English Parliament FAQ’s
Q: Isn’t Westminster already the English parliament?
A: No. Westminster is the parliament of the the United Kingdom. MPs from Scotland, Wales, Northern IReland and England sit there. But when they legislate on devolved matters such as Health, Education, Transport and the Environment they are passing legislation that affects only England. Why should Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs have any say on these England only issues?
Q: Wouldn’t an English Parliament create two types of MP?
A: This argument is routinely rolled out by opponents of the English Parliament. In fact it was Gordon Brown’s stock answer on the rare occasions he was tackled on the English question. The truth is that devolution created four different types of MP. When the British government established the Scottish parliament many areas of legislation that were previously the responsibility of the UK parliament were transfered to the Scottish parliament. Responsibility for education, health, transport (see here for a full list of devolved issues) moved from Scottish MPs at Westminster to Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). Scottish Westminster MPs can no longer directly influence devolved matters in their own constituency – they can however still influence those same matters in England where they are not accountable. So the Scottish Parliament created two types of MPs and the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies added two more variants of MP.
Re-establishing the English parliament will add another type – but we think that the English deserve dedicated representation. In fact when the English parliament is re-established the UK parliament will be left with very little to do – perhaps that’s the place to make some serious savings…
Q: Wouldn’t an English parliament lead to more politicians?
A: No. the easiest answer to this is that an English parliament would need different MPs not more MPs.
Q: Would the creation of an English Parliament result in a system of Federal Government of the United Kingdom?
A: An English Parliament modelled on the Scottish Parliament would not require the introduction of a federal system of government. A federal system would involve having a written constitution for the United Kingdom that would legally enshrine the powers of the Parliaments of the countries that form the United Kingdom. In a devolved system, following the example of Scotland, the Parliament of the United Kingdom would retain its sovereign powers. The powers devolved would be subject to change by statute enacted by that parliament. Our unwritten constitutional arrangements would adapt and evolve to produce a uniquely British system of democratic government.
Q: Would an English Parliament lead to the break up of the United Kingdom?
A: The Union is a political idea that has survived for nearly three hundred years in spite of many changing circumstances. An English Parliament modelled on the Scottish Parliament would not, itself, lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, which would continue but in a different form. The strongest demand for withdrawal is from Scotland, where independence is an objective of the SNP. Scotland was accorded devolved powers in the expectation that it would help to keep it in the United Kingdom. The Campaign for an English Parliament seeks the same democratic structures and opportunities for England. If that reasonable demand is not met, there will be an injustice festering at the heart of the UK constitution. That injustice would become increasingly evident and resented should a government without a majority of parliamentary seats in England, use the votes of Scottish and Welsh MPs to push through policies and legislation that apply only to England. It is that, not an English Parliament, which will generate ill feeling and undermine confidence in the Union. It is better to address the problem now rather than wait until discontent grows, as it surely will, and undermines confidence in the political process.
Q: Would an English Parliament become too powerful since it would represent a disproportionately large number of people and wealth compared with the other parts of the Union?
A: An English Parliament with the same devolved powers of a Scottish Parliament would not unbalance the Union. Each parliament would be responsible for policy and the allocation of resources within its own territory. The effect of size would be no greater than that already existing in the UK parliament where 81% of the MPs represent English constituencies. Devolution marks an important stage in English constitutional and democratic history. The people of England are entitled to be consulted and given a choice about the form devolution should take. Other matters, such as those relating to the size and power of England, can be dealt with in a constitutional settlement for the whole UK, which could include reform of the House of Lords.
Q: Would a United Kingdom Parliament with only retained powers provide an effective, overall government?
A: English matters take up over half the time of the present parliament, which frequently complains that there is insufficient time available to discuss and decide on important legislation. There would be more time to concentrate on important international, European, economic, defence and Union matters that are vital to the whole UK. Every MP would have a complete interest in the subjects under consideration. Even more importantly, Ministers would have greater time to devote to issues affecting the destiny of the United Kingdom and preserving its interests internationally.
Q: How would an English Parliament affect proposals for a reformed Second Chamber?
A: Following the Scottish model, primary English legislation on matters devolved to an English Parliament would not be subject to review by a Second Chamber, but legislation concerning the extensive retained powers would continue to be reviewed. With English MPs continuing to be the largest group in the Commons, a second chamber is likely to continue to be needed in the UK Parliament to ensure that the interests of all parts of the UK are given full consideration. The Constitutional Committee of the House of Lords, or its successor, may be of importance in resolving any problems concerning the definition and use of retained and devolved powers. However, the powers and constitution of the Second Chamber are separate subjects that should not directly affect or delay the devolution of powers to an English Parliament.
Q: How should a decision on an English Parliament be made?
A: A referendum should be held. To consider the full implications and frame the right questions (based on those put to Scotland), this would need to be preceded by a Constitutional Commission, ideally with all party support. In order to prevent delay, the Commission would need to be given a latest date for its recommendations.
Q: What would be the size of an English Parliament and what would be the voting method used for its election?
- These are pertinent questions for decision by a Constitutional Commission. Obviously, there are problems of proliferating the number of MPs. However, this was not allowed to affect the decision on devolution to Scotland and Wales where, because of the proportional representation system adopted, the numbers elected to their Parliament and Assembly exceed the number of their Westminster MPs. In any case, the representational requirements of an English Parliament are likely to be less than the total numbers needed for nine regional assemblies and cost far less. A full review of the representational needs of the Westminster Parliament has been advocated (Norton Report) and, while changes to constituencies would affect all parliaments, including an English Parliament, this should not become a reason for delaying its creation.
Q: Would Regional Government in England be a better solution for English democracy?
A: Regional Government cannot be an alternative to an English Parliament because it is impracticable to devolve powers of enacting primary legislation to nine regions (covering subjects such as the NHS, education and transport). The existing problems identified in the West Lothian and English questions would remain. However, an English Parliament would have the power to alter the local government systems in England and this could include the introduction of some form of Regional Government, if that is what the people of England want. For instance, an English Parliament might wish to have a Select Committee for each region with the elected English MPs of each region being the equivalent of an Assembly.
Q: Where would the English Parliament sit?
A: This would need to be an early democratic decision of the English Parliament and it could be sited anywhere in England. The Constitutional Commission would need to select a convenient temporary building to start with.
Q: Proposals have been put forward for an English Parliament in the House of Commons with the House of Lords becoming the United Kingdom Parliament. Alternatively, that the present MPs from English constituencies should sit as an English Parliament for part of the week, with a separate English executive. Are these valid proposals?
A: These are matters for consideration by a Constitutional Commission. The Campaign is for the establishment of an English Parliament and Executive with powers at least equivalent to those devolved to Scotland. All options for exactly how it should be established should be examined democratically and resulting recommendations put to the people in a referendum.
Q: Who are the “People of England” who should be represented in an English Parliament ?
A: Every person on the electoral roll in England would be eligible to elect an MP to serve their interests and those of their children.
Q: Is there really a serious constitutional problem to worry about?
A: Ever since devolution to Scotland and Wales in 1997 there has been a growing concern about the Constitution, including the effect on the government of England. This is evidenced by many Parliamentary discussions, letters, articles and comment in the media and a spate of books, pamphlets, reports and speeches. To name but a few, they include:
- John Barnes, Federal Britain &- No Longer Unthinkable, Centre for Policy Studies 1998.
- Teresa Gorman MP, A Parliament for England 1999.
- William Hague speeches:
- Thinking creatively about the Constitution Feb 1998;
- Strengthening the Union after Devolution July 1999 (both to the Centre of Policy Studies;)
- A Conservative View of Constitutional Change in Oxford, November 2000.
- Professor, Lord Norton, Report of the Commission to Strengthen Parliament July 2000.
- Jocelyn Ormond, An English Parliament &- A Proposal for Fairness and Transparency in a New Constitutional Settlement for Britain, Bow Group 1999.
- Professor Robert Hazell, Constitutional Futures &- History of the Next Ten Years, 1999, ISBN 0-19-829801-3
- Professor Robert Hazell, The State and the Nations : The First Year of Devolution, December 2000, ISBN 0-907845-80-0.
- Andrew Marr, The Day Britain Died, 2000, ISBN 1-86197-223-7 (This was the subject of a major BBC TV Series.)
- Jeremy Paxman, The English, 1998, ISBN 0-7181-4263-2
- Simon Heffer, Nor Shall my Sword : The Re-invention of England, 1999
- Norman Davies, The Isles : A History, 1999.
- Michael Wood, In Search of England, 1999, ISBN 0-140-24733-5
- Peter Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain, reprint 2000, ISBN 0-7043-8140-0
- John Humphrys, The Rape of the Constitution, 2000, ISBN 0-907845-70-3
- John Lovejoy, The Deculturalisation of the English People, 2000, ISBN 1-903313-00-7
- Tony Linsell (Ed), Our Englishness, 2000, ISBN 1-898281-24-6
- Vernon Bogdanor, Devolution in the United Kingdom, ISBN 0-19-289310-6
- Roger Scruton, England &- An Elegy, 2000
- Tony Linsell, An English Nationalism, 2001, ISBN 1-903313-01-5
- Sir Richard Body, England for the English, 200, ISBN 1-872410-14-6
Q: Are the people of England really concerned ?
A: There is a steadily increasing concern as the debate develops and the unfairness to England resulting from devolution to Scotland becomes more apparent. In a report by the National Council for Social Research (1999) it was stated that the number of English people who declared that their allegiance solely to England had more than doubled to 17% from 7% in the last two years. Over 32% saw themselves as more English than British while over 37% saw themselves as equally British and English. In spite of considerable publicity for Regional Assemblies, only 15% expressed themselves in favour of the Assemblies while 18% favoured the much less publicised idea of a new English Parliament. These percentages indicate a strong developing trend towards the electorate believing that England and its people have interests and priorities that may be different from other parts of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, continuing irritations are expressed in the media about matters such as:
- The ability of the Scottish Parliament to introduce legislation more favourable to its people than that applicable to those in England e.g. University fees; Care of the Elderly; certain NHS prescription drugs being available in Scotland but not England.
- The Barnett formula, which provides considerably more money to Scotland and Wales compared with England, based on relative populations.
- The denigration of any attempt to express support for England or Englishness.
- Government forms, such as those for the Census, which do not recognise English nationality.
- MPs from Scottish constituencies being over represented in the United Kingdom Parliament, having 72 existing MPs instead of the 57 that would be a fair and equitable comparison with the representation of English constituencies.