Callum McNeill makes the case for an English Parliament.
Ever since the establishment of the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in the late 1990s, some campaigners have responded with a proposition, that England too should have a parliament of its own. Although a Campaign for an English Parliament was established in 1998, little detailed work has previously been done on design options for what an English Parliament might actually look like, partly because the proposal initially secured little mainstream support.
In recent years, however, a growing number of senior politicians from across the party-political spectrum have shown interest in an English Parliament as a possible solution to the 'English Question'. The UK Parliament at Westminster no longer deals with issues such as education or health that only affects Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. Westminster MPs, whether from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland do not vote on many issues that affect citizens across the devolved nations. However, decisions affecting health or education in England are still decided at Westminster. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs, not chosen by the English electorate, are able to vote on them.
Separately, there is a discussion as to whether Scotland and Wales receive more public expenditure per head than England. There is a perception that funding across the UK is unfair, potentially contributing to an increase in English national feeling.
The Campaign for an English Parliament does not have support from the leadership of any of the main political parties. Instead, answers to the English Question have focused on reform to Westminster. The McKay commission, appointed by the Coalition Government of 2010 to 2015, proposed a vote by English MPs on English-only issues, so that the majority view of English MPs is known, followed by a vote of all MPs.
In contrast, the Conservative Party proposed English Votes for English Laws, helped by the fact there are very few MPs from Scotland and Wales. Even perhaps enabled the Conservative government to pass legislation for England, free from fear that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs from other parties voting against legislation.
Westminster has become increasingly seen as an English Parliament, within the devolved parliaments in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland. It is more difficult to see a future Prime Minister coming from Scotland or Wales so much so that the office has come to be seen as more English in character.
Opinion polls mostly show that when people are asked, they support the idea of an English Parliament. However, with the rise of the SNP in Scotland, this has led to an intensification in English sentiment.
An English Parliament could be located away from London and thus reduce the prominence that the metropolis has in politics and the media. Although regional government in England may have a similar effect, there has been little support for it as the 2004 referendum on a regional assembly for the Northeast showed. Any ‘regions’ would always be artificial creations.
The use of an English parliament could be part of a new constitutional settlement with the abolition of the House of Lords and the creation of a Federal Parliament in its place, focusing on areas such as foreign affairs and macro-economic policy. Overall, the concept of an English Parliament may be the only way to keep the Union together.
Callum McNeill is a Young Fabians member.