Memorandum by the Campaign for an English
Parliament (RG 66)
Regional government is not devolution. Accordingly,
the six issues which the Select Committee is addressing are issues
of English local government re-organisation, not English devolution.
A correct understanding of devolution is required.
The basis of the devolution accorded by the
UK Government in 1988 to Scotland and Wales was distinct nationhood
within the United Kingdom.
Devolution was granted only to 16.6% of the
UK population, namely Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not
to the 83.4% of the UK population, namely England, despite the
claim made by the Prime Minister in 1998 that his Government was
embarking on a "comprehensive programme of constitutional
The "regional government" on offer
in the 2004 referendum was nothing more than another round of
English local government re-organisation, and indeed one which
would have in fact increased Whitehall control.
This is the English Question and the West Lothian
Question, both of which are not being addressed by the UK government
and, it appears, not by this Select Committee.
Devolution 1998 made the Scottish Parliament
and the Welsh Assembly responsible for Scottish and Welsh local
government. No UK Parliamentary Committee of MPs can consider
either independently of that Parliament and Assembly. The UK government
however inclusive of Scottish and Welsh members, in the absence
of any English devolution, continues to be responsible for English
local government. This is both discriminatory and constitutionally
The issues listed by the Select Committee in
its press release cannot be constitutionally, adequately and fairly
addressed without resolution of the English Question and the West
It is constitutionally unfair, unjust and discriminatory,
that the UK government can and does address and decide the local
government issues of only one of the constituent nations of the
United Kingdom, namely England while giving Scotland the freedom
to decide the same issues independently.
The only way forward genuinely fair to England,
and indeed to each of the constituent nation parts of the Union,
will consist in a reconstruction of the Union in which the new
relationship of Scotland to the UK State is granted to the other
national constituent parts.
Unless the Select Committee addresses this issue
in its Inquiry, its recommendations will not be complete, thorough
OBSERVATIONS ON THE TEXT OF THE COMMITTEE'S
"A FUTURE FOR REGIONAL GOVERNMENT?"
1. There is regional government in England,
none in Scotland and Wales. Scotland and Wales have national institutions
of devolved government, the Parliament and the Assembly. The 1988
devolution legislation expressly designated them distinct nations
within the United Kingdom; the terminology of regions was not
applied to them. The Prime Minister's assertion: "I certainly
recognise that England is a nation" (Bradford Telegraph/Argus
22/2/01) has not received any political or constitutional expression.
2. England has received no devolution of
any sort. Instead it has been organised into eight regions with
regional assemblies and one urban authority, the GLA by the UK
government. Whereas the mayor of the GLA is directly elected,
members of the RAs are not. RAs are made up of nominated members
and they co-exist with county/city/district councils and regional
development agencies. The GLA boundaries are those of the former
GLC, those of the eight regions completely arbitrary. Their geographical
size and that of the populations vary very greatly. England's
North East region is 2.5 million, England's South East region
is eight million. The NE region is just 90 miles in length, the
South East some 250 miles. Their actual powers and responsibilities,
which differ greatly from those of the GLA, are not clearly defined
but are being developed by a process of UK Government subtraction
of powers from existing councils in such areas as planning, economic
planning, housing and transport.
3. The GLA and the RAs constitute a form
of local government organisation.
4. "In the light of the no vote in
the North East devolution referendum on 4 November 2004 . . ."
The said referendum was not a devolution referendum.
Not only did it contain no elements of devolution, but the constitution
of the RA on offer was designed to achieve an increase in UK central
government control of local government. Further that constitution
would have maintained the independence of the RDA in relation
to the RA, though of course central government control of the
RDA remained unaffected. The correct description of the said referendum
is a "referendum on local government re-organisation".
5. "Issues relating to regional government"
This phrase and the listed issues confirm not
just that there is regional government in England but that it
is the intention of the UK government to develop and extend regional
government in England. Regional government in England has been
imposed incrementally by both Conservative and Labour administrations.
No RA members have been elected. In contrast to English counties,
regions are not historically organic local government developments
but artificially constructed and governmentally imposed. The new
concept of "city regions" will by and large correspond
to the organic way in which England has developed. One salient
feature of "regions" which is very unpopular is that
that they do not correspond with local identities, which have
taken centuries to develop.
6. "the potential for increasing the
accountability of decision-making at the regional and sub-regional
level, and the need to simplify existing arrangements"
This is a rather gnomic objective. It must be
assumed that "regional" refers to the present eight
regions and "sub-regional" to counties, cities and district,
even parish, councils. As things stand, electoral accountability
exists only at the "sub-regional" level, it is altogether
absent from the regional level, so the potential for increasing
it exists only there, which points to direct elections. Direct
election of regional members however was in fact the only thing
formally on offer in the referendum and was therefore what England's
North East rejected.
7. The statement assumes there will be regional
government. "Accountability of decision-making" should
however start with letting the electorate vote on whether they
want regions and regional assemblies in the first place in any
shape or form. It appears deficient of the Select Committee not
to see this.
8. "the potential for devolution of
powers from regional to local level"
As the existing RAs are not devolved authorities
but a newly introduced form of local government and have no devolved
powers themselves but only powers extracted by the UK government
from existing local government authorities, it must be that what
this statement means is that powers extracted from existing local
authorities and given to RAs will be returned to them through
the agency of the same RAs. This hardly makes sense.
9. There is much confusion of meaning here.
It would be preferable if the Select Committee used the term "delegation"
and not "devolution" of powers when discussing local
10. "the effectiveness of current arrangements
for managing services at the various levels and their inter-relationships".
This aspect of the Inquiry is not a matter this
Campaign would deal with.
11. "the potential for new arrangements,
particularly the establishment of city regions"
Like England's historic counties, which constitute
the oldest form of local government in existence in Europe and
with which the people of England identify, city regions are an
organic development, specifically since the Industrial Revolution,
and in the case of London long before. What develops organically
and naturally almost always works. What doesn't work is imposed
and artificial divisions of populations, of which it is very demonstrable
that these "regions" are a prime example. These "regions"
which the ODPM favours are artificial in their boundaries, have
no roots in the political history of England and strike no resonance
with how the people of England identify themselves. City regions
however do suggest a definite potential for new and advantageous
local government arrangements because they correspond to historic
natural organic developments in the way English people have organised
and identified themselves. But with caution, as immediately below.
12. "the impact which new regional
and sub-regional arrangements, such as city regions, might have
upon peripheral towns and cities"
This statement lacks clarity. Does it mean that
city regions will be "regional" or "sub-regional"?
One would hope the former because the vast bulk of population
and economic output is located in what will be city regions, and
if despite that they are sub-regions within a "region",
the rest of that "region" will be totally dominated
by them, creating a dreadful democratic deficit and storing up
deep reservoirs of resentment among the rural population. The
environmental impact will be very bad too in that the rest of
the "region" will become open game for new housing,
employment parks and shopping malls, and all the roads that serve
13. City regions must be clearly delineated
from the counties, and the counties must have equal powers in
order to defend rural traditions, the countryside and the environment,
rural employment and alternative ways of living from the cities.
It is that the shire counties are not subordinated to urban areas.
If the issue were ever put to the population at large, it would
overwhelmingly stand up for the preservation of England's countryside.
There must be this buffer of power between city and shire county.
However, the ODPM appears to have failed to recognise and appreciate
any of this. Future generations will be the victims.
Usefully, the statement indicates that the Select
Committee itself is sensitive to the possible impact of city regions
upon peripheral towns and cities. They too have their local histories,
identities and traditions which must be respected.
14. "the desirability of closer inter-regional
cooperation (as in the Northern Way) to tackle economic disparities"
This "Northern Way" aspiration of
the ODPM cannot possibly be dealt with adequately within the constraints
of this submission. It a prime example of the utter artificiality
of the whole regional programme. There are others. The West Coast
line, the East Coast line, the motorway system, the distances
people travel to go to work, the plane links from, say, Manchester
to London of a mere half hour, the way the health system works,
etc, they all show up that artificiality. England is a small country.
"Regions" are not the way the country works or the way
people think and live their lives. This "Northern Way",
strangely, was dreamt up by the ODPM even when it was engaged
with total vigour and immense expense in trying to persuade the
people of the North of England that they lived in three different
regions. The reality is that industry defies such artificial boundaries.
The M62 intersects with the M6 and the M1. Hull, Sheffield, Bradford,
Leeds, Manchester, Warrington, Saint Helens, Runcorn, Liverpool,
Birkenhead, all along the M62 and its connecting motorways are
not in different "regions", they are in one country.
Life flows between them. Industry, life, employment, culture in
England flows east and west, north and south without boundaries.
How out of touch can one get when Gloucestershire, a stone's throw
from Oxford and from Hereford, towns and counties it has lived
in close commerce with for centuries, is placed with total artificiality
inside a South West "region" that runs hundreds of miles
away to the Scillies, separated from the South East "region"
that has Oxford in with Dover (yes, Dover!) and from the West
Midlands "region" that has Hereford in with Stoke on
15. The Select Committee's press release
inviting evidence states that the Inquiry is its response to the
"no" vote in what it calls "the North East devolution
referendum". The presumption of that statement is that devolution
was on offer to England's North East on 4 November 2004; and that
devolution is the context to the six or more issues about which
the Committee invites evidence. This Campaign believes that it
is imperative that there is clarity about the meaning of "Devolution"
and how it is to be distinguished from "local government".
16. Devolution consists in the distribution
of power between the State and one or more or all of its constituent
parts to be exercised by them independently of the State. It can
take two forms. One, as in the USA, Germany, India and Spain for
example, it is the fully constitutionally established right of
a constituent part to exercise power without leave of the centre
in specific areas of governance which the central government cannot
legally amend or revoke. The other is what has been called by
the Constitution Unit "permissive autonomy" such as
exists in Scotland, and to a lesser extent in Wales. Scotland
now has autonomous powers in major areas of governance, Wales
less so, which autonomy in both cases the UK Government respects
and indeed has instituted. However, in the UK the relationship
between them is not federal. The power of the Crown invested in
the UK government remains supreme. The UK Government has retained
its constitutional right to close down the Scottish Parliament
and the Welsh Assembly and to intervene in any of its decisions.
Whether it will ever do so is of course another matter. The relationship
is a very delicate balance, has not yet become an issue because
the same party is in power in all three. We cannot predict what
might occur in the future.
17. Local government amounts to local councils
acting as agents of central government, a political system established
over centuries as in England and France.
18. The regional assembly offered to the
NE was not devolution. The clauses of the constitution of the
regional assembly on offer demonstrated that very clearly, specifically
that which made central government subsidies to the assemblies
dependent upon them meeting economic targets which the government
itself would set and performance about which it would be the judge,
something not imposed on Scotland where devolution was genuine
as well as extensive. What in fact was on offer under the guise
of "devolution" was the extension of Whitehall control.
In the UK, harsh though it is to say it, what really matters economically
and politically is England which is 83.4% of the population, producing
up to 90% of the GDP. Any committee considering devolution in
the UK must make this its starting point.
19. In 1998 devolution was granted in different
forms by the UK Government to just 16.6% of the UK population,
namely to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. None to the remaining
83.4%, namely the people of England, despite the Prime Minister's
assertion in 1998 that devolution was part of his "comprehensive
programme of constitutional reform". Furthermore, the form
devolution took in 1998 has worked to the disadvantage of the
20. Intrinsic to devolution 1998 is the
West Lothian Question. The WLQ constitutes a constitutional irregularity
which flies in the face of the most fundamental principle of Representative
Parliamentary Democracy which is the very basis of our system
of government, that no minister should be able to introduce legislation
and no ministers and MPs be able to vote on such legislation without
being accountable to their constituents. The WLQ has legislated
that principle out of existence by the very parliament that is
supposed to live by it.
21. Furthermore, as much as £1,300
is spent on each individual in Scotland, Wales and NI more than
in England in such areas as health, education and social services.
These extra amounts of money, and others make possible a huge
provision of services denied to England, like free personal care
for the elderly, more free public transport for pensioners, free
prescriptions in Wales for the 18-25 age group and due to be extended
to the total Welsh population, no top-up fees in Scotland and
a raft of health care provisions such as cancer treatments etc.
For all English MPs this should be a matter of the greatest concern.
22. Devolution is a very good thing, an
immense collective and individual resource. It distributes governmental
power from the centre to the constituent parts, it encourages
initiative, it promotes variety and creativity in government and
culture, it respects differences of history, geography and culture,
and it restrains and restricts the ever-overweening tendencies
of central government. It should be available in equal measure
to all UK citizens, not just a small minority of just 16.6%. However,
the very limited way it has been granted by the UK government
has been divisive, and harmful by being divisive.
23. Devolution however has to have a basis.
The devolution introduced in the UK in 1998 in fact had a very
clear and definite basis. It was Gordon Brown himself as Chancellor
of the Exchequer in his speech to Labour's 1997 conference who
set out the basis. He based Devolution UKt on the concept of "the
nations of Britain" Up to that moment we had spoken of "the
British nation". Mr Brown, the engine behind Scottish devolution,
declared that it was the distinct nationhoods within this island
which was the basis of UK devolution.
24. That the basis of Devolution 1998 was
nationhood becomes incontestably clear from the language used
by the government both in the actual devolution legislation itself.
The UK Government in 1998 devolution legislation used the language
of "nations", and only of "nations". Not of
"regions" or any other division of population. Statement
after statement, emphasise precisely this fact time and time again.
"Scotland is a proud historic nation in the United Kingdom"
Mr Blair asserts in his Preface to the Scotland Devolution Bill
White Paper. "The Assembly will be the forum for the nation,
able to debate all matters of concern to Wales" declares
Clause 1.15 of the Welsh legislation. "The Scottish Parliament
will strengthen democratic control and make government more accountable
to the people of Scotland" promises Donald Dewar Secretary
of State for Scotland in his Foreword. "Wales has some clear
priorities which reflect its particular geography and history"
states 2.4. The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly are
authoritative statements of the constitutional existence of Scotland
and Wales as distinct political national entities within the UK.
The undisputable basis of Devolution 1998 was nationhood -that
of Scotland and Wales. Neither was segmented into "regions".
25. But once Scotland as a distinct nation
had been given devolution in the form of its own parliament and
executive without any segmentation whatsoever, Mr Brown, the architect
of the process, changed the basis. At the 2001 Manchester CBI
conference he brought in the phrase: "the nations and regions
of Britain". By "nations" he meant Scotland and
Wales. But not England. Instead of England just "regions".
26. Whatever Mr Brown's perspectives in
all this, the fact is, it is where we are. "Regions"
and "regional assemblies" is the terminology used by
the ODPM for England. The Government oppose any political and
constitutional devolution settlement for England within the United
Kingdom which would recognise and give expression to her historic
distinct nationhood such as is accepted for Scotland and Wales.
It is precisely that attitude, even ideology, towards England
which has embroiled it in the constitutional and political turmoil
that have followed, not just upon the referendum, but the 1998
27. That constitutional situation has to
be correctly understood if ever it is to be resolved. Devolution
was not on offer in that referendum. If regional assemblies represented
genuine devolution, they would have meant that England would have
been administratively terminated, that the English Question would
have been resolved by officially constitutional and political
termination of England. They would have meant that the North East
would have stood in the same constitutional and political relationship
to the UK state and government as Scotland and Wales do, and each
"region" in relationship to each other as Scotland does
28. But it was local government re-organisation,
not devolution, that was not on offer. Yet that it was being passed
off as -as devolution. The question that must be asked is why
was the regional assembly put about as devolution for England.
The answer to that will greatly assist this Inquiry.
29. The NE RA was put about by the ODPM
as devolution because the government does not want devolution
for England but is under pressure to somehow find an answer to
both the WLQ and the English Question. The WLQ is a ticking time-bomb.
It has plagued this government throughout all its proposals for
reform of the health and education systems in England. How long
can any UK government keep depending upon Scottish MPs' votes
to impose changes upon England which the Scottish Parliament rejects
for Scotland? How does the government defuse this time-bomb? Does
it do it by segmenting England into mini-Scotland's each with
their own assembly with the powers of the Scottish Parliament?
That would result in the WLQ magnified another nine times. And
it would terminate England, the oldest unified state in Europe,
which no UK government has a mandate to do.
30. One way-out was just to keep ignoring
the issue in the hope that the people of England, who are not
dedicated constitutionalists, might just live and let live. That
was the solution proposed by Lord Irvine as Lord Chancellor. It
has not worked. English regional assemblies passed off as a form
of devolution has not worked either.
31. There are only two ways in which to
effectively defuse the time-bomb. Either the UK government repeals
the 1998 Devolution legislation or it extends it to England. Repeal
of the legislation is out of the question. An English Parliament,
and with it a reconstituted Union, is not. It is the only way
32. The only way forward genuinely fair
to each of the constituent nation parts of the Union consists
in that crucial reconstruction of the Union in which, as initiated
in the 1998 legislation, a new relationship of the nations of
Britain to the UK government must be worked out.