Parliamentary Group looks at the English question

Just back from Westminster, where the Constitution, Parliament and Citizenship Associate Parliamentary Group hosted a talk by Professor Vernon Bogdanor entitled ‘Is there an answer to the English question.’ (Thanks to the CEP for the heads-up)

As it turned out, Bogdanor’s answer was basically the Blair/Brown one, i.e. dont ask the question. According to him, "the English accept devolution, but do not want devolution for themselves."

Bogdanor argued that was little evidence that the English want their own separate Parliament, but didn’t mention the polls which show rather stronger support for some form of English votes for English laws (EVEOL).   

If he had, he might not have been as surprised as he was when both Labour and Tory MPs told him that the English question featured significantly in their postbags. (According to Andrew Tyrie it was coming up in the context of hospital closures).

One point by Bogdanor which I think was well taken was that EVOEL was unworkable and would effectively mean a Parliament within a Parliament.

That didn’t impress several of the Tories on the Committee, who seemed convinced that EVOEL would be in their manifesto. Sir George Young said: "If it was wrong for the English to impose the poll tax on Scotland, it is equally wrong for the Scottish to impose foundation hospitals on England." David Curry on the other hand, pretty much agreed with Professor Bogdanor’s analysis.

Among the Labour MPs, committee chairman Tony Wright felt the English question was becoming a live issue, while Gordon Prentice argued that the the votes on foundation hospitals and tuition fees had not caused much public discontent, and that they would have ‘triggered’ a wider debate if anything was going to.

(I think the issue is already significant, but if a trigger is needed, Gordon Brown’s ascent to the premiership may well provide one.)

It was an interesting if short debate. I was, however, somewhat disconcerted by the way that Professor Bogdanor lamented that the public were not interested in constitutional issues (or his books), while effectively suggesting we ignore what is a major constitutional anomaly.

The English question isn’t as boring as Professor Bogdanor would like us to think it is. Over the next year, if that, it is going to get very interesting indeed.







4 responses to “Parliamentary Group looks at the English question”

  1. Little Man in a Toque avatar

    The Evolution of English

    Recently I’ve noticed a increasing trend amongst our American friends to use the word ‘devolution’ as an antonym of ‘evolution’. As evolution is directionless it’s a pretty stupid usage. More often than not, at least in the blogosphere, the erroneous…

  2. Alex avatar

    Vernon Bogdanor really is a vast empty space. He always says exactly the same thing: the constitution is far too complicated for mortals to worry their heads about and we should do nothing. And he makes a career out of this.

  3. Len Welsh avatar
    Len Welsh

    Members of the CEP who attended the event promised to send Prof VB the details of the June 2006 Mori Poll showing 41% in favour of an English Parliament.
    Me? I thought that the learned Professor was living on a different planet to me, I was quite taken aback with a lot of his input. The Chairman told me, after the meeting, that they had not thought of the problems of EVOEL matters going up to the Lords for revising, a surprising admission I thought.

  4. Tom Griffin avatar

    Alex, that description certainly sounds recognisable after last night.
    Len, I decided Bogdanor was on another planet to me, when he said that he regretted Ireland leaving the UK, and that it might have solved the Northern Ireland question if the Republic had stayed in.
    Apart from anything else, it was the northern problem which stopped Ireland getting home rule within the UK, and arguably thereby brought about independence.
    On EVOEL, I suppose one solution would be to have the Commons operating as a unicameral chamber on English issues. Obviously, that wouldn’t solve the other problems with EVOEL.

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