Westminster and the English question

The CEP blog draws our attention to a new report by UCL’s constitution unit:

Westminster and the English Question by Meg Russell and Guy Lodge 2005

This briefing takes a historical perspective in examining the dynamic process of constitutional reform. It addresses the challenges that devolution has presented to the way England is governed, particularly the anomaly of non-English MPs often proving decisive on controversial English issues such as foundation hospitals and tuition fees. With the Conservative Party having attracted more votes from the English electorate than Labour in May 2005, questions often arise over the legitimacy of Labour’s reliance on Scottish and Welsh MPs – for example to introduce legislation such as education reform and reform of local government finance. With the rejection of elected regional government for England, the West Lothian question is being pushed to the centre of politics.

This briefing examines the ‘English votes on English laws’ position, an English Parliament, English regional government and procedural change within Westminister as possible solutions to the question. However it concludes that changing the voting system within Parliament, or simply accepting these constitutional anomalies that have long existed, might prove more sustainable answers. (UCL Constitution Unit)

The report’s authors appear to have rejected both an English Parliament and ‘English votes for English laws.’ The 2005 general election saw Labour’s majority in England reduced from 117 to 43, meaning that a small backbench rebellion will therefore trigger a West Lothian vote.

Monday’s study also warns, however, that Conservative proposals for ‘English votes on English laws’ would be "fundamentally unworkable".

"This would cause a constitutional crisis far greater than the West Lothian question itself. This is why the policy has been consistently rejected as unworkable since Gladstone first considered it in 1886.

"A more transparent solution would be to explicitly create an English parliament. "But only 16 per cent of the public support this option, which is in effect what would be introduced by ‘English votes on English laws’."

Researchers Meg Russell and Guy Lodge said: "Given the new electoral arithmetic, and controversial reforms in education, health and policing on the way, the West Lothian controversy is very likely to come to the fore in Labour’s third term."

But there are no easy answers to the problem. "’English votes on English laws’ is unworkable, so the British may just have to learn to live with this constitutional anomaly, as they do with many others." (epolitix.com)

It’s not clear from this interview whether the report’s authors have any principled objection to an English Parliament, other than the evidence of opinion polls which might well shift when, as they predict, the West Lothian question moves centre-stage.






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