Examination of Witnesses (Questions 141-159)|
19 FEBRUARY 2008
Q141 Chairman: Peter Facey and Michael
Knowles, we are very grateful to you for coming. You have heard,
of course, the previous witnesses, which helpfully gives you,
as it were, a flying start in exploring the arguments. Michael
Knowles has a particular point which has not been represented
in the evidence from witnesses so far and Peter Facey's evidence
may overlap into more with evidence that we have heard already.
Just to start off, two distinct aspects to the English Question
have been identified: England's place and status within the United
Kingdom and whether there needs to be decentralisation within
England. Do you agree and which of these is more significant?
Michael Knowles: Both are significant,
Chairman, and both are equally the English question. I have never
been on one of these things before so I will have to look at my
notes. You do not mind?
Q142 Chairman: No, not at all.
Michael Knowles: And the one should
not be set against the other. The English Question is most definitely
about the role and status of England within the Union. I do not
know how many of you MPs understand this. I am saying that, listening
to the discussion. England constitutionally and politically does
not exist but Scotland and Wales now politically and constitutionally
exist, and that is a grievance, which was not mentioned by any
of these three establishment speakers. There was no English Question
before the 1998 devolution legislation. The legislation brought
in the English Question, so, yes, we want England to have the
same constitutional and political recognition as Wales and Scotland
have. The two Welsh MPs here I am sure are pleased that their
country has now got separate political recognition. We want the
same. I hope you appreciate that, and that only the English Parliament
can do that, just as only the Welsh Assembly has done it for you.
At the same time we are democratic in another respect. We want
decentralisation within England as well because we have this democratically
grotesque situation in England now, that almost every detail of
government is here in Westminster. That does not apply to Scotland
and that does not apply to Wales, so that therefore is as big
an English question as the one I have just mentioned. We want
an English Parliament which is physically and directly separate.
That is the first bit of decentralisation, the most important
one, that we have an English Parliament which is elected separately
and exists separately, whether it is in Manchester, Derby, Stoke.
Q143 Chairman: We are going to return
to that particular question.
Michael Knowles: But you understand
that it is both?
Q144 Chairman: Oh, yes. I want to
give Peter Facey an opportunity to comment on this question but
do not worry; we will return to the point you were making.
Peter Facey: There is an extra
element which has not been mentioned. There are both the national
question and the question of decentralisation. There is also a
density question, which is about the confusion between Englishness
and Britishness. The example I always give is that if you watch
the English rugby team play Wales you listen to the Welsh anthem
being sung. The anthem on the other side is God Save the Queen.
Michael Knowles: Yes, exactly.
Peter Facey: The peculiarity of
singing the UK anthem at fellow citizens in a sporting event for
me sums up some of the questions of the English cultural question.
It is also when you hear the questions about being proud to be
Welsh and proud to be Scottish. At the moment in the Britishness
debate you are not hearing in England the same "proud to
be English and proud to be British as well", and so I would
say there are three elements and I think they are equally important:
the centralisation of power in England, not just within the United
Kingdom, the national question itself, but also this soft question,
which may not be a question of legislation but for many people
in England strikes a chord.
Mr Turner: I will not read the whole
thing that Professor Bogdanor said, but he emphasised the role
of electoral disparities, as the Union has always done. How would
you respond to Professor Bogdanor's statement and what are your
views on the potential risks involved in attempting to address
the English Question?
Q145 Chairman: You may recall this
was a statement he made, and we quoted it at him earlier, in which
he said that the English do not need to beat the drum or blow
the bugle and if they do they will strain the settlement because
they are in such a strong position anyway.
Michael Knowles: But that was
a very strange thing, I thought, for the Professor to say. I just
thought to myself, "What does he know about the reality of
politics in this country?". All the English MPs are not here
to represent England and the British Welsh MPs are not here to
represent Wales or represent England. You represent political
parties. You do not unite across the national boundaries. You
divide on political grounds. In England in addition we have never
had an English party, different from Scotland and Wales. We have
never had it. We do not look at it in that way. English politics
are on economic lines. Scottish and Welsh politics are also, of
course, but they are also on national lines. Our politics have
always been on economic lines and so I just do not think he is
in touch with the parliamentary system, besides which, of the
so-called English MPs, 40 or 50 of them are not English anyway,
so there is a lot of confusion in what he has to say. I just felt,
listening to Professor Bogdanor and previously reading some of
his stuff, that he is a kind of King Canute. He has not recognised
the reality of what has happened since 1998, that the three countries
have now been separated because of the legislation, and he is
hankering after a past that is not going to return. We have a
Union now of three distinct countries. One, England, has got no
political existence but the other two have and they have got home
rule. That is the English Question. England has no political existence
and England has no home rule. The other ones do.
Q146 Chairman: Peter Facey?
Peter Facey: Theoretically, Professor
Bogdanor is right, that there are 528 English MPs and they can
outvote MPs from other parts of the United Kingdom, including
the fourth bit, Northern Ireland, but the reality is that this
place splits on party lines, on policy lines. The example which
was given in the earlier session was that if at the next election
a government is returned with a majority based effectively on
MPs from Scotland and Wales and, because of the present political
make-up of the United Kingdom, this is going to be the Labour
party, in those circumstances it will depend on MPs from Scotland
voting through legislation in England. That, I think, is the fundamental
difficulty with Professor Bogdanor's position, even though, yes,
he is right: there are more English MPs than there are Scottish
or Welsh MPs. The problem when it comes down to it is that, if
there are more Conservative and Liberal Democrat English MPs than
there are Labour MPs but Labour has a majority in Westminster,
that is when it becomes a real political issue. On the question
of risk, which was the second part of the question, yes, there
are risks in dealing with the English Question (or questions)
and we should not pretend that there are not, but the bigger risk
for me personally is the group which says, "Do not ask the
question", because I think we have now got to a point where
doing nothing is probably worse than doing something, that if
we simply stay where we are and we let circumstances develop and
we get into that crisis point it is very difficult then to do
something, so now, when the issue is not as burning, is the time
to deal with it. If it becomes a constitutional crisis because
you effectively have England being governed by a party which is
perceived, by the media at least, or elements of the media, as
being not English but foisting policies on from elsewhere, then
it becomes very difficult in a core, logical way to deal with
the issue, and therefore we need to deal with it now, even though
there are risks.
Q147 Mr Turner: Is it necessary for
the Members to be separate from Westminster here? Can Members
here perform both functions or is it necessary, as I think Michael
Knowles suggested, that they should be separate in performing
Peter Facey: I am not in favour
of an English Parliament. I think part of the solution has to
be a Westminster part of the solution. I happen to think there
is also a bigger part which is to do with the decentralisation
of power within England, which we may come on to later, but I
do not think you can say that there should not be a national element,
and how that is done we can discuss but there needs to be a national
element, not just another element. If you created an English Parliament
separately from that my fear is that you would have decentralisation
from 60 million to 50 million and, in the case of the decentralisation
I want to see, you would not get to that bit. History has shown
that once you are given power you spend time wrestling down more
power and you do not tend to give it away, whereas if you look
at Scotland, the Scottish Government (as I suppose they now call
themselves so I will call them that) have not yet decentralised
power to Scottish local government. In fact, you could argue with
the questions around the council tax that they are actually taking
power away, and therefore, as someone whose agenda is to decentralise
power a lot further, for me the worry is that you create an English
Parliament and I will spend 20 years trying to get power out of
it, so I would rather have that power first before an English
Parliament. That is my concern.
Chairman: Michael Knowles I think will
have a good opportunity to deploy his argument against that in
answering Alun Michael.
Q148 Alun Michael: Indeed, I think
this question, in view of that, should be posed to Michael Knowles
in the first instance. Given that we have got a London Assembly,
given that more people in London identify with London than with
England, and, given that considerable powers have been devolved
to London, including police and transport, is it not clear that
the English Question is a misnomer; it is the England-outside-London
question, so why is the idea of an English Parliament the right
answer to the question?
Michael Knowles: I sometimes wonder
what people in North Wales might say about Cardiff.
Q149 Alun Michael: As a North Walean
I can tell you if we can have extended time for me to explain
it to you.
Michael Knowles: But, you see,
there are a lot of statements you have made which you have not
backed up with any particular evidence, for instance, they feel
that they are Londoners more than English. You have not produced
any statistics on that.
Q150 Chairman: Professor Bogdanor
produced some evidence.
Michael Knowles: Facts, facts,
facts. This is why, as I see it, there are too many questions
and issues in what you ask in a sense, but this is what I want
to put to you, that an England which is elected separately and
physically separate is so important. Just consider if an English
Parliament was in Derby or Stoke or Manchester or Leeds or wherever
and you were not just concentrating on London and the north east
of England. If that happened you would witness in this country
the biggest and most radical transfer of economic power, cultural
power, employment development and media development out of London
and the south east into the rest of England. If the British Parliament
were just here and the English Parliament was in another part
of England the transfer of power, the decentralisation of power,
would be radical and would be second to none. That is the point
I would like to make to you.
Q151 Alun Michael: Sorry, are you
saying that if we had an Assembly for London that would be a Parliament
for England without London?
Michael Knowles: No. London is
the capital of England at present. London feeds on the rest of
England. London does not have devolution by any stretch of the
imagination. It has not got legislative powers. It is just another
form of local government, just the same way as the Assembly for
the north east, which Prescott and Co wanted to impose, had no
legislative powers. In fact, Professor Bogdanor made that point:
it would be impossible to run any state with nine different legislative
assemblies with the powers of the English Parliament. No; let
us just get it straight: London has not got devolution; it has
got another form of local government. As people have said to me
time and time again, when they voted for a London Mayor they thought
that was all they were doing, voting for a London Mayor, a new
form of local government in London.
Q152 Alun Michael: Can I ask both
of you, in the event of the creation of an English Parliament
what would you see as the role of the House of Lords?
Peter Facey: The problem is you
are putting to me something which I do not advocate. I think having
a unitary English Parliament within the bicameral system would
be difficult. I would like to come back to your point about London
though. The reality is that London is a mess in the sense that
the legislation talks about the Government but all the infrastructure
of the GLA and the Mayor are regional. It has an electoral system
which is unlike any other electoral system in English government.
It has councillors, the GLA members, who have five times the constituents
of Members of this House. I accept it is a very weak form of regional
government. I call London "the region that got away".
We had two regional referendums. London voted yes, the north east
voted no. The people of London have said that they want a form
of city government, and the City is larger than a lot of Member
States in the European Union, and it should be given more powers,
and one of the things which the Government could do is come back
to the governance of London and, in terms of the powers that the
Home Secretary has over policing and education, transfer those
to the Mayor. It is not about breaking England up but about giving
London self-government over the things which concern Londoners.
I have lived in London; I now live outside, and the concerns in
London are very different from the concerns where I live in Cambridgeshire.
It should be given that power and it has already voted for it
so why not, in the same way that the Welsh Assembly is now going
through a debate about future powers, have the same process in
London and then have a referendum in London later to say whether
that settlement is acceptable to Londoners? The idea that because
London voted yes and the north east voted no London has to stop
I do not think is appropriate. In terms of the role of the House
of Lords, I think that is a question for those people who advocate
an English Parliament, not for somebody like me who thinks that
your powers should be decentralised first.
Q153 Chairman: Michael Knowles, what
do you think?
Michael Knowles: There is, of
course, misrepresentation here. When Peter mentions that there
were two votes, one in the north east and one in London, the one
in the north east was definitely formally for a regional assembly,
but at the time the one in London happened there was no talk of
a regional assembly. It was just for another form of local government,
for the Mayor. There was no discussion of it being a region. On
the issue of the House of Lords, the House of Lords
Peter Facey: Your organisation
has campaigned for it.
Q154 Chairman: I would like to hear
what Michael Knowles thinks about the House of Lords issue because
it is quite important to judging the English Parliament issue.
Michael Knowles: The House of
Lords is a very ancient English institution, is it not, and I
think what it represents should be retained whether it is an English
Parliament or we still have it with the British Parliament. The
Scottish and the Welsh do not have it. There has to be a check
upon legislation. There has to be that longstop. That principle
should exist. It is an English principle; at least, it is not
a Scottish one because the new Scottish system of government,
which was brought in really through the thinking of the Scottish
Constitutional Assembly, does not have it. The second chamber,
whichever way we do it, should be retained because you need that
Q155 Chairman: But it is currently
a United Kingdom body. It does not have any power over the legislation
in the Scottish Parliament, but on your proposal it would have.
Michael Knowles: No, we have not
given any thought, quite frankly, to that. It is no good making
it up. We have given no thought whatsoever to the relationship
of the House of Lords to the Scottish Parliament. That I thought
would be something for the Scots to make up their own minds about.
We are concerned about what happens in England, that England is
recognised both politically and constitutionally and has the same
status within the Union as Scotland and Wales.
Q156 Chairman: Just to get this clear,
on matters that concern England alone is your proposal that the
House of Lords would retain a role like the role it has now, in
which case England would be different from Scotland, or would
it confine itself to United Kingdom matters and not deal with
any of the English Parliament legislation?
Michael Knowles: It is proceeding
along the road in which there might just be a very strong argument
for a separate set-up. This Committee should give consideration
to setting up an English constitutional convention in which these
matters should be worked out. They are very complicated. We are
just thinking of what should be with an English Parliament and
we are saying that with an English Parliament on the English principle,
the historic principle, that there should be a second chamber.
How that would impact upon Wales and Scotland with the present
House of Lords, which is a British institution, I think is beyond
our brief but it is not beyond the brief of the British Parliament,
so you should give consideration, if anything comes out of this
meeting, to setting up an English constitutional convention or
a British constitutional convention because you rushedand
when I say "you" there were some members on the other
sidethat 1998 devolution legislation through, in my opinion.
The West Lothian question would never have arisen if you had given
it sufficient thought. You never gave any thought to the impact
upon England. That is the point I tried to make in my submission
to you, which I presume everybody read very carefully. No thought
was given to that and so you get Lord Irvine and others, and Lord
Falconer saying only two weeks ago in the House of Commons in
a Hansard meeting, that the best thing to do with the West
Lothian questionhe repeated what Lord Irvine saidwas
just to ignore it and it cannot be ignored. As I said, the resentment
is building up. It is there.
Peter Facey: I think if you had
an English Parliament the House of Lords or the second chamber
would effectively become a UK second chamber. I do not see how
you could have the House of Lords functioning as the second chamber
for a devolved parliament at the same time as functioning as the
second chamber for the United Kingdom as a whole. If you devolve
power I do not think you could have a body in this place having
Q157 Alun Michael: It is an interesting
issue, which is the question of scrutiny, because the House of
Lords provides that element of scrutiny in the legislation. I
think with the unicameral Assembly of Wales we are now with the
legislative powers actually seeing some issues of scrutiny coming
to the fore, which the Welsh Affairs Select Committee members
are wrestling with, so it is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Peter Facey: It is why in lots
of cases which have devolved assemblies they have two chambers,
such as in the United States lots of states have two chambers.
I think there is a strong argument for having a second chamber
elsewhere for scrutiny. I do not think you could use the same
chamber for the UK and for England or for Wales or for Scotland
or for Northern Ireland.
Q158 Chairman: Or for England alone.
Peter Facey: Or for England alone.
If you devolved power to an English Parliament, which is not what
we are arguing, you could do it as a bicameral model or you could
do it as a single model, but there would be a new bicameral chamber,
not the existing one.
Q159 Julie Morgan: Michael Knowles,
some critics have argued that the creation of an English Parliament
would be the fatal blow to the "United Kingdom". What
is your view on that?
Michael Knowles: Who is arguing
that, did you say?