Examination of Witnesses (Questions 114-119)|
MP, LORD TYLER
CBE AND PROFESSOR
19 FEBRUARY 2008
Q114 Chairman: Lord Tyler, Mr Clarke,
Professor Bogdanor, my apologies for the delay. We are never entirely
sure when these things happen, but I do not think we are going
to be interrupted again. Let us start off by asking you, in a
couple of sentences, how you would define the English Question.
Let us start with Professor Bogdanor.
I believe there are two questions. The first is the constitutional
question of the imbalance that is resulting from devolution. Secondly,
there is a political question, which is the more important question,
in my view a sense perhaps of alienation on the part of many people
in England who feel that government does not take as much notice
of them as perhaps it does of the Scots and the Welsh.
Q115 Chairman: Do others agree that
that is the nature of the question, the balance of the issues?
Lord Tyler: I would just add that
there is within the English Question a number of English questions;
there is even the Cornish questionthat feeling of alienation
is stronger the further you go away from Londonand while
it would appear that a solution has been arrived at for Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland, I think there are many other parts
of what is traditionally referred to as England where that is
identified as well.
Mr Clarke: I think there is an
English Question, as defined by Professor Bogdanor, and it is
not just confined to the problems that have arisen from devolution.
In answer to the question of devolution, I think there are doubts
about legitimacy when legislation is passed by the votes of people
whose constituents are not affected by it in their nation where
there is now devolved power, and I think it is giving rise to
a certain amount of English irritation which could sometimes get
rather stronger. I do not share that; I think it is rather irritating.
I personally find English anti-Scottish feeling or Scottish anti-English
feeling childlike but perfectly all right as long as it is confined
to the football stadium or the rugby match or something of that
kind. Although it is not widespread, I actually think over the
last 10 years there has been a distinct growth in the number of
people who are irritated by the relationship between Scotland
and England and I would like to nip that in the bud by some sensible
constitutional minor change, in my opinion, to finish the business
Q116 Alun Michael: In The Observer
on 4 November Professor Bogdanor said, " ... 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." Could I first ask Professor Bogdanor,
following those comments, do you think that the English Question
is still a legitimate one, and what are the potential risks in
attempting to address what you defined in your introduction of
the English Question?
Professor Bogdanor: The constitutional
aspect of the English Question cannot be resolved unless and until
England or regions of England want legislative devolution, and
that is obviously a long way away. There is certainly no sign
of that at the moment. But I believe that the political aspects
of the English Question can and should be answeredthe sense
of alienation felt by many people in England that the Government
does not take enough notice of them. I would, however like to
repeat what I said, in the "Observer", and which
you kindly quoted, that England is the dominant nation in the
United Kingdom and the price that has to be paid for keeping the
Union, which I think is very important for all of us, is English
self-restraint; that itself is nothing new; it has probably always
been there since the Union with Scotland in 1707, because England
has always been the dominant nation and the Union has only been
threatened when England is seen to take advantage of that. For
example, in the poll tax legislation of the late 1980s it seemed
that Scottish opinion on the whole was thoroughly against it,
but the English perhaps did not take sufficient notice of that.
I think it has always been the case that English self-restraint
is the key to maintaining the United Kingdom.
Q117 Chairman: Lord Tyler, Mr Clarke?
Mr Clarke: Firstly, just to correct
a factual error, it was not the English inflicting the Poll Tax
on Scotland. Let me make it clear, the Poll Tax was an unmitigated
disaster from the moment it was first mooted to the moment it
eventually collapsedI am in no doubt about thatbut
actually it was just a political misjudgment. It was our Scottish
colleagues who wanted to rush the Poll Tax into Scotland because
they were terrified of the consequences of a forthcoming rating
revaluation which they would have to see through if they did not
have this marvellous new tax. The idea the English used it as
an experiment was a very skilful argument later used by Scottish
Labour and Scottish Nationalists to beat us over the head for
putting in the ridiculous tax in the first place. So I do not
think the English have ever consciously experimented on Scotland.
I do not agree with Vernon, with respect. I think there is a parliamentary
problem which needs to be parliamentarily addressed before what
becomes a niggle gets worse, and I think devolution has changed
things. These historical analogies about Northern Ireland always
having to put up with legislation that Northern Irish MPs did
not always want, and so onnobody can usually force things
on themhas all changed. We have had, in my opinion, with
hindsight, quite correctly and quite successfully, change so that
the key matters are now devolved to Scottish decision in a Scottish
Parliament and probably will be in Wales. That is the way we are
going as well. The same thing applies there. It does now give
rise to parliamentary problems. Everybody in this Committee is
as familiar as I am with foundation hospitals. It is not such
a great problem. I voted with the Government on foundation hospitals.
It was Liberals and a Labour revolt that meant that there was
not an English majority on it. The key one was student fees, which
Vernon's argument says the English should tolerate. The fact was
the majority of English MPs voted against English students paying
tuition fees. Scottish MPs provided the majority which brought
the fees in. In Scotland, those Scottish MPs had no vote; it was
the votes of Scotsmen and women in the Scottish Parliament that
decided that Scottish students should not pay university fees.
The English have kind of put up with that, but when you explain
it to an Englishman or when you meet an Englishman who knows that
history, it causes considerable annoyance, not least to students
alongside each other in the same university, one paying fees because
he is English, the other not paying fees because he is Scottish.
That should be a warning. That is the West Lothian question in
its starkest form. If you had a Parliament where this was unusual
again, it was all to do with party developments and things. If
you had a Parliament where that started happening over and over
again, I think you would be damaging the union and you would be
taking a risk. To rely on English tolerance would not be good
enough. I think some politicians would exploit it: a sense of
mounting English anger that things were being done when the English
MPs would not have voted for it or were in the majority against
it and all those MP's who have got devolved government in their
own territories were being wielded to produce a majority.
Lord Tyler: I do not think the
restraint has been one way. I think it has been a two-way process.
Basically, I agree with Professor Bogdanor's analysis here, but
I think if you look at it over a longer period, Scots and Welsh
have had to be restrained in the way in which they have had to
put up with the way in which England has tended to dominate so
much political discussion, and I think the new anomaly since devolution
is simply an attempt to address previous equally dramatic anomalies
in the past.
Q118 Alun Michael: Perhaps as a Welshman
I ought to welcome the idea of anybody describing Scots and Welsh
Mr Clarke: Can I just come back
on board? Devolution, it seems to me, was the end result of mounting
Scottish and Welsh resentment against governments, probably particularly
the Thatcher Government, which they did not like anyway, but a
government to which a majority of their MPs were in opposition
and which was increasingly imposing on Scotland things they disliked.
This eventually led to an irresistible demand for devolved government
in lots of key domestic policy areas. Because the English are
85% of the population of the United Kingdom, it may take them
very much longer to start getting into the kind of mood that will
make it wise to move to devolution in England, but what is the
point of going down that road?
Q119 Alun Michael: Could I ask one
other question. We are parliamentarians and, therefore, the interest
in parliamentary process and legislation is obviously very much
of interest to us, but for many people there is devolution in
England in the sense of the Government of London, so should not
the English Question be the England outside London question?
Lord Tyler: I certainly agree
with that. I think there is continuing resentment in areas furthest
away from London within England where it is thought everybody
else now seems to have a measure of devolution; even if it is
not legislative devolution, administrative devolution. For example,
in relation to the two big issues that we are told the public
are concerned withthe Health Service and crimein
both cases the only accountability would seem to be through a
secretary of state in London. I used to be a member of a police
authority as a local authority member. Today members of police
authorities are all appointed by the Home Secretary. Similarly,
if you have a complaint about the Health Service in your region
of England, you have to go to the Secretary of State, effectively,
to get somebody who can take a major decision. So I think there
is a resentment outwith London that London-based London thinking,
the bubble around Westminster, seems to be where all the major
decisions are taken where only accountability can lie, particularly
in relation to these two key public services. I think that is
a very general issue, and there I do agree with Kenneth Clarke.
I think there is resentment that perhaps Scottish and Welsh citizens
have greater accessibility to people who take decisions.