Posted by: secretperson | February 28, 2008

Justice Committee on English Question

On Tuesday 19th February, the House of Commons justice committee heard evidence on solutions to the English question. The video can be seen here until 28 days after that. There is some commentary on the proceedings on Our Kingdom by Alexandra Runswick.

There is an hour of talking with Ken Clarke (head of the Conservatives Democracy Taskforce), Liberal Democrat Lord Tyler and Oxford University professor of government Vernon Bogdanor. As Alexandra Runswick observes, this ‘establishment’ half of the evidence session was very relaxed and chummy.All the speakers agreed there was a problem, but not that it was a major one. Ken Clarke dismissed it as a niggle, and favoured a minor parliamentary tinker along the lines of English Votes on English Laws (his taskforce is yet to report on this). Vernon Bogdanor seemed more concerned with people outside London feeling distant from parliament. Lord Tyler didn’t support an English parliament either, they all dismissed it as ‘absurd’.

The second half had submissions from Unlock Democracy‘s Peter Facey and the Campaign for an English Parliament‘s Mike Knowles.

Mr Knowles seemed nervous at first, but got better as the meeting went on. He came across as passionate about the disparities in spending and the democratic deficit existing in the UK, he certainly viewed the English question as more than ‘a niggle’. However the CEP asks for an English constitutional convention (as held in Scotland) to consult the English people about the best system of government, so didn’t have a well oiled plan to present to the Committee. We (I speak as a CEP member) may have come across as unprepared, or without answers to the finer points of how things would work. It is a matter of principle though, and details could and will be worked out when the time comes. This state of affairs also required Mr Knowles to offer his opinions on certain issues such as the location of a Parliament.

Mr Facey was concerned only with de-centralisation and saw an English parliament as a block to this. He wasn’t parroting the usual (English) regions stuff though, forseeing power being taken by any size area, including existing government tiers, if they wanted it. It was interesting but didn’t say how this would work with different areas of different sizes wielding different powers. Surely a whole load of West Lothian type questions would arise.

Anyway, my conclusions were that grassroots campaigns have a lot to do to persuade politicians. The interviewers and ‘establishment’ speakers couldn’t really see any radical ideas. The unwritten rule of ‘preserving the Union at all costs’ was trotted out a number of times. They were possibly looking for detailed proposals not general principles and it didn’t look like anything was likely to be done. Let us hope it has planted a few seeds in MPs minds to at least think about the English question though.

All of which leaves me asking what can we do?



  1. […] Parliament – What are the Best Tactics? Following on from my post on the House of Commons Justice Committee I have been thinking about how the Campaign for an English Parliament and others with the same aim […]

  2. What we can do is state that its for the English people to discuss and decide – just as happened in Scotland. Not for a bunch of bigwigs in parliament to decide what is best from above.

    A recognition of a sovereignty of the people of England establishes a the convention of constitutional sovereignty for England. Modern nationhood in other words.

  3. You are right of course, it should be for the English people to decide. But the problem is that we have to convince the bigwigs in Parliament. Labour didn’t mind for Scotland and Wales because they were smaller and Labour believed they would win. So I guess convincing the Conservatives, who are a de facto English party, to stop worrying about the Unionist in their name is our best bet.

    At some point there has to be a practical detailed proposal, either we make it, or we convince the politicians it is worth them making it. Hopefully we can at least get a Constitutional Convention to fully debate the issues before then.

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