Devolution: A Decade On - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)


13 NOVEMBER 2007

  Chairman: Welcome, professors three. Before we start proceedings, we have to declare any interest that may be particularly relevant to this inquiry.

Julie Morgan: I am married to the First Minister in Wales.

  Q1  Chairman: I do not think there are any other specific interests that are relevant to the inquiry. We are absolutely delighted to have three people with us who have given a great deal of time and attention to the study of these things. Our inquiry into Devolution is not of course primarily an inquiry into how it has worked for Scotland and Wales, because there are two other committees of the House which give a lot of attention to that, but how it is functioning for the United Kingdom as a whole and of course additionally the questions that arise from the position of England. There are many issues which arise from that, some of which I think we will develop as our inquiry continues, but what we wanted to do this afternoon, although we are doing it in a formal evidence session, but perhaps slightly less formally than usual, was to take advantage of the knowledge that has been built up both about the working of the system and about public attitudes to it. In that respect, I think Professor John Curtice is going to open for us with a presentation about public attitudes.

  Professor Curtice: Thank you very much, Chairman, and thank you very much indeed for the invitation to give evidence to the Committee. I was asked by your secretariat to address three questions, so that is what I am going to focus on. I am going to do it very briefly in that I am just going to give you one or two headline findings and then doubtless you may want to expand on it in questions and answers. The three questions I was asked to look at were: first of all, what impact has devolution had on national identity across Great Britain; second, what are attitudes towards how Scotland and Wales should be governed not just within Scotland and Wales, but also within England; and, thirdly and conversely, what, if anything, does the public think should be done about England, and again not just looking at attitudes within England, but also looking at attitudes outside of England, particularly in Scotland? I need to say a little bit about the sources of evidence that I am using and also one or two limitations about what I can present to the Committee this afternoon. In Scotland, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey has been charting attitudes towards devolution and national identity on more or less a yearly basis since 1999. However, some of the funding for this comes from the Scottish Executive, now known as the Scottish Government, and in particular some of the data for 2006 only enter the public domain next week and that for 2007 will not be in the public domain until next spring, so I cannot put that into the public domain at the moment. The crucial attribute about this survey, along with the others, is that we have kept on asking the same questions from year to year, so whatever you might think about the merits of the questions, their great advantage is that it gives us some idea in analysing how attitudes have changed over time. The second source of evidence that I am going to use is what is known as the Wales Life and Times Survey which essentially has been done at election times since the advent of devolution in 1999. Many of the questions are actually similar, if not identical, to those which have been asked at the same time in Scotland. The third piece of evidence comes from the British Social Attitudes Survey which has been asking a number of key items on attitudes towards devolution in England again since 1999, with quite a lot of activity between 1999 and 2003 and rather sparser thereafter. And indeed here in a sense is the biggest hole of the afternoon which is that we do at the moment have a further project on attitudes towards devolution in England currently being conducted in the survey that is still in the field, so I do not have the results for that until some time next year and obviously, given that the debate in England has in some ways taken off in the last 12 months, it may be that that will show a somewhat different picture from what I am going to present to you this afternoon. I am also quite happy to talk about commercial polling data afterwards in questions and answers, but these, I think, are the sources of evidence that are best as far as looking at change over time is concerned. Let me take the first of the three questions, what impact has devolution had on national identity, which I am going to convert into: what changes, if any, have occurred in the distribution of national identity since the advent of devolution? Very simply, here is one piece of evidence where we actually forced people to choose one single national identity which would best describe how you think of yourself. In Scotland, the headline is that basically, whilst the creation of the Scottish Parliament may be regarded as a consequence of an increased sense of Scottishness in Scotland during the 1980s and 1990s, it is not clear that Scotland has come to feel any more Scottish since the creation of a Parliament in 1999; Scotland was already very heavily Scottish before that happened and, in truth, it can hardly get much more so. There are similar kinds of data for Wales. There, in fact, there is not any evidence that the proportion of people who, when forced to choose, say they are Welsh rather than British or anything else has in fact increased even since 1979; it is around three-fifths. Wales is less Welsh than Scotland is Scottish, but Wales remains as Welsh as it ever has been. Intriguingly, the one part of the United Kingdom where the distribution of national identity does seem to have changed since the advent of devolution is that part of the United Kingdom that does not enjoy devolution, England. As you will see, prior to 1999, when given this forced choice, people in England would prioritise their Britishness over their Englishness, in 1999 the two tied and, although subsequently a sense of Britishness seemed to becoming more predominant again, it never went back to the status quo ante before 1999. Then of course you will see, intriguingly, the figure for 2006 where all of a sudden the proportion that say they are English outnumbers those who say they are British. We are obviously, therefore, awaiting the 2007 data with a degree of bated breath, although I should say that the one caveat I should enter about the 2006 data is that the fieldwork did take place at the time of the Football World Cup, which may or may not have encouraged people in England to feel more English than they previously had done, though perhaps after the result maybe not. Let me then move on to the second question I was asked to address which is: what are attitudes towards how Scotland and Wales should be governed? Here, I have data through to 2007, although the Scottish data, I should say, are provisional, they are the first 1,300 cases of what will eventually be a 1,500 survey. The simple headline here is that there is no evidence at all of a consistent secular increase in support for independence in Scotland since the advent of the Scottish Parliament and support tends to bounce around the 25 to 30% level; indeed, intriguingly, in our most recent survey support for independence in Scotland is at a record low in our 10-year series, and this is in tune with all the commercial polling evidence in Scotland during the General Election campaign earlier this year where every single one of those polls which asked about attitudes towards the Constitution more than once uncovered a decline in support for independence. As you can see, support for some form of devolution is consistently the most popular option and, equally, you can see that virtually nobody in Scotland wants to go back to the status quo ante. The position in Wales, however, is one of a degree of change and it is one in the direction in which public policy in Wales has been going. Here, by "Parliament" I mean essentially a body that has legislative powers and by "Assembly" I mean a body that does not have legislative powers, i.e. the Assembly as it was constituted before this year's election. As you can see, point one is that back in 1997, as reflected at the time of the referendum, 37% were actually saying they do not want it at all and that figure is now down to 16%. Meanwhile, we now have 42% of people saying not so good, that they want an Assembly, but actually that they would prefer a Parliament. Of course, the issues of how Scotland and Wales should be governed are not just, however, simply a question of whether in or out of the Union, but, as indeed already the Welsh data indicate, also issues about what should be the relationship between Scotland and Wales and the rest of the UK within the Union. Whilst it may be true that there is no evidence that in Scotland there is any increase in support for independence, there is plenty of evidence that people in Scotland may well back the idea of the Scottish Parliament having more powers than it has at the moment. Asked more generally, "Should the Scottish Parliament have more powers?", around two-thirds of the people of Scotland tend to agree. If you ask them whether or not, "Now that Scotland has its Parliament, services that are provided in Scotland should be paid for out of taxes raised in Scotland", as you can see, typically over a half in Scotland agree with that proposition. Finally, and in more detail, one of the things we did this time both in Scotland and in Wales is to ask people which of the UK Government or the devolved institutions should make the main, principal decisions about four policy areas, two of which at least in Scotland are devolved and two are reserved. These areas are the NHS, schools, welfare benefits and foreign affairs. What I am showing you here, first of all, if you take the first left-hand bar, it indicates that 63% of people in Scotland think that the Scottish Parliament should make the principal decisions about the NHS for Scotland and 26% say the UK Government. The second pair indicates that 61% of people in Wales think that the Welsh Assembly should make the principal decisions about the NHS in Wales and only 26% the UK Government, as you can see. For the most part, public opinion in Wales and in Scotland on all four issues is rather similar and what you will also note is that both in Scotland and in Wales it is only foreign affairs and defence where you get a majority of people saying that it should be the UK Government rather than the devolved institutions that should take the principal decisions. As you can see then, there appears to be plenty of support in both Scotland and in Wales for increasing the powers of the current institutions. What do the English think of all of this? Well, so far at least, and here this is where the data only go through to 2003, the evidence appears to be that people in England are quite happy certainly for Scotland to have its own devolved Parliament, but, equally, they are not particularly keen on throwing the Scots out, and only around 17% or so support the idea of Scotland leaving the Union. That takes me to the third and final question which is: what, if anything, should be done about England? What I am showing you here are answers to a question that has been asked fairly regularly which invites people in England to choose between one of three options. The first is that the laws for England should be made, as now, by the House of Commons; the second is that there should be some form of regional devolution responsibility for things like health and education, and it was designed to mimic the Welsh Assembly as was, and the third is that there should be an English Parliament. Now, it is one of those things where you can decide whether the glass is half full or half empty and the first thing to say is that, when asked in this way at least, a majority of people in England would prefer to stay with the status quo. On the other hand, it is only just over half the people in England. And of course one of the complications about England is that there is a debate about, even if you are in favour of devolution for England, is it devolution at regional level or is it devolution to England as a whole? So the devolutionists, as you can see, are evenly split between those two counts. Together, they come to about 40% of the English population, but between them they are split. Of course, what you will also notice is that now, as regional devolution seems to have gone off the English agenda, so an English Parliament seems to have become the more popular of the two options. There is now, however, one important thing to say about attitudes in England which make them very different from the attitudes, for example, in Scotland. I earlier showed you how it appears to be the case that England is beginning to feel more English and less British, but we should not necessarily presume from that that, as a result, there is developing a wellspring of potential support for some form of devolution in England. What I am showing you here is how attitudes towards that three-pronged choice for England vary according to whether or not you say you are principally British or principally English, and what I invite you to note is that, whilst it is true that those who say, "Yes, I am English" when forced to choose, rather than saying they are British, are somewhat more likely to favour the idea of an English Parliament; the difference is not very big. Perhaps it will make this even more clear if I do the equivalent analysis for Scotland where again, taking the three options posed there, it is broken down again by national identity. Now, even amongst those who say they are predominantly Scottish, only a minority support independence, but you can see that it is virtually only those who say they are Scottish who favour independence. Attitudes towards the constitutional question in Scotland are rather more clearly linked to national identity. So one of the intriguing things about England is that, although national identities may be changing, so far at least it is not clear that even those who feel English necessarily particularly feel that that Englishness needs to be reflected in distinctive political institutions. That, however, of course does not mean to say that England is necessarily satisfied. There are our old friends of the West Lothian question and the Barnett Formula or, rather, the Scots having too much money allegedly, and what I am showing you here is just to give you an indication of how opinion both in England and in Scotland pan out on those two potential English grumbles. The first thing to say is that certainly, if you ask people on both sides of the border whether or not Scottish MPs should be voting on English laws, people in England say that no, they should not, and people in Scotland say, "Yes, we can think of something better for Scottish MPs to do than voting on English laws", and there is a majority of both sides of the Union that support that proposition—although I should say that on both sides of the Union also it tends to be agreement rather than strong agreement. On the other hand, the other grumble in England allegedly, which is about public spending is not as obviously a grumble or at least it is not obviously as salient a grumble as perhaps you might imagine. What we have done here with this question is simply to ask people, "Do you think Scotland gets more or less than its fair share of public spending?", and we asked it both sides of the border. We do not tell people, as most commercial polling evidence has done, actually what the difference in the level of spending is because that leads people and that makes it obvious to them what the difference is. Now, if you do not tell people in England what the difference is and, therefore, you get the indication of saliency, what you find is that there are 13% more people in England who think that Scotland gets more than its fair share than less than its fair share, but that is all it is, and most people in England, around 45%, say that it gets pretty much its fair share. Meanwhile, in Scotland, yes, it is true that rather more people think that Scotland gets less than its fair share than more than its fair share, but, intriguingly, that number is getting less over time, and people in Scotland at least as a result of the debate seem to becoming more aware of the fact that they appear to be relatively well off. Finally, what do the Scots want for England? This is in a sense partly also another way of looking at Scottish attitudes towards independence. For the most part, as it were, the three left-hand bars are showing you attitudes in Scotland to what they think should be the constitutional position of England and the intriguing thing that is seen there is that basically, if I were simply to give you the data without telling you whether it came from Scotland or whether it came from England, you would find it very difficult to tell the difference, i.e. opinion in Scotland as to whether or not England should have its own Parliament or not or should have regional devolution is virtually identical to opinion in England, which is a majority, just, saying no and slightly more saying an English Parliament than regional assemblies. The two right-hand bars is a new question we asked this time which is asking people in Scotland what they think would be better for England, i.e. is it better for England to be in the Union or outside the Union, and there is a clear overwhelming majority in Scotland that believes that England should remain within the Union and it is in England's interests so to do.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, Professor Curtice, for your wonderful gallop through that, and we have got that material, I think, in paper form as well, so we can take it away and think about it, but we will be asking you some questions later arising directly from the public evidence and it is very helpful background. We want to work through a number of issues now.

  Q2  Julie Morgan: The first ones are on the legislative process itself. How do you feel that the legislative process in Westminster has changed to accommodate devolution?

  Professor Hazell: I thought you might look at me! The short answer is not enough. It has got progressively a little bit better. We wrote a book about this which was published in 2005 called Devolution, Law-Making and the Constitution, but I have not done any serious research on it since, so some of my comments may be slightly dated. Our criticism then was that the approach was far too fragmented and that, in order for devolution issues to be properly treated in Westminster legislation, there should be much stronger leadership at the centre of the UK Government, preferably coming from the Cabinet Office and, in particular, from the Legislative Programme Committee and that the Legislative Programme Committee should be the main gatekeeper and should deny Cabinet consent to introducing bills unless they observed some consistent minimum standards in their treatment of devolution issues. We also observed that it would help greatly if more bills were published in draft, which is a general comment on the legislative process, and that, if the Explanatory Notes to bills contained more information about the devolution consequences at that time, there was a requirement only to comment on issues relating to Wales and no comparable requirement in relation to Scotland or Northern Ireland. Since then, in Scotland the Scottish Parliament's Procedures Committee has conducted its own inquiry, in particular, into the operation of the Sewel Convention, the convention whereby the UK Government and Parliament will not legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, and they published a report, from memory I think, in 2005 and recommended tightening up the procedures in the Scottish Parliament and, incidentally, renaming the convention where they said it should be called the Legislative Consent Convention. There was a follow-up inquiry down here by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee which, I think, made rather fewer recommendations about the possible changes to the procedures here and I do not know, forgive me, whether the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying bills now does properly flag up devolution issues relating to Scotland, whether it does properly tag bills which are, or might be, Sewel bills so that everyone is properly alerted, when a bill is first introduced or very soon after, as to whether it raises devolution issues in Scotland. In Wales, the difficulty is a completely different one and that is, as you will all know, that the Welsh Assembly has no primary legislative powers and that is going gradually to change under the procedures laid down in the Government of Wales Act 2006 where the primary mechanism for conferring legislative power on the Welsh Assembly will be Legislative Consent Orders, but the UK Government does not seem inclined to follow that primary mechanism, although it is early days, but it certainly does still confer legislative powers by ordinary legislation and indeed by a variety of other means, and there too there is a need for much greater consistency.

  Q3  Julie Morgan: So you do not think that the mechanisms and the conventions are entirely appropriate at the moment, but is there anything that actually you want to add in terms of how they should be improved in the future?

  Professor Hazell: No, I think I have offered as much as I want to at this stage about possible means of improvement.

  Q4  Chairman: Do you think there is actually very much awareness, and perhaps we are in a better position to answer this than you are, amongst MPs who are not from Scotland of the whole Sewel motion issue and the need to consider it when looking at the legislation in the first place?

  Professor Hazell: No, for an understandable reason which in effect you have suggested the cause of, namely that somewhere between 80 and 85% of Members of the House of Commons represent England and English constituencies, so it is only the Scottish or Welsh Members who might have a special interest, and that is why, in our view, the Explanatory Notes need to flag up quite strongly the fact that there is a devolution issue in a bill because, otherwise, it risks remaining hidden and being ignored.

  Q5  Dr Whitehead: I was going to ask you at this point whether your proposals solve the West Lothian question, but perhaps that would take us well into next year! The way I would couch that instead is to ask you whether you could give us some of your thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the various options that are really current which are proposing, so they claim, to settle the English question, such as the question of an English Parliament, such as the question of English votes for English laws, an English Grand Committee perhaps and regional devolution within England. What are your views on the strengths and weaknesses of those various proposals?

  Professor Jeffery: I am trying to pass the responsibility to Professor Hazell! The fundamental problem surrounding all of these proposals is the relative size of England vis-a"-vis the rest of the UK, that 80 to 85% of one state requires special consideration of how that part of the state is governed in itself, but also, and in particular, how it impacts on the other parts. There are, I think, serious reservations about a number of those proposals because of the way that they connect with the other parts of the UK or impact on the other parts of the UK with devolved powers. It would be, I think, historically a unique situation to see an English Parliament with an equivalent set of powers to the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and, in evolution, the Welsh Assembly forming a federation or something like it when one of the units has 80 to 85%. There is a presumption in that type of political system that there is equality of units and I suspect that entrenching a sense of equality across units ranging in size from less than two million to 50-plus million would be extremely difficult.

  Q6  Chairman: Texas and Rhode Island?

  Professor Jeffery: There are 48 others which range in between and which qualify that difference. We have a very small number of units and one which is so predominant would make the operation of that kind of system very difficult. There are a range of other issues attached to proposals on English votes for English laws or an English Grand Committee, in a more recent iteration, which presume that you can disentangle business for England from business for the other parts of the UK. Now, I will defer to Professor Hazell on this in the detail, 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, some of which Professor Hazell outlined. There are a range of other issues as well, not least finance. The financial allocations awarded to the devolved administrations are based on decisions on comparable spending programmes in England and I think, 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 and I do not think any of the proposals for an England-level solution have properly addressed that problem. It would be less of a problem if you went towards a regional assemblies solution. I am reluctant to go into a full discussion of that, not least given the events in the North East in November 2004 which appear to have knocked that off the agenda for some considerable time. I really do not think it is an option, given the scale of rejection then and, remember, it took quite a long time for the rejection of a devolution scheme in Wales by roughly the same margin to return to the political agenda.

  Q7  Chairman: I think the Committee would still be interested in your views on such a possibility, not least because someone might want to argue that, despite it having been rejected, it may be the only way of dealing with a particular aspect of the problem and to have certain weaknesses which we ought to be aware of before considering it again.

  Professor Jeffery: Well, I could refer you to the report which I helped to draft by the then Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister which held an inquiry on the draft Regional Assemblies Bill which I think dissected its weaknesses in some detail. Let me draw out just a couple. One of them would certainly be the weakness of identification of the people of England with the regional units which were put before them, as it were, not just in the North East, but more generally. I think there is a problem of political mobilisation around those particular lines on the map, even in the North East, the region of England which, alongside London perhaps, is the one which we tend to assume has a very strong sense of regional identity. The other issue which I think really helped essentially to scupper those proposals was the reluctance in Whitehall ministries to consider ceding significant powers to the proposals for English regional assemblies, and in fact only one Whitehall ministry at the time did consider ceding significant powers and that was the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, but no others did. I suspect that is both a problem in terms of selling the idea to the people of the North East, and there was a very strong perception in the public attitudes data that we collected that this was going to be an expensive talking shop which would not make any difference because it had no serious powers, but I suspect it also says something about governing mentalities in Whitehall and those governing mentalities have not changed in the interim and I do not foresee any particular change in the future, and that is the conception of governing England in a regionally disaggregated way and that conception is not there.

  Q8  Dr Whitehead: Except of course certainly a number of other countries in Europe have simply declared regionalism, and I have in mind France, for example. Spain did it in rather a different way, albeit not with the same sort of double-lock referendum and consequent local government reorganisation that was attempted as far as the North East referendum was concerned. In the context of what we are discussing about the English question, is it, or would it be, your view that the issue is so unresolvable in terms of various democratic details that perhaps a resolution by fiat is the only way forward?

  Professor Jeffery: That would certainly remove some of the obstacles. I suspect that we have probably established, in the very British way that we do make constitutional convention, that we have referendums on matters which appear to have constitutional impact, and it may be difficult to make that argument, but, if one were to take a very dirigiste, Jacobin approach and copied the French, I am sure it could be done by the powers of this Parliament.

  Q9  Dr Whitehead: Do you think that the proposals that are presently current for regional select committees have any bearing on this issue or do you think it is in any way a pointer in a particular direction of the further consideration of regional devolution within England?

  Professor Jeffery: Although I think that the institutional solution of moving to elected regional assemblies would be difficult to return to in short order, I do not think some of the problems underlying the proposals to introduce such assemblies have gone. We were able to do some detailed public attitudes research around the North East referendum which 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 did not have a voice at the centre in Westminster and Whitehall, but also that they were economically marginalised vis-a"-vis other parts of the UK, and the lack of political voice and the sense of economic disadvantage were clearly very, very important issues. I think you could say much the same for other parts of England, the North West, Yorkshire and certainly parts of the South West as well, and I suspect that that kind of issue underlines the need for a disaggregated consideration and I think regional select committees offer one mechanism for doing that.

  Q10  Dr Whitehead: Before I ask Professor Hazell a question about representation, could I just return briefly to your thoughts on the fact that England has 80 to 85% of the population of what might in the future be the federation. Does that mean, in your view, that ideas which relate to some form of constitutional relationship of England to other countries in the federation are inevitably swayed by that consideration or are there formulae which you consider could overcome that and, if you do not, does that inevitably, therefore, seem to point, however unpopular that may appear to be with the population, to some form of regional devolution within England?

  Professor Jeffery: I think there are other ways of addressing the question, and let me name two. One would be to disaggregate in the working of government, not of Parliament, but of Whitehall ministries, England-only and UK-wide roles much more systematically and effectively than is currently the case and, on that basis, pursue a more systematic approach to the relations between the governments of the UK, that is the UK Government acting for the UK and for England and the devolved governments. I think there is a possibility of doing that and it may be fairly remote, but in that sense of taking the UK Government in its UK role slightly above the territories of the UK to perform a kind of arbitration function, and that may be one way, though it may be very difficult to achieve, but it may be one way of accounting for the weight of England in policy-making across the UK. One other route would be to pursue a solution which is not that uncommon and certainly it applies in Italy, has applied in Spain, although less so now, and also in some other places which have further-flung island regions, and that is to continue to govern England as we govern England now and, as we saw from Professor Curtice's data, that appears to be what the English think should happen and what the Scots think should happen for England, but then treat the devolved territories in some form of special status which disconnects them more systematically from the work of this House and which in that way would control some of the spillover effects that an 80 to 85% unit has on the rest. That may not be an obvious consideration, and very few are proposing it, not least because it would raise concerns about the disintegration of the UK if you disaggregate it by special status in that way, but that may be one way.

  Q11  Chairman: Is the main reason not the disproportionate role which the representatives of these somewhat separated territories would have in the distinct Government of England?

  Professor Jeffery: In that case, I guess they would not have—

  Q12  Chairman: Sorry?

  Professor Jeffery: If you were moving to a situation of special status, I think one of the corollaries is that you would reduce the input of representatives from the non-English parts in the Government of the centre, including the Government of England.

  Q13  Chairman: So you are moving towards the English votes on English laws position in that argument.

  Professor Jeffery: But with additional consideration of the distinctive needs of the devolved territories. This would presumably mean awarding them further powers and further fiscal autonomy beyond the very small amounts that are currently available. That is one way of dealing with England, and that is more comprehensively to demarcate the Government of England from the rest.

  Q14  Dr Whitehead: Professor Hazell, the technical issue or one of the technical issues that has been put forward as a counter to the English votes for English laws is, as it were, the unitary status of the UK MP, the fact that it is difficult to have, as it were, a two-tier membership of the House of Commons. Would that in any way be met by securing the end of the alleged under-representation of England in the UK Parliament, in your view?

  Professor Hazell: Yes, in terms of the electoral quotas I do not think it is quite right to say that England is under-represented. The territory which is over-represented is Wales. Since the changes in 2005, Scotland, which was over-represented with 72 MPs and now has only 59, has come down into line with the English quota, but Wales is still over-represented with 40 MPs when, if it were in line with the English quota, it should have only about 33. So at the very least, I think, Wales should have the same electoral quota as the other parts of the UK. However, there is an argument for going further, the precedent being what happened during the first Northern Ireland Parliament in Stormont between 1922 and 1972 when, as you all know, whereas Northern Ireland in population terms was entitled to 18 MPs, in practice it had 12, so there was a discount of one-third to take account of the lesser interest and workload which Members from Northern Ireland at that time had at Westminster because of the devolved Parliament sitting in Belfast, and similar arguments could now be deployed. We have done a little work on the reduced workload now of Scottish and Welsh MPs post-devolution and, no surprises, and there is nothing wrong in this, nothing shameful, they do on certain indicators have less work to do, and that is entirely what one would expect. They have significantly less in terms of incoming and outgoing correspondence, and we can show that in terms of the volume of their postbags, faxes and emails and in terms of the amount that they spend on postage going out, and they have less work in terms of constituency caseload, and no surprises there because many of the constituency cases involve devolved issues which their constituents now take up with their devolved representatives. I think that is an issue which arguably should be addressed and it was not generally noticed, but it was in fact Conservative Party policy at the last General Election in 2005 to reduce the number of Scottish and Welsh MPs at Westminster by around about a third. If that were done, there would be about 40 Scottish Members and there would be about 22 Welsh Members.

  Q15  Chairman: Surely the issue there is not just one of workload though, is it? I can imagine, especially having three Welsh Members of Parliament sitting here with me, that one could get into an argument about that! Was it not, by those who advocate that, a desire to reduce the influence of the representatives of areas where there is devolved power on the Government of England? Was it not quite explicitly for that purpose?

  Professor Hazell: Well, it is a partial answer to the West Lothian question. The reason why the West Lothian question bites sharply in political terms is a two-fold reason, one of which is the number of representatives that Scotland and Wales should have, but the second, because of the way the first past the post operates, is the very heavy over-representation of Labour in Scotland and Wales in terms of seats to votes, so one answer to that, a generic answer which your Party, Chairman, might support and the other parties might not, would be to introduce a more proportional system of representation for this House. Another answer which occurred to me at a seminar we were all attending this morning would be to try and revive the fortunes of the Conservative Party in Scotland and Wales and I—

  Q16  Chairman: Well, we did by giving them proportional representation!

  Professor Hazell: Well, I have a proposal in relation to party funding which is that Lord Ashcroft's fund should be increased and it should be especially directed towards Scotland and Wales and it should be called the "West Lothian fund"!

  Q17  Chairman: You forget the Laidlaw element in Scotland! Professor Curtice was shaking his head at me.

  Professor Curtice: Yes, can I just make one technical caveat about the Scottish representation in this House. Scotland is in fact still over-represented in this House and there are two reasons, one, arguably, legitimate and one less legitimate. At the last Election, the average electorate of the average Scottish constituency was around, if I remember rightly, 65,000 and that of the average English constituency was around 70,000. Now, part of that is to do with the Northern Isles and the Western Isles and you may say, "Well, that's fair enough", but, beyond that, the problem is, because the population of England is growing more rapidly than that of Scotland, that, therefore, during the course of any redistribution the constituencies in Scotland are gradually getting smaller relative to those in England. There is also, however, a bigger issue here. The Scotland Act was, frankly, technically deficient in the way in which it cut Scottish MPs. What it did was to introduce a once-and-for-all cut in the number of Scottish MPs and under the rules of redistribution, as amended, the quota in Scotland at the next redistribution will be whatever is the electorate in Scotland at the date of the next redistribution divided by 59. It will not be the English quota, and, given the way in which the Scottish Boundary Commission is now interpreting the rules for redistribution, actually you can probably anticipate that the number of Scottish MPs will gradually increase by one or two in the course of the next few redistributions and, therefore, the gap will re-emerge. The Scotland Act failed to say that the quota in Scotland should be the same as that in England at each and every redistribution and you have to do that to at least ensure that you catch up with what is, frankly, something which, because of population movement, you are constantly catching up with to reach equality.

  Professor Hazell: Just to go back to some of the matters which Professor Jeffery was raising in answer to Dr Whitehead, as you will all know, there is no perfect answer to the West Lothian question. The closest to a complete answer would be to have an English Parliament. There is no significant public demand for that, as Professor Curtice's data already have shown, and no heavyweight politician of any party has come out in support of an English Parliament, which is a huge contrast to the position in relation to devolution in Scotland and Wales 10 or 15 years ago. It would, as Professor Jeffery has said, lead to a terribly unbalanced federation of the four nations of the UK and, finally, an English Parliament serving a population of 50 million people would, arguably, 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. Secondly—

  Q18  Dr Whitehead: Presumably, you could, in theory, have a combination of both, that is, an English Parliament with devolution within that English Parliament structure?

  Professor Hazell: Yes, and, if I may, I will come on to the other two possible solutions. On English votes on English laws, and again we have touched on this, it seems only logical and fair, and Professor Curtice's data show that it is quite strongly supported in England and, interestingly, in Scotland, but there would be huge, technical difficulties in identifying what counted as an English law for the reasons that Professor Jeffery has referred to and I think it could draw the Speaker 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, and there are very major political difficulties which we have also touched on in terms of the effective majority within this Parliament. I am in 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. Lastly, on regional government in England which you also asked about, as Professor Jeffery has said, following the defeat of the referendum in the North East in 2004, that is clearly dead for the time being, but I do not think it is necessarily dead for ever. Let us not forget that in 1979 the people of Wales voted by four to one against the then proposals for devolution, exactly the same ratio as defeated the proposals for regional devolution in the North East, but just under 20 years later the people of Wales changed their minds, so do not write off regional government in England for ever. As you will know very well, because I know some of your own academic work was on this subject, there has been a form of creeping regionalism over the years and over the decades and I suspect that it is likely to continue and in time growing public awareness of those regional structures and the powers which they hold over people's lives may lead to re-emergence of the demand to democratise those regional structures.

  Q19  Chairman: Would it be fair to say that successive governments have felt it necessary to create regional structures for the purposes of administration, whatever view they may have about whether there should be any democratic element in that structure?

  Professor Hazell: Yes.

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