Options for an English Parliament: implications for the UK’s central institutions

Jack.000meg_russell (1)A Constitution Unit project has been examining options for an English Parliament. One factor that must be taken into account is implications for the UK’s central political institutions. Focusing on the separately elected model for an English Parliament, in this post Jack Sheldon and Meg Russell suggest that there would inevitably be substantial implications. Both the UK government and parliament would need restructuring, and there would be pressures to move towards more formal federalism.

Since autumn 2016 we have been working on a research project exploring options for an English Parliament. Various earlier posts have covered some of our findings, and our detailed report will be published very shortly. In this post we summarise some of our conclusions on implications for the UK’s central political institutions, including the UK government and parliament. We suggest that, in contrast to the relatively modest changes at the centre that resulted from devolution to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, an English Parliament would require substantial institutional restructuring.

For the sake of simplicity we assume here that an English Parliament would mirror arrangements in the existing devolved areas – that is, a directly elected body to which an executive headed by a First Minister would be accountable. Our report will also consider the implications of the dual mandate model for an English Parliament, under which the English legislature would be composed of Westminster MPs for English seats. While some of the issues covered here do not apply to that model, our report discusses how it too would have major consequences for the centre.

Powers

A necessary starting point in considering implications of an English Parliament is the powers that would be retained at UK level. Policy powers and financial arrangements for an English Parliament were covered in a previous blog post; in summary, its policy powers would probably be similar to those of the devolved legislatures in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Given the design of UK devolution, with policy areas such as education and health almost entirely devolved, this means that the legislative competence of the UK parliament would reduce very substantially. Continue reading

A ‘dual mandate’ English Parliament: some key questions of institutional design

meg_russell (1)Jack.000Almost 20 years after the creation of the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, England is the only country of the United Kingdom without its own devolved executive and legislative body. Meg Russell and Jack Sheldon offer their view on whether or not a dual mandate English Parliament is desirable or if it has the proper characteristics to be considered a parliament at all. 

Calls for establishment of an English Parliament have been made for years, particularly following Labour’s devolution in the 1990s to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Initially such proposals were largely confined to the right of politics, and appeared a relatively fringe interest. But in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum, and the new powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament, proposals have also begun to be heard from the political left. Nonetheless, advocates have rarely elaborated on their proposals in detail, and there are many unresolved questions relating to the likely powers, functions, structure and composition of such a body. Since autumn 2016, the Constitution Unit has been working on a research project exploring the options, and a detailed report is due to be published shortly. This post will concentrate primarily on the key institutional questions raised by what is known as the ‘dual mandate’ model for an English Parliament, which some proponents suggest could be implemented as an incremental next step from ‘English votes for English laws’ (EVEL). We ask whether this model for an English Parliament is as innocuous as it looks, and indeed whether what it proposes is a parliament at all.

Models for an English Parliament

The most instinctively obvious model for an English Parliament is to create a completely new body, elected separately from the House of Commons, to mirror the legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Variants of this separately-elected model have been proposed by such figures as David DavisFrank Field and Paul Nuttall. It is also favoured by the Campaign for an English Parliament, founded in 1998. Establishing such a body would be a big decision, entailing significant political upheaval and cost. The idea has many opponents, including experts such as Vernon Bogdanor and Adam Tomkins. A key concern is that a new elected body representing 85% of the UK population would, in the words of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, “introduce a destabilising asymmetry of power”. For all of these reasons, adoption of this proposal continues to appear politically unlikely.

The second model is what we call the dual mandate model, which is presented as a more incremental change. Here Westminster MPs representing English constituencies would meet as an English Parliament at certain times. Proponents see this as building on the existing EVEL procedures, creating a far clearer delineation at Westminster between England-only and UK business (and thus dealing once-and-for-all with the famous ‘West Lothian question’). The most prominent supporter has been John Redwood, but similar arrangements have also been proposed by MP Andrew Rosindell, Welsh AM David Melding, journalist Simon Heffer and writers from the Adam Smith Institute think tank. Nonetheless, this model is rejected by the Campaign for an English Parliament as ‘English Parliament lite’. Continue reading

Devolution and the repatriation of competences: the House of Lords Constitution Committee reports on the EU Withdrawal Bill

tierney2

The Constitution Committee of the House of Lords today published its report on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which is set to have its second reading in the upper house this week. In this post, Stephen Tierney discusses the report’s findings on the devolution issues raised by the Bill and examines the suggestions for solving some of the problems posed by the legislation as currently drafted.

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has today published a comprehensive and critical report on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (‘the Bill’). The Bill’s second reading will begin in the Lords this week, with the government committed to bringing forward amendments to the Bill’s provisions regarding the devolved territories (in particular, the controversial clause 11), but as yet these have not been tabled.

Largely because of the government’s undertakings to change the Bill, and the fact that it trusts proposed amendments will emerge from negotiations between the UK government and devolved administrations, the Committee refrains from making its own detailed recommendations in relation to clauses 10 and 11. The Committee’s overall position is that: ‘the devolution settlements must not be undermined. We welcome the discussions that are currently taking place between the UK government and the devolved administrations to seek consensus on the approach of the Bill to meeting the challenges posed by Brexit.’ Nonetheless, the Committee is also clear that clause 11 as it stands is problematic and that amendments to the provision are ‘imperative’.

Continue reading

The UK needs a devolved government for London

tim oliver

London is the UK’s undiscovered country and it is time we recognised it as the UK’s fifth constituent part by granting it the devolved political powers it deserves, says Tim Oliver. He argues that London’s size, unique population, economy, politics, identity, society and place in the UK, Europe and the world all add up to make it stand apart from any other part of the Union. A devolved government would not only benefit the capital but would more than any other constitutional change help to rebalance the UK towards a federal union. 

‘End London rule!’ has been heard many times around the world. It was heard regularly enough from some Scottish nationalists during Scotland’s independence referendum. It is also muttered increasingly around an England (whose population makes up 85% of that of the UK) run from London by one of the most centralised states in the developed world.

With London taxpayers the largest net contributors (by a long way) to the rest of the UK, the idea of ending London’s rule – or propping up, as Londoners might see it – of the rest of the UK is one we will all hear loudly in May when Londoners elect a new Greater London Assembly and Mayor.

Yet the elections in May that will get the most attention will be those in Scotland. The focus on north of the border, and to a lesser extent Wales, Northern Ireland and debates about ‘devo Manc’ for areas such as Manchester distract from the biggest question facing the UK: how to manage the place in the Union of its giant capital city.

Continue reading

Hung parliament will make it difficult to push forward the political reform Spain needs

_H5A5516

Spain’s general election on 20 December resulted in a hung parliament and great uncertainty about the identity of the next government. Alberto López-Basaguren discusses the election result, arguing that it has been arrived at because of the deterioration of the democratic system and the failure to solve the crisis surrounding the system of devolution. Neither problem will be easily addressed in such a fragmented parliament.

The elections to the Spanish parliament held on Sunday 20 December have resulted in a lower house with political fragmentation unprecedented in Spain. This new situation has an initial consequence: the difficulty involved in achieving a working government majority, which will almost certainly result in a very weak government and, possibly, early elections. But there is another very significant risk on the horizon: the inability of so fragmented a parliament, with such a weak leadership and such difficult alliances, to address the democratic regeneration – and the constitutional reform – which the profound political crisis in which Spain is immersed appears so urgently to demand. The capacity or incapacity to address these challenges will, very probably, determine the political future of Spain.

The D’Hondt electoral system with the provinces as constituencies (to which are allocated a minimum of two MPs, with some provinces having far larger populations than others), has led to a parliamentary map dominated by two major parties, which between them have always occupied two thirds of the 350-seat lower house. They have been accompanied by various other parties with a low number of seats. Principally, nationalist/regionalist parties (Basque, Catalan, Galician, Aragonese, Valencian, Navarran, Canarian etc.) which, with territorial concentration of their voters, obtain seats with a very low overall percentage of the vote; and, occasionally, parties with a presence throughout Spain, penalised by the electoral system, which despite a relatively high percentage of votes achieve very low representation. A parliamentary configuration that, on the one hand, handed control of the system to the two major parties, whose mutual agreement was a prerequisite to any substantial (constitutional) reform, and, on the other, allowed the party which won the elections to govern calmly, even when it did not have a parliamentary majority, in which case it sought the support of some ‘small’ party. A bipartisan system that guaranteed stability.

Continue reading

Social union in a new era of devolution

DSC04453

On 7 December Angus Robertson MP, the leader of the Scottish National Party group at Westminster, came to The Constitution Unit to set out his vision of social union between the nations of the UK. The full text of his talk can be accessed hereMatthew Rice reports.

The Scottish National Party’s use of the term ‘social union’ is nothing new. Indeed, as a ‘Yes’ campaign organiser stated on the website Open Democracy prior to last year’s independence referendum, ‘the independence movement is in a strong position if it can argue that the social union will be preserved and even strengthened after independence’. Maintaining that Britain’s social union would be preserved was seen as a way of bringing into the fold those who were concerned about the potential loss of the strong economic, institutional, historical and cultural ties between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Angus Robertson developed this line of reasoning in his talk, suggesting that ‘the SNP argument [during the independence referendum] was to break the political union but not the social union’. But how can the term ‘social union’ be conceptualised?

Helpful in this regard is Alex Salmond’s Hugo Young Lecture from January 2012, in which he outlined Britain’s shared economic, cultural and familial ties. Interestingly, both Salmond in 2012 and Robertson in his Constitution Unit talk cited the deployment of Scottish police officers to England at the height of the UK-wide riots in the summer of 2011 as an example of the social union in action. Robertson also alluded to the deployment of RAF Typhoon jet fighters from the RAF base in Lossiemouth against Daesh in Syria as a further example of the different nations of the UK working together – although he questions the legitimacy of such action, given that all but two of Scotland’s MPs voted against military action.

Continue reading

Northern Ireland’s ‘Fresh Start’ agreement will bring short term stability but does not itself resolve the underlying problems

Alan_Rialto2

Alan Whysall discusses developments last week in Northern Ireland, arguing that the ‘Fresh Start’ agreement will bring stability in the short term but does not itself resolve the underlying problems. This blog follows up earlier posts outlining Northern Ireland’s current political difficulties here, and possible ways forward here and here.

After some months of stand off, and ten weeks of negotiations involving the main parties and the British and Irish governments, things moved quickly last week. A political deal on most of the problematic issues in the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) of last December, and more recent concerns about paramilitarism, was announced by the First Minister and deputy First Minister on Wednesday. The Assembly quickly moved on Thursday to give effect to it. Then the First Minister, Peter Robinson, announced his departure from that office and the leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party, probably around the turn of the year.

Immediate threats to stability at Stormont now appear to be averted, at least until after the Assembly elections next May. If, as appears likely, the DUP and Sinn Féin are again working closely together, a positive momentum in politics (as in 2010-12) may bring advances. But serious potential challenges lie ahead. And the ‘Fresh Start’ the deal claims to be will need a new approach to create the right political conditions.

Continue reading