About Levels of Government
What are the arguments for and against an English Parliament?
First let’s set out the arguments in favour of an English Parliament:
- An English Parliament provides the only clear solution to English only issues being decided by a Parliament elected for England.
- It would turn Britain into a federal country rather than the half-way house created by devolution.
- There would be the same policy areas controlled by an English Parliament as are decided in Scotland and Wales. English votes for English Laws would be two classes of MP at Westminster for the first time. The Speaker would constantly have to rule whether a Bill only affects England.
Does anyone want an English Parliament?
Opinion polls have given varied results. They mostly show when people are asked they support the idea of an English Parliament. The rise of the SNP in Scotland has led to an increase in English feeling.
If an English Parliament is elected in the same way as those in Scotland and Wales, with regional lists as well as first past the post individual constituencies, then there would be greater representation of the Conservatives in the North East of England and the Labour Party in the South and smaller parties such as the Greens and UKIP would have representation that more accurately reflects the level of support for them. Decisions would have to be taken with greater cooperation between parties.
A new 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 referendum on a regional assembly for the North-East in 2004 showed. Any ‘regions’ would always be artificial creations.
An English Parliament may be the only way to keep the Union. Westminster has become increasingly seen as an English Parliament in Scotland and Wales. It is more difficult to see a future Prime Minister coming from Scotland or Wales so that the office has become to seem more English in character.
An English Parliament could be part of a new constitutional settlement. It might lead to the abolition of the House of Lords and the creation of a Federal Parliament. This would be smaller than Westminster and deal with areas such as foreign affairs and macro-economic policy
Arguments against an English Parliament
- England is much bigger than the other devolved countries and so the federal system created would be unbalanced. Although other federal systems have large and small members (such as California and Delaware among US states) there is not one with a single very large region.
- It could be argued, if we want decision making to be more efficient and democratic, then devolution should take place to regions or city and counties, given the size of England and not to an English Parliament.
- Opinion polls have suggested support for an English Parliament but this is only when people are asked. There is limited evidence that there is really a groundswell of opinion in favour of one, in contrast to Scotland before 1997.
- An English Parliament would need legislation and probably an overall constitutional settlement for the UK to create a federal system.
- Wales and Northern Ireland would need to have the same level of devolution as Scotland and England.
- A new financial settlement to decide how taxation is divided between the four parts of the UK would have to be negotiated.
- An extra tier of politicians would need to be created and there would be the extra expense of running an English Parliament, possibly in a new building.
- Government departments would need to be reorganised.
- What role would the Westminster Parliament, including the House of Lords, and a UK Prime Minister have? A federal Parliament would still control foreign and European affairs, macro-economic policy and some other areas.
- The four parts of the UK might need more equal representation in this Parliament than their population suggests.
- There could be conflict between the English and the UK Prime Ministers.
- People in England may prefer other solutions such as more decentralisation of power from Whitehall to local councils.