Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A fairer system after devolution

It is accepted by most impartial observers, including those who support devolution, that the manner in which the Labour government set up the Scots Parliament and Welsh Assembly made a complete dog's breakfast of the UK constituion. The system we currently have may be politically convenient for the Labour party, but it is neither a proper federal system nor a proper unitary one. Injustices towards Scotland have been replaced by a worse injustice towards England.

An extreme example of a totally unacceptable and undemocratic outcome under present arrangements was the imposition of Top-Up tuition fees on English students. It was bad enough that this was a flagrant breach of Labour's election promises, but what made matters even worse was that this measure would have been defeated if it had been put to a vote of the MPs representing the area affected.

Top-up fees for English students scraped through by five votes with the help of most of Labour's MPs from Scotland, for whose own constituents the Scottish parliament had made different arrangements to collect an equivalent payment to tuition fees and on whom they had decided not to impose Top-up fees. Those Scottish MPs responsible for this outrage have certainly had their revenge with interest for the early imposition of the Poll Tax in Scotland.

So the question is, what do you do about it? One answer is an English Parliament. Well, I have been and remain totally against yet another layer of politicians. However, I am not against having the MPs already elected for England sit as a body to deal with those issues which in Scotland and Wales have been delegated to the devolved assemblies.

This is sometimes called "English votes for English laws" - I am not entirely happy with that expression as it sounds a bit nationalistic. I have no problem whatsoever with MPs for Scotland voting on English laws provided they are voting at the same time on the law for their own constituents so that there is no problem of power without accountability. (This is sometimes known as the "West Lothian Question" because Tam Dalyell first raised it when he was MP for West Lothian.)

There is already a framework for issues to be delegated in the House of Commons to a committee, and a precedent for committees consisting of all the MPs representing part of the UK (e.g. the Scottish Grand Committee.) If the Welsh assembly and Northern Ireland assembly had the same powers as the Scottish Parliament, to use this system to balance the constitution would be quite straightforward. You simply set up an English Grand Committee consisting of all the MPs representing English seats and delegate to it all the powers which were devolved to Edinburgh under the legislation which recreated the Scottish parliament.

While the devolved assemblies have different powers -a situation which is nearly as anomalous as the current treatment of England - the solution may be slightly more complex: you would need several different Grand Committees, e.g. an English Grand committee to deal with powers which have gone to devolved bodies everywhere else, an "England, Wales and Northern Ireland" body for powers which have only been devolved to Scotland, and so on.

A much simpler and more cost effective approach, but one which might be harder to get through because of the vested interests which would oppose it, would be to have the whole House of Commons sit in Westminister a certain number of weeks each month to deal with UK business, and then break up into national components sitting in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and an appropriate English venue for the remainder of the month to deal with national business. Under this solution the Scots MPs would take over the functions of MSPs, Welsh MPs would replace Welsh assembly members, and so on.

The answer you sometimes get to proposals of this kind, usually from members or supporters of the Labour party, is "Yes, but what if a Labour government at Westminister did not have a majority to get it's policies through in England." My one word answer to this: "Tough!"

A slightly longer answer: your party devolved power to Scotland and Wales because you did not want policies unpopular in those countries imposed on them by the rest of the UK. If that principle is fair for the Scots and Welsh then it is fair for England. If you do not have support in England for your policies then the constitution should not give you a mandate to impose them on England from outside.

Frankly, whether you call this "an English parliament" or "English votes for English laws" is a matter of semantics rather than substance. What I am clear about is that I want to see a fair and even-handed democratic solution for the UK and I want to see it without an increase in the number of politicians.


chris. said...

I agree the current situation in not sustainable - i favour a federal UK (whilst retaining the monarchy of course).

Anonymous said...

My one word answer is "tough" crumbs young Whiteside you can pull a stern face when you want to.
With your long history of exteme right wing opinions , will you not need more of a poker face while you pretend to like David Cameron ?

I am , by the way in a position to recite some of your discarded positions back to you going back to your star turn on Question time.Who`d have thought you would sign up to the K`mair Roon faction

Well written though.Good luck !

Chris Whiteside said...

UKChris - thanks for the comment.

Newmania - thanks for the kind things you said about the writing and for giving me a good laugh with the reference to my "long history of extreme right wing opinions." Makes a change from being described as a "dripping wet" which is an accusation far more often thrown at me.

I should imagine every intelligent person changes their mind at least occasionally - as John Maynard Keynes put it, "When the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do?"

Anonymous said...

The fact ,I assume ,you refer to is the fact David Cameron is now the leader of the Conservative Party.
I do hope you are not now a follower of the discredited Keynsian model so beloved of the left .I was once caught reading this material under the covers by torchlight and the punishment was severe. As to what I do . Well the next time I notice a fact changing I `ll be sure to pop in and report the effects.
If by some spontaneous metaphysical adjustment the fact mentioned above were to change ....

What would you do ?( Bet I can guess)

Chris Whiteside said...

Dear Newmania,

If you have been following my publicly stated positions you presumably know that I initially endorsed Ken Clarke for the Conservative leadership, and then backed David Cameron when Ken was knocked out. So loyalty to Cameron does not require any huge shift in my position.

As Milton Friedman once said, "We are all Keynsians now." But of course there are as many different varieties of Keynsian. The "neo-Keynsian" model of the 50s and 60s fell apart in 1968 and certainly wouldn't work today - did you notice that one of the two economists who explained the collapse of the Phillips Curve at the time finally collected a Nobel Prize for Economics last week? (Friedman was the other.)

When you were reading Keynes under the covers you may have noticed a very good paragraph in "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money" about the need to adapt to changing circumstances, including a delightful piece of prose in which Keynes wrote that practical men who believe themselves to be following common sense "are often the slaves of some defunct economist."

A few chapters later comes an excellent illustration that this would apply to Keynes' own observations, and statements he made which were perfectly accurate at the time would not remain true forever. He wrote that "since no Trade Union would dream of striking because of a rise in the cost of living ..."

Anonymous said...

Your publicly stated positions eh?They are my constant companion. My own opulently ,leather bound edition is never far from my side.It is .. my life.

You are not an economist.You have read a book. These are rather different things however I think what you are suggesting is this.
The low tax Liberal economy that the Conservative Party of the Thatcher period espoused ( as did you )is now redundant. Facts , or conditions have changed. Now we need to maintain a high tax economy funding a large Public sector .

The danger you might once have seen in the state accounting for 45% of managed expenditure is past.The damage to the supply side is imaginary and we may all look forward to growth financing better services and level taxes.You are clearly the sort of can-do optimist without which we have struggled by for far to long .

I would suggest that behind the Nu Lab Statistical veil,( take it off I say!) unemployment and Inflation are both rising which despite the absence of a Phillips curve is still somewhat alarming. The consequences of nu lab have been forestalled because of the development of the housing market which locks in incentivised behaviour (also cheap labour, ditching planning and other slash and burn capitalist policies). There are exceedingly worrying signs that now taxcuts are an urgent necessity .( and with corporation tax indisputably so)

Most of this of this I seem to recall would once have elicited enthuastic agreement from your good self.

But now you would prefer to hug trees and wibble on about "keynes"?.......Shame shame shame

(.. sorry can`t do this any more
I`m only teasing you;you know me .I just found this C`mer Roon incarnation rather amusing remembering what a tub thumping Thatcherite you were. You know my father John ( Newman).)

Good Luck Chris I will be getting reports of course. I `m a small slice of cheese in the Islington Cons myself nowadays .We are, on the same side.


Chris Whiteside said...

This is getting decidedly off-topic but never mind.

Tub-thumping I will certainly accept. But it remains a novel experience for me to be called "Thatcherite," a term which hadn't even been invented when we were at school together.

Oh, and I do have B.Sc and postgraduate degrees in Economics from reputable universities - though I certainly had to read a few Economics books to get them.

All the best in Islington

Anonymous said...

open universities perchance ?

Anonymous said...

unless the barnett formula is scrapped,English votes etc. is meaningless and the tories know it.
Why is Cam moron talking about the british nhs? there are no complaints fron Wales and Scotland
about their nhs. So, whose nhs is he talking about.

Anonymous said...

No doubt you will not want to be elected to our English Parliament when we get it, out of principal? Rest assured, your wish will be our command.

British Imperialists are a bit like toothless old dinosaurs, with most of them clinging to the Conservative Party, in the hopes they will re-elected next time around. The only reason I may vote for you, is because it would piss Scotland off so much, we'd get our Independence by default.

Please do stick to the EVoEL. It will destroy the Union very quickly and as it's the only policy the Conservatives have, they couldn't have picked a better one for job.

Anonymous said...

""early imposition of the Poll Tax in Scotland."" It is obvious you have no grasp of the real history of this. If you care to check, you will find that the Poll Tax was not imposed on Scotland, its early introduction was requested by the Scottish Office, and granted by Margaret Thatcher, not "imposed" as you think.

""I have been and remain totally against yet another layer of politicians."" Presumably, you are opposed to the Scottish parliament and Welsh Assembly. You need to do some research into a proper constitutional settlement, and would suggest you look ate the Campaign for an English Parliament website for a full examination of this subject.

You British Tories should mind your own business and let us English get on with determining our own destiny. I say British Tories because you can be a Scottish Tory, a Welsh Tory, but you can't be an English Tory.

Your Mr. MacCameron rubbished us English up in Scotland and showed exactly what the Tories think of England.

Anonymous said...

we could get rid of the brussels layer of politicians,the welsh assembly and scoottish parliament layer of politicians to pay for it.

Anonymous said...

Who says there would have to be another layer of politicains.

Get rid of the Scottish MSP and Welsh equivalent and have dual mandate MPs.

So on certain days the MPs would conduct UK bussiness then on the rest they would conduct devolved matters.

Chris Whiteside said...

Revinkevin - I think that's quite close to what I was suggesting.

Dee - it is an easy cheap shot to suggest that because someone would prefer one constitutional settlement that they don't want to get elected under another one. But it doesn't actually make any sense. There is nothing illogical about taking the position that you would prefer things to be organised differently but while they are not you stand for election under the system which exists. That's why the Scots Nats put up candidates for Westminster and UKIP puts up candidates for the European parliament.

And apart from Gibraltar and the Falklands, the British Empire was consigned to history a long time ago.

Richard the Lion Heart - the Scottish office may have asked for the Poll tax because they were upset by revaluation, but you know as well as I do that the majority of Scots didn't want it.

Back in 1997 I was indeed against the creation of the extra layer of politicians in Edinburgh and Cardiff, and I am still against the regional assemblies. But the electors voted under the terms of a referendum to set up the Scots and Welsh devolved bodies. IN a democracy you sometimes have to accept that you have lost the vote and move on.

As for the idea that you can't be an English tory - have you forgotten which party got most votes in England at the 2005 elections ? That's right, it was the tories. So millions of English voters disagree with you - in fact more than voted for any other party. So if you're telling all those millions of English voters that they can't belive what they voted for, then perhaps, your majesty, it is you who should let the English get on with determining their own destiny.

Thanks for all those comments whether I agreed with them or not.

Anonymous said...

"What I am clear about is that I want to see a fair and even-handed democratic solution for the UK and I want to see it without an increase in the number of politicians."

How could anyone possible argue with that. Much as the Whiteside metamorphosis may (unfairly) make me laugh . This is absolutely the right view and I am at a loss to imagine what the carping here is about .

Anonymous said...

you say"This is sometimes called "English votes for English laws" - I am not entirely happy with that expression as it sounds a bit nationalistic"
This at odds with Duncan
"And Labour MPs even claim that English-only legislation will encourage English nationalism which is the opposite of the truth as it is the current situation which is causing resentment and destabilising the United Kingdom".
what is really needed Chris is the public to be involved in this discussion in the main stream media in England.At present the only time it is mentioned is if a politician mentions it.Then it is locked down again.The beeb should be instructed to start a radio England so that this issue can be aired regularly.

Anonymous said...

English Votes on English issues "a bit nationalistic"? Since when was it a crime to be "nationalistic"?? The Scots with their Parliament are a "bit nationalistic" the Welsh with their Assembly are "a bit nationalistic", the French and protecting their farmers are "a bit nationalistic", the Chinese and their manufacturing and exports are " a bit nationalistic"....the list goes on and on. No, Tories are NOT nationalistic, they would rather lie down and play dead. Free for all trade policy and see the pride of UK manufacturing sacrificed at the alter of laissez faire economics, the wholesale transfer of UK sovereignty to the EU - without a vote, mass uncontrolled immigration where spoken English is a foreign language in some multi-cultural ghettos, the failure to stand up for English values, beliefs and freedoms in the name of diversity, the pathetic ineffectual leadership from the Tory party with a decade of inactivity to its name. Yes, perhaps what YOU and the Tory Party need, is to be a hell of a lot more NATIONALISTIC, then perhaps we would have a country to call our home and a society that could be proud of being English without being called a racist or have sniffy people like you peering over your PIMMS tut tutting at us being "a little nationalistic" - you are a disgrace to democracy, free speech and to all those English people who gave their lives for their nationalism - you should be ashamed of yourself!

Chris Whiteside said...

Anonymous – entirely agree with you that it would be better if the public were engaged in this debate through the mainstream media. If we have a proper debate there is more chance of arriving at a fairer system with popular support to replace the mess which New Labour have made of our country’s constitution.

English Pride – I referred to a specific phrase as sounding a little nationalistic. I did not accuse anyone else of that, least of all “tut-tutted” at them over a Pimms (a beverage I have never imbibed in my life.

I am a patriot, not a nationalist. I want to avoid the mistake which Labour made in 1997 when they replaced a perceived injustice against the Scots and Welsh with a worse injustice against England. I want to correct that injustice without stirring up hostility against the Scots and Welsh.

Anonymous said...

What is nationalism Chris? Is it not love of country? Why is being "a little nationalistic" a bad thing? This is where the Tories are going very very wrong. Tories in England are becoming a laughing stock. Where were the Tories defending the rights of the English against the Scots who voted to impose "Top Up Fees?" ?? You were voting with them. Where were the \Tories when the North East rejected Regionalisation by 79%? Still participating in regional development boards and lending legitamcy to illegitimate regional bodies. Where were the Tories when England was left on the sidelines in the devolution debate - nowhere. Here we are 10 YEARS ON, where are there Tories now on the West Lothian Question? EVOEL (Evil to those in the know) Who has give the Tories any endorsement on this policy - no one.

EVOEL does nothing for England and everyone including the Tories know that.

Doesn't answer the problem of who is England's First Minister - will it be someone elected by England??? (NO is the answer to that)

Will it deliver an English Executive (NO)

Will it secure England's Nationhood (NO)

Will it enable the English to rejuvenate England's proud culture, history and achievements - NO,

EVOEL is a half baked unworkable solution to an obvious final outcome.

Engage with the English Constitutional Convention, work to agree a devolutionary option that can be put to the people and let the WILL OF THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND decide their future.

It was good enough for Scotland and Wales WHY ISN'T IT GOOD ENOUGH FOR ENGLAND????

No Democrat and no MP claiming to serve a democracy could possibly object to this - BUT the Conservatives have repeatedly refused to join with the ECC to explore the options and decide on a viable way forward WHY? Because they are afraid of democracy.

I once supported the Conservatives but I along with a growing number of English voters see the Conservatives for what they are, unprincipalled, careerist and driven by the whips and the instruction to keep quiet and tow the party line.

No democrat would object to a public debate, no democrat would object to a referendum WHY does the Conservative party refuse to engage with the public on this?

England has just as much right to a national parliament, a first minister and a country to call their own as Scotland and Wales has and quite frankly any Conservative who would seek to deny the English the same rights as has been given to the Scots and the Welsh is betraying the trust of the people of England.

QUite frankly Chris it matters not whether a Parliament for England, Regionalisation of EVOEL is a preferred option, what matters is that the people of England give their consent, without it, EVOEL is as dead in the water as regionalisation - ignore the people at your peril.

Just remember the Tories regretted staying out of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the launch of the English Constitutional Convention in the Houses of Commons on the 24th October with 20+ national patrons will provide the Conservatives with another golden opportunity to miss the boat on - Cameron said it was a mistake to ignore the SCC it will be the end of Conservatism in England if the Tories stay out of the ECC debate.

WHat do the people have to do to make the Tories respect England and the English? Why wouldn't the Tories defend England's right to a proper democracy? This could be the biggest mistake the Tories ever made, and I can assure you we will make sure that the Conservatives rue the day they turned their back on England.

Chris Whiteside said...

Dear English Pride - where were the English Tories when Scots MPs voted to impose tuition fees on English students ? Well actually we voted against them, not with them (with the exception of one renegade who subsequently defected to the Labour party) Where were we when the North East was given a vote on Prescott's regional assemblies ? Campaigning for a "No" vote, and we want them abolished.

The fact that justice demands that we give equivalent powers to the English to those which have been given to the Scots and Welsh is exactly the point that I am making. But just because the Scots elected a bunch of incompetents who wasted hundreds of millions of pounds on their new parliament building does not mean that balance requires us to waste hundreds of millions on a new parliament building for England. Equal citizenship and equal powers does not have to mean equal incompetence, equal extra bureaucracy and equal waste.

I want to see some issues such as defence dealt with at a UK level with English, Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs voting together on an equal basis. Other issues have been devolved in Scotland and Wales, and when these issues are decided for England, I believe that voting should be limited to representatives from the areas affected by the vote. The difference between us is that I believe this can and should be acheived without wasting millions of pounds on extra politicians and bureaucrats.