Ongoing Constitution Unit research is exploring options for an English Parliament. The choice of location would have major practical implications, as well as being of high symbolic importance. Jack Sheldon sets out the factors that would need to be considered. He suggests that while a ‘dual mandate’ English Parliament would almost certainly meet at Westminster, a separately-elected body would most likely be located outside London.
Since last autumn Professor Meg Russell and I have been working on a research project exploring the options for an English Parliament. Although there have been various calls over the last 20 years to establish such a body, how might it actually be designed in practice? Unlike other issues relating to powers, functions, structure and composition, the decision on where to locate an English Parliament would not fundamentally affect constitutional arrangements. However, it would have major practical implications and be of high symbolic importance. This blog post focuses on the issues that would need to be considered in selecting a location and suggests how a decision might be reached.
The size of an English Parliament
Decisions on location would need to be made in light of the number of members an English Parliament would have. Our research has identified two competing models supported by proponents of an English Parliament, which point to different conclusions on this.
Under the ‘dual mandate’ model the English Parliament would be composed of members of the UK House of Commons that sit for English constituencies. The number of members would therefore be equal to the number of English Westminster MPs – currently 533, reducing to 501 if the proposed boundary changes are implemented.
Under the ‘separately-elected’ model a new directly-elected institution would be created. Considerations of cost-saving and consistency with the UK’s existing devolved legislatures mean that it would be likely to be a unicameral body of approximately 300 members. This would be sufficient to provide enough members to serve on committees and perform other parliamentary roles. If combined with a reduction in the size of the UK parliament, perhaps to around 350 members, an increase in the overall number of elected politicians could be avoided.
Louise Thompson argues that the constitutional challenges we will see over the next 5 years will be a product of the changed composition of Parliament. Here, she specifically considers how SNP are likely to try and amend proposed constitutional reforms announced in the Queen’s Speech last week.
We are only a couple of weeks in to the 2015 Parliament, but we can already see signs of big changes from the previous Parliament, as well as some major parliamentary and constitutional challenges ahead. Last week’s Queen’s Speech proved what most commentators had already suspected; the first majority Conservative Government for nearly two decades will oversee a period of major constitutional change. This includes greater devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as to English cities and an In-Out referendum on membership of the European Union to be held by the end of 2017. The constitutional ground is beginning to move already. The Prime Minister has already met with the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to discuss the devolution of more powers to the Scottish Parliament.
As returning MPs took their seats in the chamber following the Queen’s Speech last week, they were met with a sea of unfamiliar faces as 182 new Members took their seats in the chamber. There is nothing new about a high turnover of MPs – the 2010 General Election saw an even higher turnover of Members. But the composition of the new intake, with record numbers of women and ethnic minority MPs, a massive drop in the number of Liberal Democrat MPs and the arrival of a much larger number of SNP MPs is very different to what the House has seen before. The challenges we will see over the next five years to the government’s planned constitutional reforms are very much a product of this changing composition.
On 11 February 2015, Nicola Sturgeon spoke at an event co-hosted by the Constitution Unit and the UCL Department of Political Science. Sam Sharp reports on the event.
Recent predictions suggest the Scottish National Party (SNP) could win as many as 54 seats in May. A poll surge of this kind is not what most would have expected to follow a lost referendum on the party’s cornerstone issue. It is in this context, however, that an emboldened Nicola Sturgeon addressed UCL and the Constitution Unit in her first London speech since becoming First Minister of Scotland. She delivered a robust rejection of austerity, setting out a vision of an alternative Scottish economic approach and an enhanced role for the (potentially many) SNP MPs.
It was evident from the off that speaking in London would not tone down Sturgeon’s anti-Westminster message. On austerity she was at pains to make her point especially clear: these are ‘Westminster proposals’ made by the ‘Westminster parties’ in a stale ‘Westminster debate’. The SNP, she argued, are not tainted by this brush. A contrast was drawn between the ‘wide-ranging, passionate and fundamental’ referendum debate and the ‘bizarrely and depressingly narrow’ Westminster discourse (although this supposed contrast in debate quality should probably be taken with some scepticism given the criticisms of scaremongering and intimidation that surrounded the referendum).