to begin the process of political Balkanisation in England by announcing in 2003 that referenda for assemblies in the North East, the North West and the region of Yorkshire and Humber would be held. According to the draft Regional Assemblies Bill of  2004, the assemblies would have had  much inferior powers to the Scottish Parliament and inferior powers to those of the Welsh Assembly.

The Blair government tested the water with a referendum for a North East Assembly in November 2004 believing that this was the English region most likely to vote for an assembly and if they did this would act as a spur to other regions to follow suit. The ploy failed so miserably, with voters rejecting the an assembly by 696,519 votes to 197,310, that plans for further referenda were dropped. 

But although elected assemblies were not established in England, the process of setting English regions against one another was put in hand shortly after the Blair Government was formed through the creation of Quangos. Eight English Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) were established under the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. These were for: the East of England, East Midlands, North East, North West, South East, South West, West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber.

A ninth RDA, the London Development Agency, was established in July 2000 following the establishment of the Greater London Authority (GLA). The first eight RDAs are responsible to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) ministers.  The London Development Assembly is responsible to the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.  

What do RDAs do? Here is the LDA website description:

“Our aim is to create better futures for London’s citizens by delivering projects that will help produce a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable city.

Working in close partnership with the Greater London Authority, London boroughs, businesses and the third sector, we have:

•provided practical advice and help to Londoners and to London’s businesses

 •promoted London on a world stage – most recently at the Shanghai Expo

 •helped set up the first two of the Mayor’s academies

 •won recognition and international acclaim for our regeneration activities

 •enabled London to start making significant cuts to Co2 emissions through our climate change programmes

 •put projects in place that have helped thousands of Londoners benefit from the impact of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games” (http://www.lda.gov.uk/our-work/index.aspx)

There most significant role is probably their administering of the EU Regional Development Fund disbursements to English regions.

 All the RDAs are scheduled to be abolished by March 2012 (http://www.bis.gov.uk/policies/economic-development/englands-regional-development-agencies), but it is not certain that this will happen, because  in the face of opposition from the Lords over the Public Bodies Bill which authorised ministers to make the decision (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldbills/025/11025.i-ii.html) the Government has conceded that Quangos will not be abolished without parliamentary scrutiny.  

The RDAs will be superseded by Local Enterprise Partnerships. These concentrate on much smaller areas than the RDAs. The Coalition Government describes them as:

“Local enterprise partnerships are locally-owned partnerships between local authorities and businesses. Local enterprise partnerships will play a central role in determining local economic priorities and undertaking activities to drive economic growth and the creation of local jobs. They are also a key vehicle in delivering Government objectives for economic growth and decentralisation, whilst also providing a means for local authorities to work together with business in order to quicken the economic recovery.

“As local enterprise partnerships are based on more meaningful economic areas, they will be better placed to determine the needs of the local economy along with a greater ability to identify barriers to local economic growth.” (http://www.communities.gov.uk/localgovernment/local/localenterprisepartnerships/)

To date the Government has announced 30 partnerships that are ready to  establish their local enterprise partnership boards. These are: 

Birmingham and Solihull

Black Country

Cheshire and Warrington

Coast to Capital

Cornwall and Isles of Scilly

Coventry and Warwickshire

Cumbria

Enterprise M3 (North Hampshire/West Surrey)

Greater Cambridgeshire and Greater Peterborough

Greater Manchester

Hertfordshire

Kent and Greater Essex and East Sussex

Leeds City Region

Leicester and Leicestershire

Lincolnshire

Liverpool City Region

New Anglia

North Eastern

Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Derby, Derbyshire

Oxfordshire City Region

Sheffield City Region

Solent

South East Midlands

Stoke and Staffordshire

Tees Valley

Thames Valley Berkshire

The Marches

West of England

Worcestershire

York and North Yorkshire

Until these bodies are up and running it is impossible to say exactly what powers they will have or what the relationship will be between them and national government.

As part of the Balkanising of England agenda of the recent Labour Government, English Regional Grand Committees were established in November 2008. However, these no longer exist because the Standing Orders that set up these committees expired in April 2010. With the exception of London, the regions of the UK that were covered by a Regional Grand Committee were the same as those administered by the RDAs. London was omitted because it has an elected assembly and mayor.

The nearest any mainstream party has come to offering England any redress for the democratic imbalance is to call for “English votes for English laws”, that is, laws which affect only England should be decided by only English MPs. This idea surfaced as far back as 1999 when William Hague made it official Tory policy. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/394997.stm). David Cameron has also supported the policy. (http://www.heraldscotland.com/english-votes-for-english-laws-would-damage-union-1.847545).

After the Coalition Government was formed in June 2010 Nick Clegg was given the task of considering the matter (http://toque.co.uk/nick-clegg-charged-considering-west-lothian-question)

To date no concrete proposals have been made or the matter been seriously discussed in Parliament. I have emailed both Cameron and Clegg asking what the Coalition’s position is without eliciting a reply. It is reasonable to assume that the question has been kicked into the long grass.

“English votes for English laws” is no remedy for the disadvantage under which England currently suffers, but it would act as a catalyst for an English Parliament in two ways. First,  if the matter was done honestly, the  majority of the UK Government budget would be decided by English MPs because most is spent in England. That would create an impossible tension between a UK Government and the English majority if the UK Government could not form a majority from English seats alone. Second, the mere fact of having to concentrate on English interests would create a sea-change in the mentality of the English political elite. MPs sitting for English seats would be unable to ignore the essential unfairness of the present situation because English voters would expect them to do something about it.

There are dangers with “English votes for English laws”. One way it could be fudged is by declaring many Bills which are obviously affecting England alone to be matters of UK importance. There would also be ample opportunity to push legislation through without the procedure being invoked on the grounds that it is EU deriving from the EU.  It is conceivable that the process could be emasculated whilst leaving Westminster politicians free to say the “West Lothian Question” has been solved, a tactic which would not remove the problem but could suppress public debate about it. Nonetheless, it is the only realistic  way forward  those who want an English Parliament and Government  for the foreseeable future.  Consequently, it is a tactic (not an end in itself) which should be supported.

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7 Responses to What has happened to “English votes for English laws”?

  1. i like it What has happened to “English votes through reasonableness prep exploration into principles of English laws”? | England calling now im your rss reader

  2. JoolsB says:

    What is up with the people of England? Tuition fees and top up fees were only introduced in England in the first place thanks to Scottish MPs votes making the difference and yet there wasn’t a murmur. Imagine if it had been the other way around, there would have been rioting on the streets of Scotland as there was when the community charge was introduced there first even though it was also going to be introduced in England unlike tuition fees in Scotland. People in England need to be made more aware of the dicrimination against them at every opportunity especially as our elected MPs with English seats are failing to do so. It doesn’t help when these politicians deliberately imply the whole UK will be affected when in reality it is only England such as the recent tuition fees hike or the abolition of EMA. They are deliberately trying to mislead in their efforts to avoid the English Question. I found it both offensive and insulting when Scottish MPs such as Danny Alexander were leading the yes vote for the tuition fees hike and even though they were for the no vote, that Charles Kennedy & Ming Campbell were strutting around declaring to all and sundry that they would be voting against the increase. Should we have felt grateful? As this did not affect their constituents, they should not have been voting at all, this did not affect their constituents and it had absolutely nothing to do with them and yet once again, not one MP with an English seat questioned their right to do so. We know why Labour treated England with contempt but what is not easy to understand is why the Tories are continuing to do so when they have everything to gain from an English Parliament especially as they won a 61 seat majority in England last May and yet still England’s wishes were overturned by the rest of the UK who then go on to vote for their own parliament/assembly making separate decisions from the government they have chosen to govern England. As a result we have a wishy washy coalition where the hubris Lib Dems are stopping the Tories implementing the promises which made the English vote for them in the first place. The tail is wagging the dog and the Lib Dems have too many seats in Scotland to let the Tories address the English Question and Tory MPs are obviously too spineless to stand up for their constituents and put them first before party and their Unionist Prime Minister who said he ‘doesn’t want to be Prime Minister of England.’

  3. Pingback: What has happened to “English votes for English laws”? (via England calling) « English Warrior

  4. Have you seen this article on ConHome? England isn’t a country. Prior to Labour’s part-devolution policies vis-a-vis Executives/Assemblies for Scotland/Wales I was instinctively pro-Union, feeling that we were stronger together. However, there’s no going back and the situation as it stands at the moment is grossly unfair. Even the EU has said that England isn’t a country – that’s why we’re being chopped up into Regional Zones. No government, least of all the current coalition, will lift a finger to redress the situation. It’s shameful.

    PS LibDem Jo Swinson was seriously caught out on last week’s QT. As a Scottish MP she had to defend voting for the raising of tuition fees in England while her Scottish students pay nothing – she failed miserably.

  5. efgd says:

    A total sham. Why we accept it I do not know. The public either do not understand how others have voted ‘differently’ in Scotland and Wales to the detriment of England. We are not a Union anymore, we are a pseudo Union at best, time to devolve all powers and start again: Scotland to do their own thing, Wales to do its own thing and Ireland to do their own thing totally. No money from England. Meanwhile, non English constituency parliamentarians should not be allowed to vote on anything that is England related, that would be a start. The tide has turned away from Unionism and will move towards confederation – England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The EU is a rambling shamble of restrictive nonsense that has only benefited a few bureaucratic countries with unresolvable concessions and rules and regulations.

    I was all for the Union – UK, and the EU, but truly honestly it has become a joke. There is no reason why good things cannot not be learnt and adopted from the past but time to see the shifting of the sands.

    Question, who, or rather what party are for the people by the people in this respect?

  6. Ste says:

    An English Parliament, just like English votes for English laws, is not in the best Interest’s of the bitter and twisted, subsidy drunk, ungrateful, feeble and irrelevant Communist little non-English EU Regions of Britain.

    Or Scotland, Wales and N Ireland as they are commonly known as.

  7. JoolsB says:

    I’ve just had to turn the BBC news off as they were reporting on the EMA being scrapped for 650,000 students last year and being replaced with a scheme for just 12,000 students instead. Of course NOT ONCE did they mention the fact this only applies to England or that it was ONLY in England where EMA was scrapped. Many people watching will have thought the abolition of EMA applies to the whole UK instead of just England which was probably the intention. This is part of the problem we are up against along with our politicians who do the same although a handful of Tory MPs are beginning to speak out about the unfairness to their constituents. I intend to write to the PM today, the fourth time since September, to ask what he intends to do, if anything, about the English Question, the West Lothian Question and the Barnett Formula. I don’t expect an answer but if we all bombard our MPs (mine is Lib Dem so waste of time) or the PM, or both, with letters, hopefully, they may eventually begin to realise the resentment which is slowly growing amongst the people of England although I won’t hold my breath.

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