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Friday, April 20, 2012

The Tory myth of England-only bills

The idea being perpetuated by the Conservative party that English voters are somehow being disenfranchised by devolution and that a block of Celtic MPs stand in the way of English self-determination has been challenged by a leading academic this morning.

The Western Mail says that Professor Jim Gallagher, of Nuffield College, Oxford, has argued that introducing new rules on England-only legislation in the House of Commons would neither “cripple” Labour governments nor result in Conservative “hegemony”:

In a new report for the IPPR think tank, he writes: “The idea that a Tory-voting England regularly has Labour governments imposed on it by the Celtic fringe is a myth. To form a stable government any party needs to win in England.

“Other MPs are only critical when England is split down the middle. That’s seldom happened: Harold Wilson struggled on with an English minority but a UK majority for two years from 1964, and for eight months in 1974.

“But since then Labour has only won when it won England. The risk will be even less now that constituencies are to be equalised.

“And England-only legislation is not as common as people think. So change will neither guarantee a Tory hegemony nor cripple every Labour Government.”

Professor Gallagher says that it is possible to devise a Commons procedure to allow English members a greater say in English legislation however, a balance will have to be struck between giving English opinion a voice and allowing the UK Government still to discharge its proper role as the government of England.
I can't see how a system could work under the present devolution settlement. Many 'English only' bills have financial implications, and therefore a consequent effect on the Barnett settlements for the devolved legislatures. Wales is more affected than Scotland and NI in that respect. Even as it stands now the total representation in the Commons from Scotland, Wales and NI, is already dwarfed by that of England - to lessen that voice on matters which have an indirect effect on the other nations would increase the tensions which already exist within this disunited kingdom.

That a problem exists is undeniable. I doubt that a workable solution exists, short of scrapping the unwritten constitution and creating a federal state - and we all know that isn't going to happen under the Tories or Labour, and probably not under the LibDems either.

I'd like to see what Professor Gallagher's 'solution' is.
This strikes me as highly problematic. The comment above is already addressing some of the issues concerning the Barnett formula - but some 'English only' legislation is anything but.

As somebody working at a Welsh university I am thinking of the example of tuition fees. England introduced them, and of course, the sector in the whole country is affected and the devolved governments have to bring in legislation in reaction to the measures.

I am sure this is not the only example.
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