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Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Lords and the Regions

The Sunday Telegraph claims Jack Straw is planning to announce draft legislation for the abolition of the House of Lords. The proposals seem in line with previous Labour announcements of reform with the chamber to become a 300 member wholly elected body.

The focus of discussion will be increasing the accountability of the second house to the electorate but is there an opportunity to restore some balance to the British constitution? Blair's reforms deliberately ignored the West Lothian question but it needs an answer. It is a question that Ulster's Unionists should be particularly concerned about as equal citizenship was a founding principle of modern Unionism in the 1912 Covenant.

Fully fledged federalism does offer an answer but the public is unenthused despite its reasonable success in comparable countries such as Australia and Canada. Partly connected to federalism is the idea of an English parliament but it's potential to bully the national parliament means it would threaten the principle of equal citizenship as much as present arrangements.

However, could reform of the second chamber be a means of empowering England without undermining equal citizenship? Could it also inject the need to balance regional interests with national interests more directly than at present (as the American system does with the House of Representatives and Senate? Namely should this seats in the new chamber be distributed equally between the 9 regions of England and the other three constituent parts of the United Kingdom?

This would mean approximately 25 representatives each. Would this enable stronger regional voices to emerge or would the strength of the party system be able to maintain its dominance?

8 comments:

wildgoose said...

Nice try, but it's a ridiculous idea.

I'm English. I don't identify with, nor do I appreciate, my "Regional" identity which is completely alien to English history and practise.

There were MPs who warned that creating Devolution on a national basis would inevitably also mean devolution to England as a nation as well. They were ignored.

Thanks to the discriminatory national devolution we have had foisted on us we no longer have an equal citizenship to undermine.

If the Union is to continue it has to be on the basis of equal citizenship for all. That means either scrapping Devolution (which I don't think is possible), or completing it. An English Parliament with the same powers as those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland along with a federal Union Parliament for the reserved matters.

The size of an English Parliament would be irrelevant because its powers would be strictly limited to those set out in the Devolution Acts and would solely concern England.

Quite frankly, those that argue against this simple and just solution all seem to have a perverse desire to keep England subdued and controlled. And it is this blatant Anglophobia that is the real threat to the Union because any Union that is not prepared to treat its citizens equally is not worth preserving.

Lee said...

"I'm English. I don't identify with, nor do I appreciate, my "Regional" identity which is completely alien to English history and practise."

There is a greater diversity of opinion on identity than your personal statement. Also consideringt eh diversity of kingdom's that existed in what is now england for significant tranches of its history I don't entirely accept the final point either.

"Thanks to the discriminatory national devolution we have had foisted on us"

It was in the manifesto of the government that was elected and passed through parliament. It may have been something you disagreed with but it is not foisting.

"If the Union is to continue it has to be on the basis of equal citizenship for all. That means either scrapping Devolution (which I don't think is possible), or completing it."

Agree with that (but the public don't seem enthused by either.)

"The size of an English Parliament would be irrelevant because its powers would be strictly limited to those set out in the Devolution Acts and would solely concern England."

I agree with that broad outline too except on the English parliament. My concern is that the principle of equal citizenship is potentially threatened by the size of the English parliament in relationship with the others and give it the means to bully the national/federal parliament or act as an alternative national government.

wildgoose said...

England is the oldest unified nation in Europe and still uses the world's oldest national currency. The tranches of history prior to our unified existence are not significant in comparison to the last few centuries.

Devolution was a manifesto commitment tied to a referendum - but England was never given the same referendum on national Devolution that was given the other Home Nations. In other words, we were denied our say.

Am I right in saying that your objection to an English Parliament is that you believe it would bully the national/federal Parliament?

It might be helpful if you stated your reasoning behind this assertion, and also explain why you have solely singled England out for this opprobrium.

It also might be helpful if you clarify whether your "solution" to the Upper West Lothian Question would also mean that the Lords would become the revising chamber for the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments?

Or is it only England that has to put up with people making decisions which don't affect them?

Toque said...

I'm presuming that you're not English.

As someone who is English and who lives in England, I can't say that I find your Lords proposal attractive in any way whatsoever. Of what benefit is it to England? Not only does it leave us without a government and national voice, it doesn't even answer the West Lothian Question.

As for 'bullying the federal parliament' - there may be benefits to the Union but there is also a price to pay for it. The English parliament would only 'bully' the federal parliament if the price of Union outweighed the benefits. The price of the Union should be the incentive to compromise, in order to enjoy the benefits. Instead of 'bullying' maybe you should think about the national parliaments acting as 'checks and balances' upon the federal parliament. Federations require constitutions to lay out what powers lie at the centre and what powers lie at the peripheries, so the 'checks' could be legal constitutional safeguards, whilst the balances could be the public opinion of the individual nations.

The English may have greater ability, and dare I say greater cause, to hold the federal parliament to ransom. But I think you'll agree that out of the four constituent parts it is England that is the least likely to do so. If anything England's is more likely to kill off the Union through indifference.

Lee said...

Wildggose

"Am I right in saying that your objection to an English Parliament is that you believe it would bully the national/federal Parliament?"

Correct

"It might be helpful if you stated your reasoning behind this assertion, and also explain why you have solely singled England out for this opprobrium."

It size in proportion to all other parts of the Union in terms of geography, population, electorate and economic size. It's identity isn't an issue for me.

"It also might be helpful if you clarify whether your "solution" to the Upper West Lothian Question would also mean that the Lords would become the revising chamber for the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments?"

I hadn't thought of that angle - it might be worth exploring.

Toque

"Of what benefit is it to England? Not only does it leave us without a government and national voice, it doesn't even answer the West Lothian Question."

As I said in the blogpost the best solution isn't on offer so I'm trying to find something that would try to address the issue. I am looking to see if there is any opportunity to provide some greater empowerment to England in the system and thus with reform of the House of Lords on the agenda trying to find some opportunity for that.

The British constitution has always had a tendency towards assymmetry so the idea is in that vein.

"The English parliament would only 'bully' the federal parliament if the price of Union outweighed the benefits."

Price is in the eye of the beholder and relying on people to act altruistically is not a wise approach.

Toque said...

You seem to be suggesting that there is something particularly un-altruistic about the English.

There isn't, the fact that the Barnett Formula is extant is proof positive of that.

If it worries you that the selfish English might find themselves in a position to do something about about how their taxes are spent, enabled by an English parliament, then good - that's democracy.

Your Lords solution is feeble. It doesn't empower England in any way whatsoever, it merely empowers whichever political party has the plurality in the 'Senate' - the senators would have no mandate to speak, act or vote on behalf of England. The West Lothian Question is a party political problem, and it's resolution, does not empower England (unless resolution is by English independence or an English Parliament that acts in the interests of England).

Frankly I'm rather tired of people suggesting that England should have something less than they have. Where do you dream up this nonsense?

If Scotland has a parliament then so too should England. It's as simple as that. Wales should also have a parliament. All four territories of the UK should stand in equal relation to each other and the centre. It's a nonsense to keep England as the centre, conflating England and Britain, and English with British governance, not least because it doesn't allow non-English people equal ownership of Britain (which may not be a problem for Ulstermen with a very Anglo-centric conception of Britain, but it is a problem for the Scots).

Toque said...

Oh yes, and like Wildgoose I particularly resent this 'regions' business - save your precious Union by all means, but don't do it by balkanising England.

Lee said...

Toque

"You seem to be suggesting that there is something particularly un-altruistic about the English."

I'm suggesting nothing of the sort. It is a human trait common to all.

"I'm rather tired of people suggesting that England should have something less than they have."

The reality is English people have something less because of Blair's reforms but they don't show a desire to want the same either (despite your desire that they should).

So rather than go into denial of these two things I'm trying to find alternative ideas to fill the gap.