Devolution: A Decade on - Justice Committee Contents

5  The English Question

153. Over four-fifths of the population of the United Kingdom live in England, but while fundamental change has been taking place in the governance of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with consequent effect on the governance of the United Kingdom as a whole, no such change has taken place in the way England is governed. There have been some developments with mixed results: a form of devolution in London, endorsed in a referendum in 1998, the creation of various unelected regional structures in the rest of England, and a move in some areas towards having a single tier of local government. Legislation was put in place to allow any region to have an elected Assembly, subject to a local referendum. The first—and only— attempt to make use of these provisions was defeated in a referendum in the North East in 2004.

154. Government in England remains centralised under the authority and management of the United Kingdom Parliament and the United Kingdom Government. There is controversy arising from the fact that England is governed directly by the United Kingdom Government and Parliament and is therefore subject to Ministers and MPs who do not represent England and whose own constituents come under devolved governments. The governance of England is seen by many as the "unfinished business" of devolution, but this perception is not accompanied by any widespread agreement on what should be done.

The West Lothian question

155. The English question has many dimensions and many forms. One of its most frequent expressions is what became known as the 'West Lothian' question, because it was frequently raised by Tam Dalyell MP during the debates leading up to the 1979 devolution referenda in Scotland and Wales.[256] He pointed to the anomaly of Scottish MPs being able to vote on legislation on, for example, health and education policy in England, when they could not vote on health and education laws affecting their own constituents in Scotland because these would be determined by the Scottish Parliament. He, as a Scottish MP, would decide on laws which apply in West Sussex but not on laws which apply in West Lothian. English MPs would have no vote on policies in Scotland towards which English taxes were contributing, while the votes of Scottish MPs might determine the outcome of the same issues in England. The question was first posed in the nineteenth century as part of the controversy over Home Rule for Ireland, and the phenomenon actually existed throughout the life of the Government and Parliament of Northern Ireland from 1921 until they were abolished in 1972. Northern Ireland MPs at Westminster, although reduced in number, were free to vote on legislation applying to Great Britain on a wide range of subjects which were devolved to the Northern Ireland Parliament.

156. The Question, in the wider sense of symbolising the territorial asymmetry of devolution, also encompasses related issues, such as the level of representation of devolved areas at Westminster, the appointment of Scottish MPs as ministers in departments dealing wholly or mainly with England and the practical and legal relationships between one or more devolved legislatures or assemblies and Westminster.[257] To date, the West Lothian question has not been such a "political hot potato" in Anglo-Welsh relations as it has been in Anglo-Scottish relations. There are fewer Welsh than Scottish MPs serving as ministers in the UK Government, and with fewer powers devolved to Wales than to Scotland, there are fewer policy areas where Welsh MPs cannot legitimately legislate. However, as more powers are devolved to Cardiff, Public Affairs Cymru argued that this situation may change, which could only lead to an intensification of the issues.[258] Professor Mitchell concluded that this could result in a "politics of grievance" on all sides.[259]

157. The West Lothian question's importance rests, in part, on the perception that it is actually or virtually insoluble. Some commentators, such as Ferdinand Mount, have argued that the question is neither insoluble nor a real problem, as it simply reflects the asymmetry common to British constitutional arrangements.[260] A number of other systems, including Canada's federal system, have a degree of asymmetry but the relative size of England (84% of the UK's population)[261] in comparison with the other constituent parts of the United Kingdom makes questions around the governance of England post-devolution particularly difficult. Peter Facey, Director, Unlock Democracy, said that "finding a way forward ... which fits within the nature of England is essential".[262]

The broader question

158. However, the English question is much broader that the West Lothian question, as it encompasses the wider issue of how England should be governed post-devolution. Professor Hazell described the English question as a "portmanteau heading for a whole series of questions about the government of England".[263] He identified two questions: First, does England need to find its own separate political voice or voices to rebalance the louder political voice accorded to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? Second, does England need internal devolution in order to break from the excessive domination of central government, as an alternative or as a supplement to all-England solutions?[264]

159. Professor Bogdanor identified two slightly different English questions, the first being the constitutional question of the imbalance that has arisen as a result of devolution. The second and more important question in his view, was the political question or the "sense of alienation on the part of many people in England".[265] While he argued that the constitutional aspect could not be answered until England or regions of England "want legislative devolution", he said that the political aspects of the English question "can and should be answered".[266]

160. This range of different English questions prompts a range of different answers. Some argued that the only way ahead is to have an English Parliament,[267] while Nicola Sturgeon MSP, told the Committee "it is ... too tempting for me not to say that independence (for Scotland) at a stroke would solve the English Question".[268] Peter Facey, Director, Unlock Democracy, told us that "there are a number of proposed solutions to the English Questions including an English Parliament, territorial voting, an English Grand Committee and regional government. However just as there is not one English question it is likely that there will not be one answer, rather there will need to be a package of measures to address the different issues".[269]

Public opinion

161. Public opinion relating to the English question is also mixed. It is not clear to what extent the English question is perceived as a problem. Professor Curtice, Deputy Director, CREST, and Director, Social Statistics Laboratory, University of Strathclyde, told the Committee that, as far as public opinion has been measured in England to date, if there is seen to be an English problem, it is simply that it is not obvious why Scots and Welsh MPs should be voting on English legislation. Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP described this as a "niggle",[270] which he further defined as the "mounting English resentment of this residual opportunity for governments to pass things against the English majority".[271] Lord Tyler CBE identified a "continuing resentment in areas furthest away from London within England".[272]

162. However, there is no clear strand of opinion as to how this small but possibly increasing resentment should be addressed. Professor Curtice found that a majority of people in England would prefer to stay with the status quo, and while devolutionists make up about 40% of the English population, they are split between an English Parliament and regional devolution.[273] He concluded that although national identities may be changing, it is not clear that even those who feel English necessarily feel that that Englishness needs to be reflected in distinctive political institutions.[274]


163. Different types of solutions can be suggested for the many different questions which fall under the broad heading of the English question. First, there are those solutions which seek to address the constitutional imbalance seemingly brought about by devolution, for example, through the creation of an English Parliament. Second, there are those solutions which seek to amend the role, practice and status of Westminster as a means of addressing the West Lothian Question, for example, schemes of English votes for English laws. However, others consider that the West Lothian Question could be best addressed by a change in the party political balance at Westminster, for example, through reform of the electoral system or a reduction in the number of MPs from Scotland and Wales. These approaches could be described as all-England solutions. The final category of solutions are those which attempt to tackle the centralised nature and relative size of England through decentralisation or devolution within England. What is clear is that different solutions address different aspects of the question.


164. In oral evidence to the Committee, Professor Hazell, although not supporting an English Parliament, stated that the closest to a complete answer to the West Lothian question would be to have an English Parliament.[275] Not only would this immediately remove the possibility of Scottish and Welsh MPs voting on issues pertaining only to England, it would also give England the same national recognition as accorded to Scotland and Wales through the creation of their devolved Parliament and Assembly. Mr Michael Knowles, representing the Campaign for an English Parliament, claimed that such a Parliament would be the "salvation of the Union" as it would stop "all this resentment .... building up".[276]

165. The aim of the Campaign for an English Parliament is to achieve an English Parliament and Executive with powers at least equivalent to those powers devolved to Scotland. This was intended to address the anomaly that Mr Michael Knowles identified, that "England alone of the three nations on this island has no political and constitutional existence".[277] While accepting that any proposed constitutional arrangements would need the approval of the people of England, Mr Knowles said that his main concern was that "England is recognised both politically and constitutionally as having the same status within the Union as Scotland and Wales".[278] However, no main political party has come out in support of an English Parliament, which is a marked contrast to the position in relation to devolution in Scotland and Wales ten or fifteen years ago[279] and the substantial evidence from Professor Curtice shows that there is no upsurge of consensus in England in support of an English Parliament.

166. As well as solving the constitutional dimension of the English question, supporters of an English Parliament claim that it would: "strengthen democratic control and make government more accountable to the people of England; enable the people of England to express their own priorities and direct spending to where it is most needed; better enable the people of England to pursue policies, which help preserve England's identity and improve its environment; give England a voice (similar to that of Scotland) in the European Union and provide a partial realisation of the right to self-government to which the people of all countries aspire".[280]

167. Several witnesses identified problems with the creation of an English Parliament, particularly noting the difficulty of managing such asymmetry within the United Kingdom. Professor Jeffery explained that the existence of an English Parliament would create an unbalanced federation. He said that historically, it would be a "unique situation" to see an English Parliament with an equivalent set of powers to the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the National Assembly for Wales forming a federation or something like it when one of the units has between 80% and 85% of the population.

168. The Campaign for an English Parliament disagreed. They argue that the UK is indeed unique, and that a "situation in which England did not dominate the Union would be ignoring England's population size and would therefore be undemocratic".[281] However, Professor Jeffery argued that in this type of political system there is a presumption that there is equality of units. He concluded that "entrenching a sense of equality across units ranging in size from less than two million to 50-plus million would be extremely difficult".[282]

169. The issues of asymmetrical size and numerical dominance also have particular implications for the executive role and for the whole political process. The First Minister of England and the English Government would command resources, political attention and media coverage on such a scale that he or she could rival the UK Prime Minister and Government for perceived significance in the mind of voters. The election of the English Parliament would be likely to focus on the issues which normally dominate a General Election, such as health, education, crime and public spending levels. The UK General Election would, in theory, be focused on defence, foreign policy, macro economic policy, national taxation and welfare benefit levels, but it is difficult to imagine that this would be what happened in practice.

170. Professor Hazell further pointed out that an English Parliament serving a population of 50 million people would "be perceived as being as remote and distant from their concerns as the Westminster Parliament is, so it would not necessarily be a solution in devolutionary terms".[283] Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, described an English Parliament as being as "large and bureaucratic and unmanageable as our present structure of government", [284] while Professor Mawson, Director of the Local Government Centre, University or Warwick Business School, said that it would "not resolve the present asymmetric problem ... but would add a new and more serious problem to an already flawed devolution project".[285] Professor Curtice said that it is not obvious that the English think there is a problem, and there is no public demand, at this moment, for an English Parliament.[286] Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP argued that "the average Englishman thinks they have got a Parliament, which is the Westminster Parliament".[287]

171. Unlock Democracy agreed that an English Parliament would not solve the problem of centralisation within England, and the further devolution of power within England would still be necessary in order fully to address the English question. It therefore described an English Parliament as "an additional and unnecessary tier of governance".[288] The Campaign for an English Parliament rejected this argument on the basis that the numbers of MPs in the UK Parliament would be reduced,[289] and that there would be "no more MPs dealing with English matters than there are at present in the House of Commons".[290]

172. Several practical anomalies were also identified, for example, the role of the House of Lords in respect of English legislation following the creation of an English Parliament.[291] English legislation would come within the remit of the House of Lords yet Scottish legislation does not. Professor Curtice argued that if you are going to argue that England should be treated in the same way as Scotland, there should not be any anomalies. If this were to be the case, the creation of an English Parliament would require completely "re-writing the constitution for England".[292] Professor Bogdanor concluded that an English Parliament was an "absurd solution". [293]

173. While an English Parliament could address one aspect of the English question in terms of giving England a similar constitutional status to Scotland within the United Kingdom, it presents issues of balance because of the sheer size of the English population and because it would require a Government and First Minister for England in addition to the United Kingdom Government and Prime Minister. We do not think that there is a need to consider so far-reaching a solution as an English Parliament, although it may become necessary to do so if the English questions are seen as increasingly significant and other solutions are rejected or fail.


174. A second response to the English Question is to limit the right to vote on English-only matters, including health and education, to MPs with English seats. In 2007 the Conservative Party Democracy Taskforce considered the West Lothian question. Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP, Chairman of the Taskforce, expected the next Conservative Party manifesto to outline proposals that would "address the West Lothian question".[294] A paper submitted to the taskforce by Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP on 28 October 2007 proposed a scheme of English votes for English laws by delegating English legislation to an English Grand Committee. His proposed Grand Committee of English MPs is reported to be under consideration by the Conservative party leadership.[295]

175. Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP told the Committee that while his taskforce would not come up with the same answer as Sir Malcolm, that in principle, they were "heading in the same direction".[296] In July 2008, the Task Force published their report which proposed a scheme of English votes for English laws outlined below.

176. First, Bills that are certified as 'English' would pass through the normal Commons processes as far as and including Second Reading. The whole House would vote on Second Reading. The Committee Stage, however, would be undertaken by English MPs only, in proportion to English party strengths. At Report Stage, the Bill would similarly be voted on by English Members only. At Third Reading the Bill would be voted on again by the whole House. Since no amendments are possible at this stage, the Government would have to accept any amendments made in Committee or at Report or have the Bill voted down and lost.[297] The Report concluded that:

"the current devolution settlement contains long-term risks to the Union. The Democracy Task Force recommends to David Cameron a modified version of 'English Votes for English Laws', incorporating English-only Committee and Report stages but a vote of all MPs at Second and Third Reading. We believe that this proposal can remove the main source of English grievance at the current devolution settlement without some of the risks to political stability that critics have seen in proposals for a completely English procedure".[298]

177. This proposal can be presented as achieving some of the purpose of English votes for English laws without ultimately threatening the right of Government to use its majority in support of its legislative programme, unless a Bill has been so greatly amended in the Grand Committee or on Report that it no longer meets the Government's purposes. It also reflects the often expressed wish of members not to have to sit in Committee on Bills that do not affect their constituents. However, it is not clear what would happen to the Bill in the House of Lords, particularly if it was argued that the spirit of the Salisbury Convention should allow the Government to get its Bill in broadly the terms set out in its manifesto. If the procedure is devised in a way which makes certain that only with a majority of English MPs can laws be passed which are limited to England, it would be a fundamental change in the constitution; a compromise on the lines proposed could be less significant but might not meet the expectation of those who find the present situation unacceptable.

178. The criticisms of English votes for English laws largely fall into three categories. First are the constitutional issues, and the point that these proposals would fundamentally change the nature of Westminster as a UK Parliament, and might ultimately pose a threat to the Union. Second, many procedural and technical difficulties have been raised, and doubts expressed as to whether, even if desirable, it would be practically possible to create a system of English votes for English laws within the Westminster Parliament. The third criticism is based on the argument that this is a disproportionate response to what is essentially a political problem, and therefore one that could be more adequately and appropriately addressed by political solutions.

179. The Government is opposed to any such scheme, based on a combination of the criticisms outlines above. Speaking in the Commons on 7 November 2008, Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, expressed the Government's opposition to 'English votes for English laws' in strong terms. He said:

"The phrase English votes for English laws sounds beguilingly simple, but more than cursory analysis reveals it to be completely unworkable. More than that, it would fatally undermine the Westminster Parliament and unravel the Union".[299]

180. In its written evidence to the Committee, the Government outlined this position in more detail:

"Restricting the rights of Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland members to vote on English issues leads to constitutional instability. A UK Government elected on a UK mandate might find itself unable to deliver key policies on which it has been elected. United Kingdom Government Ministers might find themselves unable to vote in support of measures for which they have collective responsibility, or even to support measures for which their department is responsible. There would be a fundamental change to the nature of UK democracy.

The right place to legislate for England is at Westminster. England has over 80% of the British population, and of seats at Westminster. If they are so minded English MPs can wholly determine English matters, and of course taxation as well as the level of public expenditure in other parts of the UK. Almost all Bills brought before the House of Commons have financial implications or require money orders. Taxation is so fundamental to government and to the economy of all the UK that all MPs must be able to vote equally on all matters". [300]

181. It is also argued that this would be a 'slippery slope' that poses a threat to the Union. Professor Bogdanor described the move towards English votes for English laws as being "profoundly dangerous to the future of the United Kingdom".[301] Professor Hazell agreed, and expressed "no doubt that over time what was introduced as, seemingly, a modest procedural change could lead to a Parliament within a Parliament and no one should be in any doubt that this would be a very big change indeed with potentially very grave, long-term consequences".[302] He concluded "… we would de facto have created an English Parliament".[303] Rt Hon Des Browne MP said "if you generate an English Parliament inside the UK Parliament, then you would need to do that in the confident knowledge that eventually that would lead to the break-up of the UK".[304]

182. Professor Bogdanor further pointed out that: "… 528 of the 645 MPs in the Commons represent English constituencies. On any issue that unites them, English votes will predominate. The English have no need to beat the drum or blow the bugle. If they do, they will strain the devolution settlement, which rests fundamentally, as the Union has always done, on a sense of restraint by the dominant nation in the UK".[305]

183. While Peter Facey, Director, Unlock Democracy, said that on the face of it English votes for English laws was "appealing", he conceded that it would be "very difficult to do in practice".[306] An editorial in The Economist on the 1 November 2008 highlighted some of these difficulties:

"A government with a majority of British but not English seats might struggle to pass many of its manifesto pledges, and ministers from Scottish constituencies would be unable to vote on their own bills. This is not just a theoretical worry: the present cabinet is led by Scots, including the Prime Minister and his Chancellor of the Exchequer. Moreover, determining which bills are purely English is a fraught task, as William Gladstone, a Liberal Prime Minister, discovered in 1893 when he had to abandon a plan similar to Sir Malcolm's to deal with Irish MPs. Accommodating MPs from Wales and Northern Ireland, whose national legislatures have fewer powers than Scotland's, would complicate things further".[307]

184. Lord Tyler CBE described proposals for an English Grand Committee as "absurd" resulting in "the opportunities for real political conflict and gridlock".[308] He explained:

"… suppose legislation is taken to an English Grand Committee, a result of some amendments during the process ... that there are elements which affect Scotland and Wales. What do you do? Do you take it out of Committee and create a new Committee? ... What about the Lords? Are we to have a unicameral system for England or bicameral? If it is to be bicameral, do Scottish peers get excluded from all the debates on that issue ... What happens if there are amendments in the Lords which seem to impinge on Wales in a way that it does not on Scotland ... What if there is some reference to transport which does not really seem to fall within the purview of that Committee as far as London is concerned, because London has specific transport?"[309]

185. One of the main disputes as to the workability of English votes for English laws is the question of the extent to which 'England-only' legislation can be clearly demarcated from the rest. Professor Jeffery said that the proposals were based on a presumption that "you can disentangle business for England from business for the other parts of the UK … but one of the issues is certainly that many of the Bills considered in this House are England and Wales Bills and not just England Bills and produce various consequences for Wales".[310]

186. Since the creation of the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales, there has been an improvement in the demarcation of the territorial extent of legislation. Following a recommendation by the Scottish Affairs Committee in its report The Sewel Convention: the Westminster perspective 2005-06[311] that improved explanatory notes to Bills should include a more comprehensive indication of territorial extent. In addition, a list indicating the territorial extent of Bills appeared in Hansard following the Queen's Speech.[312] Furthermore, on 13 December 2006, the Secretary of State for Wales said that the Government would in future make an annual statement on the implications of its legislative programme for matters that fell within the enhanced legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales.[313]

187. However, complexities remain in relation to both Scotland and Wales. For example, in legislating for Scotland, the use of the Legislative Consent Motion (Sewel Motion) convention, whereby the UK Parliament continues to legislate in devolved areas with the consent of the Scottish Parliament, adds further complications to proposals to certify bills as applying exclusively to individual parts of the UK.[314] There may be practical ways to overcome these technical difficulties, such as changing drafting practice, but this is likely to result in more Bills, more strictly defined as to territorial coverage.

188. In Wales, the Government of Wales Act 2006 is taking effect and the National Assembly for Wales is, through framework powers in UK Acts and Legislative Competence Orders, acquiring the competence to pass Measures which are quasi-primary legislation.[315] However, in general, England and Wales have a common statute book, therefore legislation designed to apply exclusively to Wales commonly also extends to England. Part of the rationale of this was to deal with cross border issues.[316] The question of separating legislation affecting England but not Wales is therefore quite complex and it is far from clear what this would achieve.

189. Professor Keating disagreed that these issues should necessarily be a problem for a system of English votes for English laws. He noted that that the territorial extent of Bills is already defined,[317] and that any Bills that are not clear in this sense are "bad practice", making the statute book difficult to read. He argued that the Government should separate devolved and UK clauses better.[318] While Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP agreed, and said that he did not believe that it was "not possible to identify a comparatively small amount of legislation which is totally English in its consequence and content",[319] Rt Hon Des Browne MP described this as "almost impossible to do".[320] Rt Hon Lord Steel of Aikwood suggested that this was not an "insuperable problem",[321] and Rt Hon Jack McConnell MSP said that if there is a "will to find a solution and to make regular judgements that are commonsensical and can work in practice, then I suspect the House of Commons is able to do that".[322]

190. However, Lord Tyler CBE and Professor Hazell warned that this was potentially a "minefield" which would "draw the Speaker into some invidious decision-making"[323] and "into quite sensitive areas politically in giving rulings on what was and was not an English law when clauses in bills were being voted on".[324]

191. The question of whether England-only legislation can be more clearly demarcated from other legislation has to be resolved if any scheme of English votes for English laws is to work. While technical difficulties in relation to Legislative Consent (Sewel) Motions could be overcome by changes in drafting practice and by resorting to additional separate Bills, demarcating English and Welsh legislation is more complex.

192. The financial allocations awarded to the devolved administrations are based on decisions on comparable spending programmes in England.[325] Professor Hazell said "if you try to establish a situation where only MPs representing English constituencies are voting on such matters which have such consequential effects for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is a problem, there is a kind of disconnect between the structure and the effect which points to the fundamental problem and that is that decisions made for England, because of its size, inevitably impact outside of England".[326] Professor Bogdanor said that "if Scotland had fiscal autonomy, the argument against English votes for English laws would be weaker".[327]

193. However, Professor Keating argued that this objection "makes a matter of principle out of a flawed and much criticized system of financial allocation [the Barnett Formula], which does not even have a statutory footing".[328] He continued, "the UK needs to move to a better system of territorial financing ... which would remove this objection".[329]

194. Even if legislation could be more clearly distinguished, the current system of territorial financing in the UK post-devolution means that the levels of public finance decided for England determine levels of resource allocation to Scotland and Wales. While we agree that the system could be changed in order to remove this effect, such a change would be a necessary pre-requisite to any system of English votes for English laws.

195. In the taskforce report, Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP makes it clear that the proposals are to address the West Lothian question.[330] He described the proposals for English votes for English laws as a parliamentary problem which needs to be addressed in Parliament before "a niggle gets worse".[331] Rt Hon Jack Straw MP argued that the rationale behind this was "the implicit idea of a huge party imbalance between the Conservatives, who, it is thought, always dominated England, and the Labour party who can only form a government because of their disproportionate representation in Scotland and Wales".[332] Professor Bogdanor argued that "I think it would be wrong to have a complete upheaval of the British constitution to meet that particular political problem",[333] while Rt Hon Jack McConnell MSP warned to be careful not to end up "inside the House of Commons losing that common UK identity ... rather than just simply to deal with what is perhaps an immediate political tension".[334]

196. Two main political solutions have been proposed to address this political problem. The first was to change the electoral system at Westminster so that it more accurately reflects the votes cast than is the case with the current first past the post system. Professor Curtice argued that "there is an even bigger English Question than why is it that it is possible for an English majority to be overturned by the Scots and Welsh, and that is that the English plurality in the last election was overturned by the electoral system within England. The Conservative Party has the most votes, the Labour Party has a majority of seats. That strikes me as a pretty big English Question".[335] Professor Hazell responded that at least a partial response to the West Lothian question would be to "introduce a more proportional system of representation for this House".[336] Professor Bogdanor argued that "if you had a proportional system, the West Lothian question would not be as acute as it is, to put it mildly".[337]

197. A second response would be to "harmonise the electoral quotas of the four UK territories, ending English under-representation, or even to reduce the representation of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to two-thirds that of England".[338] The latter approach was taken when the 1922 Parliament of Northern Ireland was created, and Northern Ireland MPs were reduced to twelve. In 2005 the number of Scottish MPs was reduced from 72 to 59.

198. While some proposals for English votes for English laws can be presented as limited procedural change, any thorough application of the principle would have broader implications for Parliament and for the position of the UK Government.

199. Proposals for English votes for English laws seek to make procedural adjustments to Westminster in order to remove the anomaly of Scottish MPs voting on matters in England which are devolved matters in Scotland. At present, such a scheme would be difficult to apply other than in limited form given both the current procedures for legislating for the UK and its constituent parts following devolution, and the current system of territorial finance.

200. While these obstacles could be overcome, some fear that the full application of English votes for English laws could result in a Parliament within a Parliament, which could be unworkable and might pose as great a threat to the Union as the resentment it seeks to address.

201. English votes for English laws seeks to deal with what is as much a political problem as a constitutional problem, represented by the traditional dominance of different parties in different nations and regions—an issue which, some suggest, could be addressed, in part, by reform of the electoral system which could reduce the risk of an English majority being overturned by Scottish and Welsh MPs. Others suggest that a further reduction in the number of Scottish seats at Westminster, and a possible reduction in Welsh seats following the devolution of greater powers, could also, to some extent reduce the same risk. Neither of these measures would, however, address the issue of principle about the voting rights of MPs representing nations with devolved governments and both of them give rise to controversy between parties because of the effect they have on party strengths at Westminster.


202. A third response to the English question is devolution or decentralisation within England. Peter Facey, Director, Unlock Democracy, argued that the broader English question around the governance of England post-devolution cannot be addressed "without dealing with decentralisation".[339] In his submission to the Committee, Lord Tyler CBE, author of the Liberal Democrats policy paper, For the people, by the people, argued that the Government should return to the question of devolution within England, "radically decentralising power to the English regions".[340]

203. Unlock Democracy also supports devolution within England. It said: "devolution in England should take the form of directly elected regional government. It is difficult to see what powers there are that would only apply to England, which could not be devolved to a regional level. However, this would have to involve significant devolution of power from Westminster and not just the regional administration proposed for the North East. Nor would it have to mean devolution to existing governmental regions. There is a strong case for devolving power in some areas down to the local area as some local authorities in southern England are larger than member states of the European Union".[341] Sarah Ayres, University of Bristol, concluded that "if you want to really address the English question … elected regional assemblies seem the only option".[342]

204. The proponents of elected regional assemblies regard them not primarily as a solution to the 'West Lothian' question, but as reversal of the centralising tendency of government in England, as a means of providing democratic accountability to the wider range of regional decision making bodies set up under successive governments, and as a means of enabling regions with problems as significant as those of Scotland and Wales to adopt measures and promote solutions which can deal with them. Elected regional assemblies would be only a partial answer to the West Lothian question for two reasons: first, unless all regions had elected assemblies, at least part of England would continue to have matters which are devolved elsewhere governed from Whitehall and Westminster. Secondly, it is generally accepted that English regions would not have or need the same range of powers as the Scottish Parliament—for example, no-one assumes that a region of England should have a separate criminal law. The United Kingdom Government and Parliament would therefore retain in England and, to a significant extent, in Wales, powers which were devolved in Scotland.

205. Regional devolution was what the Government had intended for England post-devolution. Following the creation of the devolved Parliament and Assemblies (and the London Mayor and Greater London Authority), in 2002 the Government published its White Paper, Your Region, Your Choice: Revitalising the English Regions, which outlined its proposals for elected regional assemblies in England. Following consultation by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, an announcement was made in June 2003 that referendums would be held in the North East, North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber regions.[343]

206. In July 2004 the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister further announced that only the North East would move forward to a referendum. Citing concern over reports of irregularities in the all-postal voting process during the June 2004 local and European Parliament elections in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber, the then Local Government Minister Rt Hon Nick Raynsford MP said that the North East had "consistently welcomed" all-postal ballots and had shown "clear expectation and overwhelming support for a referendum".

207. The Government abandoned its plans for regional assemblies for England in 2004 following the rejection of a regional assembly in the north of England by a majority of four to one.[344] Several reasons have been identified for the referendum result, particularly the fact that very limited powers were offered to the Regional Assembly leading to a very strong perception in the public attitudes data that this was going to be an expensive talking shop which would not make any difference because it had no serious powers.[345] Councillor Faulkner, Newcastle City Council, told the Committee that "there was not enough on offer for people to feel it would make a difference".[346] Professors Rallings and Thrasher also identified "dissatisfaction with government policy and a distrust of politicians in general" as a partial explanation for the outcome of the referendum vote.[347]

208. In particular the referendum was linked to controversial changes to the local government structure which were subsequently implemented in spite of the 'No' vote.[348] The referendum took place at a time when the Government itself was a great deal more unpopular than it was at the time of the London referendum in 1998, which had approved the creation of an Assembly and Mayor. It had been assumed that the North East was the area most likely to support a regional assembly, and the defeat meant that no further referendums were held.

209. However, witnesses identified two key points in relation to the Government's regional policy and any consideration of the future of regional government in England. First, regional assemblies were "the tip of the regional iceberg" and since 2004 there has been a steady growth and development in both regional infrastructure and policy. The second and related point is the question of whether there is likely to be demand for the democratization of those structures. Professor Hazell has identified what he describes as "a form of creeping regionalism" over the years which was likely to continue and might lead to the re-emergence of the demand to democratise regional structures.[349] Councillor Faulkner told the Committee "there is a common view emerging ... there will come a time when people want to do it again".[350] Unlock Democracy told us that they were currently "toying with the idea of an English devolution enabling act".[351]

210. Mark Sandford, formerly of the Constitution Unit, UCL, commented that:

"English regional government … has been a bigger and more complex story than elected regional assemblies for a long time. The proposals in the 2002 White Paper, Your Region, Your Choice, were only the tip of the regional iceberg. Even if the North-East had voted in favour of an elected assembly, the changes to regional governance that would have been wrought as a result would have been less significant than what has already happened in the spheres of administration, planning and economic management. Unelected regionalisation of government functions is proceeding apace, quite separately from the headline-grabbing elected assembly agenda".[352]

211. Sub-national government and regional government within England are not the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. This is indicative of the Government's approach to devolution and is a potential example of the impact of the missing centre identified earlier in the report.[353] What follows is therefore a review of regional structures and key developments in regional policy following the failed referendum in the North East as an attempt to look at regional and other forms of devolution within England as a potential solution to the centralisation of power and accountability within the UK.

212. In 2002 the Government published its White Paper Your Region, Your Choice: Revitalising the English Regions. It asserted that administrative decentralisation "will make the delivery of programmes and policies more efficient and ultimately lead to better outcomes in all regions".[354] Regional reforms were targeted in three key areas. First, as a step towards regional democracy, voluntary Regional Chambers (subsequently restyled 'Assemblies') comprising local authority leaders and representatives of other regional economic and social interests were established to perform strategic co-ordination and democratic oversight. Second, Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) were appointed to co-ordinate regional economic development and regeneration initiatives and promote the regions' competitiveness. Government Offices in each region had been set up by the previous Conservative Government, and their roles were extended to provide central government with a more coherent presence in the regions. In addition to extending democracy, therefore, the Government's reforms were motivated by a desire for gains in efficiency and policy effectiveness.[355] Administrative devolution within England—to the Government Office in each region, to the Regional Development Agency and to other bodies such as the police—has also been reflected in the voluntary moves to co-terminosity an the Government Office boundaries of business organisations, local government groupings and voluntary sector bodies.

213. The Government's Review of sub-national economic development and regeneration (SNR), has been the subject of ongoing consultation. The Government published its response to this consultation in November 2008.[356] The review proposed abolishing Regional Assemblies by 2010 and expanding the remit and powers of Regional Development Agencies by giving them strategic oversight of transport, planning and housing matters currently dealt with by the Regional Assemblies. Under the proposals in the Sub National Review, local authorities will be encouraged to establish effective scrutiny of regional matters, in particular the work of their Regional Development Agencies, and parliamentary accountability will be strengthened (the document states that the Government will "work with Parliament" to determine how this might be achieved).[357]

214. Alongside this developing infrastructure, the Government have made plans for strengthening regional accountability. These were set out in The Governance of Britain, and include the establishment of regional select committees, one for each of the nine English regions. It has been suggested that these select committees would examine the work and activities of regional bodies, in particular the Regional Development Agencies, and call ministers, including the relevant regional Minister, to account. Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP described these as "a gimmick and public relations".[358]

215. The Communities and Local Government Select Committee Report, Is there a future for Regional Government?, proposed the establishment of a select committee for each region "which might meet a limited number of times (perhaps in conjunction with the relevant Assembly) in order to examine the work of key regional bodies and call Ministers to account for their performance".[359]

216. On 12 November 2008 the House of Commons agreed to establish eight regional select committees. The Standing Order stated that the regional select committees shall be appointed to "examine regional strategies and the work of regional bodies" for the eight English regions, excluding London. The Government's intention was that the committees would look at the "development or implementation of policies where there is a regional aspect to decision-taking and delivery, and would not be focused on the purely local impact of nationally set policies".[360] The Standing Order establishing these Committees took effect from 1 January 2009, and the Committees met for the first time during March 2009.[361] However, only Labour members have been appointed to the Committees because the Conservative Party was opposed in principle to the Committees and the Liberal Democrats objected to the fact that the Committees' composition would not reflect the balance of MPs in the region, but were in accordance with the UK balance of seats in the House of Commons. As a result, neither opposition party chose to put forward nominations.

217. Ministerial posts for the regions were created. The Governance of Britain defines the role of Regional Ministers as to:

  • "advise the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on the approval of regional strategies and appointment of RDA Chairs and Boards;
  • represent regional interests in the formulation of central government policy relevant to economic growth and sustainable development in areas that have not been devolved to the RDAs;
  • facilitate a joined up approach across government departments and agencies to enable the effective delivery of the single regional strategy;
  • champion the region at high level events and with regard to high profile projects (including through a programme of regional visits); and
  • represent the Government with regard to central government policy at regional select committee hearings and at parliamentary debates focused specifically on the region". [362]

218. Ministers designated as a regional minister do this work in addition to their responsibilities as Ministers in a variety of departments. The Government has also introduced Regional Boards for local authority leaders in order to address issues of regional accountability. However, Lord Tyler CBE argued that these new structures of regional accountability were "no substitute for holding to account the government office for that region and the development agency for that region ... it ... has proved to be an inadequate answer to a very real question of real devolution, real decentralisation within England".[363]

219. While Councillor Faulkner said: "… what is on offer through sub-national review … gives us more of a chance than we have had for decades",[364] Phil Davis, Campaign for the English Regions said that the West Lothian question would "only be resolved by creating an accountable structure … in each of the English Regions",[365] and as Professor Mawson argued, this would "give the English regions the maximum amount of flexibility to shape the structures of government to the context within each of the regions".[366] Phil Davies concluded that "… it may be possible to improve the present process … and there are aspects of the sub-national review which could do that, but it is not an answer to the fundamental constitutional question of balancing the new UK devolved constitution".[367]

220. The Government has acknowledged the need for greater devolution within England as part of their response to the English question. Thus while Rt Hon Jack Straw MP saw "no good case for having a separate Parliament for England," he identified that "the bigger issue within England is to see a degree of further devolution, as we have achieved in London, to local government units".[368] However, the debate is ongoing as to the form which that devolution should take. Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP said that "regional government is pretty dead in England now".[369] Rt Hon Jack Straw MP agreed to an extent and said that while "nothing is closed for ever and a day … I think … people have moved on from there and they are more interested in ideas of strengthening the existing local government units and the development of … city regions".[370]

221. Sarah Ayres, University of Bristol, said that since 2004 the Government had attempted to tackle the English question "under administrative decentralisation … putting down more functions and powers to the existing administrative tier".[371] She identified that these developments had focused on the "technocratic argument … efficiency, effectiveness and economic productivity, which perhaps is the sub-national review remit", and that this was how the English question was being dealt with by the Government.[372]


222. Some have suggested that a partial answer to the West Lothian question lies in greatly strengthening the local government system in England and devolving to local authorities many of the powers which were suggested for regional assemblies. It is argued that this would be preferred in many parts of the country over the attempt to create a structure of governance based on more or less artificial regional boundaries.

223. Insofar as there is concern about the centralised nature of government in England—and the fact that UK institutions are responsible for most English policies—the further development of local government clearly has the potential to be a significant part of an answer. However, this would require a willingness to devolve further powers and remove Whitehall financial controls and influence to an extent which has not been a conspicuous characteristic of the policies of recent governments. Such an approach is undermined by the desire of ministers to make a visible impact in areas of policy for which local government is formally responsible, such as education. The public, and the media, often expect ministers to take responsibility and action in cases of high profile service failure within individual authorities.

224. There has also been a marked tendency on the part of government to promote alternative structures to elected authorities such as 'quangos' and partnerships through which greater resources are channelled than are available to local authorities. Despite the existence of local government, successive administrations have also considered it necessary to maintain regional tiers for many of their own operations and have taken the view that there are matters, trunk road transport amongst them, which transcend local authority boundaries.

225. We note that the Communities and Local Government Committee is conducting an inquiry entitled The balance of power: central and local government in England and the evidence so far made available indicates that the issues under consideration have great resonance with the aspects of devolution policy that we have been considering; including the scope of administrative competence, decision-making and financial freedom for local authorities. We also note the progress of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill which includes provisions on increasing opportunities for public involvement in local decision-making and scrutiny; new forms of joint working between local authorities; and on the establishment of single regional development strategies produced jointly between regional development agencies and local authorities.

226. We have not examined regional and local governance issues in depth during this inquiry but clearly, in developing a clear and coherent strategy for devolution, the Ministry of Justice, needs to take policy developments in both areas into account and establish cross-departmental working mechanisms with the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to do so.

227. However, it does not appear likely that the powers which future governments will be prepared to devolve to local government, will be sufficient to meet the concerns of those who want an English solution to the West Lothian question or those who believe that power will continue to be exercised at regional level and wish to see those powers made accountable and increased.


228. There is no consensus about solutions to the "English question", or the range of questions which arise under that heading. Each suggested answer has its own problems and limitations, and while some attempt to address issues around centralisation, others attempt to address the West Lothian question. Those which deal to any major extent with the West Lothian question, like an English Parliament and English votes for English laws, raise significant problems in a state where one of its constituent territories has 84% of the population.

229. The implications of having an English Government and First Minister as well as a United Kingdom Government and Prime Minister have not been the subject of much public discussion and are politically significant. Approaches which make the UK Parliament into a federal Parliament or treat English laws differently at Westminster raise questions about the nature and role of the Second Chamber which need to be considered as part of the discussion of Lords reform: clarification would be needed about whether, and if not why, the Second Chamber should consider "English" laws when it did not consider the laws of Scotland.

230. These are major political as well as constitutional questions which are for Parliament as a whole to consider. It is our belief that as devolved government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland develops in profile and substance, Parliament will come under pressure to consider these questions.

256   Mr Dalyell's constituency was West Lothian, but has since been re-named Linlithgow. Back

257   An Introduction to devolution in the UK, Research Paper 03/84, House of Commons Library, November 2003, p. 11 Back

258   Ev 228 Back

259   Q 270 Back

260   For more details see: The West Lothian Question, Research Paper 95/96, House of CommonsLibrary, September 1995, and Library Standard note SN/PC/2586, the West Lothian Question, 22 August 2003. Back

261   Office for National Statistics; National Assembly for Wales; General Register Office for Scotland; Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, January 2008. Back

262   Q 170 Back

263   Robert Hazell "Introduction: what is the English Question" in R Hazell (ed) 2006, The English Question (Manchester University Press), p. 1. Back

264   Ibid, Page 3-5 Back

265   Q 114 Back

266   Q 116 Back

267   An Introduction to devolution in the UK, Research Paper 03/84, House of Commons Library, November 2003, p. 11 Back

268   Q 298 Back

269   Ev 239 Back

270   Q 127 Back

271   Q 130 Back

272   Q 119 Back

273   Q 24 Back

274   Q1  Back

275   Q 17 Back

276   Q 161 Back

277   Q 146, Ev 150 Back

278   Q 155 Back

279   Q 17 Back

280   Campaign for an English Parliament, The Constitutional Case for an English Parliament, p 8 Back

281   Ev 156 Back

282   Q 6 Back

283   Q 17 Back

284   Q 726 Back

285   Ev 169 Back

286   Q 22 Back

287   Q 127 Back

288   Ev 239 Back

289   Ev 157 Back

290   Q 164 Back

291   Q 24 Back

292   Q 24 Back

293   Q127 Back

294   Q 130 Back

295,,2200804,00.html Back

296   Q 129 Back

297   Conservative Party, Democracy Taskforce Report, Answering the question: devolution, the West Lothian Question and the future of the Union, July 2008. Back

298   See also The West Lothian Question, Library Standard note SN/PC/02586.  Back

299   HC Deb, 7 November 2007, col 1497  Back

300   Ev 225 Back

301   Q 130 Back

302   Q 18 Back

303   Q 25 Back

304   Q 79 Back

305   Available at,,331157098-102273 Back

306   Q 167 Back

307 Back

308   Q 130 Back

309   Q 130 Back

310   Q 6 Back

311   HC (2005-06) 983  Back

312   For example see HC Deb, 16 November 2006, cc9-10WS, and HC Deb ,7 November 207, cc11-3WS. Back

313   HC Deb, 13 December 2006, col 1059W. See also House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/PC/02586, 18 July 2008.  Back

314   For further information on the operation of the Sewel Convention see Library Standard Note SN/PC/2084 The Sewel Convention. The Library's territorial extent chart shows which UK Parliament bills had a Legislative Consent Motion (Sewel Motion) agreed in respect of them in the Scottish Parliament. See Back

315   For further information see Library Research Paper 05/90 The Government of Wales Bill, Standard Note SN/PC/4407, The Welsh Assembly elections 2007: the formation of the Welsh Assembly Government and recent developments in the Assembly:  Back

316   One example is the Children's Commissioner for Wales Act 2001. Back

317   Ev 219 Back

318   Ev 219 Back

319   Q 130 Back

320   Q 78 Back

321   Q 499 Back

322   Q 518 Back

323   Q 130 Back

324   Q 18 Back

325   See text box on page 72 Back

326   Q 6 Back

327   Q 135 Back

328   Ev 219 Back

329   Ev 219 Back

330   Conservative Party, Democracy Taskforce Report, Answering the question: devolution, the West Lothian Question and the future of the Union, July 2008, p 2 Back

331   Q117 Back

332   Q 664 Back

333   Q 130 Back

334   Q 517 Back

335   Q 24 Back

336   Q 15 Back

337   Q 131 Back

338   Robert Hazell, Towards a New Constitutional Settlement: An Agenda for Gordon Brown's First 100 Days and Beyond (Constitution Unit: UCL), p 28 Back

339   Q 170 Back

340   Ev 223 Back

341   Ev 192 Back

342   Q 347 Back

343   Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, Why the North East said 'No': The 2004 Referendum on an Elected Regional Assembly, Briefing no 19, February 2005.  Back

344   696,519 votes were cast against the Government's proposals, compared to 197,310 votes in favour. Back

345   Detailed public attitudes research into the North East referendum showed that, whilst people were absolutely unconvinced of the model put to them, the people of the North East were, in a clear majority, convinced that they were politically marginalised, that they not only did not have a voice at the centre in Westminster and Whitehall, but also that they were economically marginalised vis-à-vis other parts of the UK, and the lack of political voice and the sense of economic disadvantage were clearly very important issues. Back

346   Q 332 Back

347   Why the North East said 'No': the 2004 Referendum on an Elected Regional Assembly, Brief no. 19, February 2005. See also The Referendum Campaign: Issues and Turning Points in the North East , Briefing no. 20, February 2005, for an analysis of the impact of the campaigns on the referendum result.  Back

348   In both Scotland and Wales local government re-organisation took place prior to the devolution referendum.  Back

349   Q18 Back

350   Q 330 Back

351   Q 173 Back

352   Mark Sandford, Devolution is a process not a policy: the new governance of the English regions. Briefing no.18, February 2005. Back

353   See paras 31 and 40-41 Back

354   Cabinet Office and DTLR, 2002: 3.14. Back

355   Ev 190 Back

356 Back

357   See Prof John Mawson, Regional Governance in England and Future Challenges for Local Government, p 14  Back

358   Q 125 Back

359   Communities and Local Government Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2006-07, Is There a Future for Regional Government?, HC 352-I. Back

360   Explanatory Memorandum on the Motions in the Name of the Leader of the House, debated in the House on 12 November 2008. Back

361   Provision was also made for Regional Grand Committees. Back

362   Ministry of Justice, The Governance of Britain, Cm 7170, para118. Back

363   Q 126 Back

364   Q 330 Back

365   Q 363 Back

366   Q 373 Back

367   Q 363 Back

368   Q 679 Back

369   Q 120 Back

370   Q 680 Back

371   Q 336 Back

372   Q 336 Back

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