Parliament for the English?

David Davis MP

I see that Conservative leadership contender David Davis has renewed the call for only English MPs to vote on English-only matters in Parliament (reported on BBC News Online here http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4424370.stm).

You can understand what he is getting at: right now, Scottish MPs can vote on English domestic legislation (on health and education, for example) but English MPs cannot vote on its Scottish equivalent. (Neither can Scottish MPs, for that matter.) Devolution has put health and education in Scotland into the hands of the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament. Unfair, say the critics, and they’ve got a point.

But creating two classes of MP in Westminster is not the solution. Imagine the chaos if the Davis plan were to come to fruition. A government that commands a majority in the Commons on the strength of MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (as the present one does) would be unable to implement its legislation in England. The opposition would be able to prevent anything from being done. They could not be able to achieve anything themselves as they would lack the parliamentary time (a gift from the Leader of the House who is appointed on the strength of the whole Commons, not just the English part).

We saw on Wednesday, when the 90 day proposal for detention without charge was voted down, a government unable to govern. Under the Davis plan, that situation would risk becoming the norm, not the exception. The resentment between the English and Scottish political systems would surely grow, which is hardly a sensible outcome for someone who professes to want to defend the union.

Much better would be a policy of devolution all round, creating regional government in England with powers comparable to those in Scotland. This is the answer to the so-called West Lothian question. The obstacle to this proposal is one of practical politics: the first steps towards it in the north-east of England were rather ruined by a half-baked proposal and an unsuccessful referendum campaign.

Solving these constitutional problems is going to require a rather substantial effort on all sides in politics. Dreaming up solutions during the Tory leadership campaign risks making things worse rather than better.

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