The Union and devolution Contents

Chapter 8: England

The English Question and the governance of England

352.The preceding chapters have focused on the Union against a background of national devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Attention should be paid, however, to England’s governance and place in the Union. England predominates in the UK both economically and demographically. Its representatives have an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons. It could be argued that devolution is a way for the other nations in the UK to distinguish themselves from England. The ‘English Question’ encompasses a number of questions about England’s governance. How, within the Union, should England be governed? Is there a way to allow England a separate voice within the UK without undermining the Union? Should power be devolved or decentralised, and if so how?

353.The governance of England is becoming a key concern for those considering the territorial constitution. Witnesses noted the absence of consideration of England when politicians discussed devolution, one of them calling it the “elephant in the room”.477 They called for a more general discussion of the purpose and benefits of the Union for England, which has so far been lacking.478

354.The need for England and its role in the Union to be considered has become increasingly clear in recent years. Professor Charlie Jeffery, Professor of Politics at the University of Edinburgh, told us that the English had recently begun to question the purposes and benefits of the Union, having previously felt comfortable as the dominant nation in the Union.479 This was the likely the result of the Scottish referendum which highlighted issues of nationality, identity and governance that had not been prominent in English politics prior to the referendum campaign. Professor Roger Scully, Professor of Political Science, Cardiff University, told us there was ‘devo-anxiety’ within England over a perception that the nations with devolved institutions were gaining advantages at England’s expense.480

355.Professor Jeffery noted the emergence of England as a theme in the 2015 general election. He argued:

“It was no coincidence because there is growing evidence that people in England—all the way across England—feel short-changed by the way in which the UK is governed. They feel short-changed in the representational sense: the West Lothian question, to which English votes on English laws is some kind of answer. They feel short-changed by disparities in levels of public spending between the different parts of the UK; they feel this as a ‘fair share’ argument, and that England is not getting its fair share. That transforms the debate about the Union.”481

356.There has been little public engagement or discussion about England’s part in the Union, or of devolution and decentralisation in this highly-centralised nation.482 The Political Studies Association told us:

“the whole debate on English devolution has been an elite-to-elite one. Whilst making occasional reference to how [English votes for English laws], City Deals and the Northern Powerhouse agenda would help [in] improving democracy, in practice so far the government has paid very little attention to what the people really want from devolution in England (or if they have any appetite for it at all).”483

357.Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy told us that public discussion of England’s governance is beginning to happen.484 Where it has happened, however, we heard that it has rarely addressed the issue of England as a whole.485 Witnesses contrasted the public discourse in Scotland during and after the independence referendum with the lack of public engagement in England.486

Principal options for the governance of England

358.The potential solutions or partial remedies to the English Question that we explored can be grouped into four principal options:

359.These potential solutions fall into two camps, reflecting the two major facets of the English Question: the representation of England as a whole, and devolution or decentralisation to regional or local levels within England. An English Parliament or arrangements in the UK Parliament to pass English laws differently attempt to address the former; regional assemblies and moves to empower local government the latter.487 Solutions in either camp often struggle to answer the challenges of the other: all-England solutions do not bring power closer to people and communities, while regional and local solutions do not address the desire for recognition of England as a single entity.

360.The difficulty of disentangling the different elements of the English Question is reflected in the opinion polling data on the subject. There is no one single solution.488 Dr Jan Eichhorn, Chancellor’s Fellow in Social Policy, University of Edinburgh, told us that:

“There is not a one-size-fits-all solution. If you ask people about different options for devolution in England—arrangements to address this—we find that there is some form of support for doing something that affects England at a whole level, but it depends on how you phrase the questions and how you engage with it.”489

Similarly, Ed Cox, Director of IPPR North, told us that people are clear that they want some form of devolution but not on what form they want.490

361.Some preferences are discernible, however. The 2014 Future of England Survey report concluded that there was very low support for the status quo and for regionalism and no clear preference for strengthening local government, but “very significant support” for proposals that would recognise England as a nation, with English votes for English laws emerging as the preferred option.491

English votes for English laws

The West Lothian Question

362.The West Lothian Question is a common articulation of one particular concern about English representation in the Union—it is thus one facet of wider concerns expressed by the English Question. The West Lothian Question gained its name through its articulation in debates on devolution in the 1970s by the MP for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell, who opposed devolution.492

363.The Question relates to the difference that the creation of devolved legislatures made to the responsibilities and power of MPs from each of the different parts of the UK. It can be illustrated by way of an example of a policy area that is devolved to all three devolved legislatures, such as education. MPs representing Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish constituencies are able to debate and vote on laws affecting education in England where it is not devolved. Meanwhile MPs for English constituencies cannot debate or legislate on education in the other nations because the devolved national legislatures are responsible for the policy. MPs representing seats in the devolved nations also have no say over education in their constituencies. Where votes are close, this situation can create—and has on a small number of occasions created—a situation where proposed laws affecting England alone are passed (or rejected) against the wishes of a majority of MPs for English constituencies.493

364.Arguably the situation creates two types of MP: those able to vote on all matters relating to their constituencies, and those unable to vote on the whole range of issues affecting their local area because some have been devolved to other institutions.494 The latter are, however, able to vote on all matters relating to the formers’ constituencies.

365.The dilemma arose during debates on Irish Home Rule from the 1880s. Various proposals were put forward as a result, including simply not having MPs for Ireland in the UK Parliament or having ‘in and out’ MPs only able to debate and vote on UK-wide issues.495 When power was devolved to the new legislatures in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the late 1990s, the West Lothian Question was left unanswered. The new ‘English votes for English laws’ procedures in the House of Commons are this Government’s attempt to address it.

English votes for English laws in the House of Commons

366.‘English votes for English laws’ (EVEL) refers to a way of attempting to address the West Lothian Question by changing the way that the House of Commons legislates. This can either mean excluding MPs from constituencies outside England (or England and Wales) from debates and votes on matters that have been devolved, or allowing MPs for English (or English and Welsh) constituencies to express a separate view on matters which only affect England (or England and Wales). Although it is not a top priority for citizens, opinion polls since the late 1990s have shown strong support for removing the right of Scottish MPs to vote on English-only matters.496 The principle is popular in both England and Scotland, with surveys showing at least 64% support in England (and less than 15% opposition) and around 50% support in Scotland.497 Professor John Curtice, Professor of Politics, University of Strathclyde, told us that polling after the referendum had shown continued support for EVEL in Scotland, although it was not clear whether that had changed since the May 2015 general election at which the Scottish National Party made significant electoral gains. The election result has the potential to change the future narrative of EVEL in Scotland: “what originally appeared an embarrassment for Labour is now, perhaps, at risk of being portrayed as an attempt to silence ‘Scotland’s party’, viz. the SNP”.498

367.The Coalition Government appointed a Commission under a former Clerk of the House of Commons, Sir William McKay, to investigate “the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons”. The McKay Commission recommended a principle be adopted by the Commons that “decisions at the United Kingdom level with a separate and distinct effect for England (or for England and Wales) should normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of MPs for constituencies in England (or England and Wales)”. It did not recommend the exclusion of MPs from Northern Ireland and Scotland (and Wales for England-only decisions) from debates and votes on those issues in Parliament. It recommended a number of new procedures to incorporate gaining consent from English (or English and Welsh) MPs and suggested the creation of a Devolution Committee in the House of Commons to consider the working of the new system and any cross-border effects.499

368.The Conservative Government elected in May 2015 brought forward proposals for English votes for English laws, which—after several debates and revisions—resulted in changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, passed in October 2015. The new procedures broadly reflect those proposed by the McKay Commission, but with an express ‘veto’ for English (or English and Welsh) MPs over legislation affecting only their nation(s) in areas that are the responsibility of devolved legislatures elsewhere.500 Both the EVEL procedures themselves and the manner in which they have been adopted have been controversial. The House of Lords was unable to express a view on the Government’s proposals since the changes were made by Standing Order, rather than primary legislation.

369.Neither the new procedures adopted by the House of Commons nor the McKay Commission’s proposals prevent Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish MPs from voting on matters that only affect England—as EVEL is more widely understood to mean501 (and as it is phrased in public opinion surveys502). All MPs are still able to debate and vote on all legislation before the House, but the new procedures allow for some consideration to be conducted only by English (or English and Welsh) MPs and creates a double veto requiring a majority among all MPs and among English (or English and Welsh) MPs in divisions on bills, clauses and statutory instruments certified as English (or English and Welsh) only.

370.We have committed to undertake a review of the impact of the English votes for English laws procedures and their constitutional implications for the Union. We will therefore publish our conclusions about EVEL as part of that inquiry, which will feed into the UK Government’s planned review of the EVEL procedures later this year.503

An English Parliament

371.One suggested solution to the asymmetry of representation produced by legislative devolution, and the West Lothian Question, has been for England to have its own devolved Parliament, with the UK Parliament taking on the role of a federal legislature.

372.The Campaign for an English Parliament propose that England should have a devolved legislature and executive with the same powers as the Scottish Parliament and Government. They emphasise equality between the nations and equality of representation, achieved through having four devolved national legislatures.504 The idea of an English Parliament was supported only by a small number of our other witnesses and is closely tied to the idea of a federal structure for the UK.505 It also has significant support among English voters, although it is not as popular as other proposals for addressing the English Question. Professor Scully told us:

“When various potential solutions … are put to the public one at a time, one can get substantial support for all of them. When several possible ways of governing England are offered to people simultaneously, and they are asked to select their most favoured option, then there is usually no clear majority for any particular option. That said … More radical proposals, like an English Parliament, tend to command less support.”506

373.The creation of an English Parliament is an apparently simple solution, which would address the desire for a single, separate voice for England. However, it throws up problems of potential instability at least as great as those it attempts to solve. The overwhelming size of England and thus the political and economic power of an English Government compared with the Scottish and Welsh Governments and Northern Irish Executive would not bring real symmetry to the system and could risk instability and resentment.507 Brendan Donnelly, Director of the Federal Trust for Education and Research, stated bluntly that “England would dominate a UK federation if it were a single unit”.508 Professor Adam Tomkins, John Millar Professor of Public Law, University of Glasgow, elaborated:

“If you had an English First Minister with the powers of the Scottish First Minister, that English First Minister would have a bigger budget than and would be more powerful and important than the United Kingdom Prime Minister. That is a recipe for collapsing the Union rather than strengthening the Union.”509

374.Professor Jim Gallagher of Nuffield College, Oxford, expressed similar concerns:

“If instability is to be created by English legislative powers, an English Parliament is the way to do it, because an English Parliament produces an English Government, and an English Government becomes dominant in English politics in the same way as the Scottish Government are dominant in Scottish politics, and the vestigial federal level is not disabled. It seems to me that stability requires that this place [the UK Parliament] remains England’s legislature.”510

375.The Campaign for an English Parliament rebutted these concerns, telling us that it was “wrong to assert that an English first minister would be more powerful than the UK Prime Minister. Firstly their functions would be different and second a Union parliament reflecting the whole of the UK politically would prevent an overbearing presence of an English first minister.”511

376.Given the relative size of England within the UK, the creation of an English Parliament would introduce a destabilising asymmetry of power to the Union. Meanwhile, creating a new legislature and administration covering 84% of the population that the UK institutions currently serve would not bring decision-making significantly closer to the people and communities of England.512 An English Parliament is not a viable option for the future of the governance of England.

English regional assemblies

377.An alternative to recognising England as a discrete nation within the Union is devolution to the regions of England. One way to do this would be to establish regions of roughly equal size, to which powers would be devolved; a further decision would be needed on whether these would have administrative or executive functions, perhaps with the potential to acquire legislative powers subsequently. This would echo (although not necessarily replicate) the approach taken in the 2002 White Paper Your Region, Your Voice, with its proposed division of England into the eight regions used for European Parliament elections, each with a directly-elected assembly.513 The Kilbrandon Commission recommended regional advisory councils with a mixture of nominated and indirectly-elected members rather than elected regional assemblies.514

378.Peter Riddell, Director of the Institute for Government, told us that “The problem … is in defining the regions to do it”.515 Lord Salisbury, convenor of the Constitution Reform Group, said that “there is huge geographical difficulty in splitting up England into regions … When you begin to draw divisions between southern, south-eastern and the Midlands of England, you just have to ask yourself the question, ‘Does it work?’”516 There is also a question around the size of regions and whether individual counties could be regions in their own right.

379.Some regions already have discrete identities, and indeed wish to control greater powers as a regional unit. Councillor Julian German of the Campaign for a Cornish Assembly spoke for some parts with a discrete regional identity when he told us that “we perceive Cornwall as a distinctive region. We are happy for England to decide what it wants to do, but we see Cornwall as a discrete territory.”517 We heard that it might be possible to make a regional tier of government using a mixture of historical regions and new creations.518. Alternatively, a “mezzanine tier of governance” might emerge from administrative (and particularly transport) bodies developing at present.519

380.A common argument against elected regional assemblies is that they do not command public or political support, and that the idea was killed off by the rejection of the proposed North East Assembly in 2004.520 Some witnesses noted the “half-baked” or “watered-down” version of devolution offered in that referendum and the lack of concerted political support for the North-East Assembly,521 which implies that there may be scope to engender greater support for a stronger assembly model. But the shift from a regional policy to the ‘devolution deals’ approach (see below) suggests that the creation of regional assemblies is not currently on the table as an option.

381.The Citizens’ Assembly pilots suggested a relatively positive view of new regional bodies among citizens who had engaged in informed discussion of devolution. Professor Matthew Flinders of the University of Sheffield told us that participants preferred an elected assembly, with greater powers than those offered to the North East in 2004, to the mayoral model proposed under ‘devolution deals’ (see next section).522

382.Public opinion surveys, however, do not paint an encouraging picture for supporters of the idea of regional assemblies. English votes for English laws and an English Parliament were preferred over regional assemblies by respondents to the 2014 Future of England Survey.523 Dr Eichhorn told us that his research had shown majority support for elected regional assemblies (as well as for other options offered) across the regions of England, but when a single preference was asked for it came second to EVEL in only three regions and was generally no more popular than the status quo.524

383.Elected regional assemblies are not currently an option being considered for devolution within England and are unlikely to gain any traction in the near future. Regional assemblies will not provide a realistic solution to the governance of England unless a coherent strategy were to be brought forward implementing regional assemblies across England and making appropriate changes to the UK’s constitution and existing governance structures.

Local Government and ‘devolution deals’

384.The current Government’s devolution policy for England centres on ‘devolution deals’ made between the UK Government and local authorities, usually groups of local authorities proposing a new combined authority. There was some disagreement over the typology of this transfer of powers: Mr Riddell described them as decentralisation, rather than devolution.525 Professor Flinders cited Lord Heseltine’s description of them as neither of those things but rather a new model of partnership between central and local government.526

385.Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, told us that this difficulty of definition in part reflected the variety of what was being agreed:

“We have started using devolution as a catch-all phrase for a number of things. It now covers devolution, decentralisation and delegation. That is reflected in what is in devolution deals. To distinguish two of the ambitions of Greater Manchester, on skills, our view would be that the skills offer in Greater Manchester should be totally determined locally; on employment programmes, currently the Work Programme, our view is that they should be jointly commissioned with central government.”527

386.We do not comment on what term should be used. The deals are not devolution in the sense that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have devolved power,528 but for ease of understanding we use the phrase ‘devolution deals’ to describe the current Government policy.

387.Various witnesses raised concerns about the degree to which power has been centralised in Scotland and Wales since powers were devolved to their national institutions.529 However, local government is devolved in both nations and this chapter consequently addresses only the situation in England. 530

‘Devolution deals’ and Combined Authorities

388.‘Devolution deals’ are the most recent focus of the ‘localism’ agenda promoted by the UK Government since 2010, in place of the previous Labour Governments’ regional approach. These ‘deals’ allow for the devolution of a bespoke set of powers and the reorganisation of local government in a county, city or region; they usually including the creation of a combined authority with a directly-elected mayor. These follow on from the policy Coalition Government’s ‘City Deals’ with the largest cities across England (although the policy also extends to Scotland and Wales) granting each city additional powers with the aim of promoting their economic growth.531 Further City Deal negotiations have taken place since May 2015, notably with cities in Scotland and Wales, while the primary focus in England has been on ‘devolution deals’.

389.The first ‘devolution deal’ was announced in November 2014, creating a Greater Manchester Combined Authority.532 It was followed by deals for Sheffield and Cornwall by the summer of 2015. In late 2015, further deals were announced for the North East, Tees Valley, the West Midlands, and Liverpool. Four more deals were announced in the Budget in March 2016, covering East Anglia, Greater Lincolnshire, and the West of England.533 As Table 1 (in Chapter 2) shows, these ten regions contain a significant proportion of the population of England: 16.1 million people (29.7%). Added to London’s population of 8.6 million this means some 45% of England will be living in areas with some form of devolved or decentralised power. These areas include parts of England with significant economic strength, comprising a substantial part of the English economy.

390.Many witnesses welcomed the ‘devolution deals’ as a positive development;534 a welcome shift of focus by the Government away from London and a way of strengthening local government and the regions.535 Other witnesses were less supportive, describing the plans as incoherent, unsustainable, a “classic British ad hoc muddle”, and a technocratic or political response to the fact of devolution in the rest of the UK.536

391.Sir Richard Leese welcomed that the process had encouraged local authorities to work collaboratively and to find innovative solutions relating to their specific circumstances.537 Ben Cottam, Head of External Affairs, Federation of Small Businesses Wales, told us that even in areas that did not agree a deal, the process could become a template for better collaboration between local authorities.538

392.Paul Nowak, Assistant General Secretary, Trades Union Congress told us that he was concerned that the deals might result in a shift in responsibility from central to local government without sufficient resources to meet those responsibilities.539 Professor Flinders was concerned that the deals’ focus on economic growth left out other aspects of citizens’ lives that could have been addressed.540 Concern about the narrow focus on economic growth was shared by Professor Jeffery and the Political Studies Association.541 The latter warned more generally that the Government’s current ‘deals’ approach “has the potential to further destabilise the already fragile architecture of English governance, creating frictions within English regions, and towards the centre”.542

393.The legislative vehicle for the ‘devolution deals’ is the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, which empowers the Secretary of State to make significant changes to local authority structures, create directly-elected mayors, and transfer functions from other public bodies to new combined authorities. In our report during the Act’s passage through Parliament we noted the wide-ranging powers granted to the Secretary of State, who may make significant changes through secondary legislation. We compared this unfavourably with “the devolution processes for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1997–98, where the statutes clearly identified the recipients of devolved authority, the matters devolved, and the limitations upon those powers.”543 Given how much of England’s economy is based in areas that will be covered by these deals, the broad ministerial powers are particularly concerning. We also commented on the increased complexity inherent in the bespoke arrangements under the Act, the potentially considerable asymmetry across the country, and the pace at which the proposals were being taken forward, without pre-legislative consultation or scrutiny.544

394.Our witnesses’ comments focused on four main issues which we cover in turn:

An asymmetrical patchwork of deals

395.The asymmetry inherent in the bespoke ‘devolution deals’ approach drew a mixed reaction. Professor Robert Hazell, Director of the Constitution Unit, University College London, warned that it could lead to fragmentation, a concern that Professor Flinders felt was exacerbated by the speed at which the deals scheme was being pursued.545

396.There were concerns among many witnesses about areas being left behind, particularly rural areas.546 Mr Cox was concerned that asymmetry between cities and counties was fuelling a sense of unfairness: “There is a real sense of unfairness among counties that cities are being privileged, both in the process by which their ‘devolution deals’ are being negotiated and in the deals themselves, which are considered more substantive than the deals that are being brokered with counties.”547 Lord Porter of Spalding, Chairman of the Local Government Association, was frustrated by the small proportion of non-metropolitan areas engaging with the ‘devolution deals’ process, but felt that areas being left behind was not a long-term concern as citizens in those areas would pressure their elected representatives to get their local authorities involved in the process.548

397.Lord Porter and other witnesses were more positive about the asymmetry of the ‘devolution deals’. We heard that an asymmetrical process allowed different areas to adapt their deal to the specific characteristics, opportunities and needs of their area, and reflected the differing capacities of areas to take on additional powers.549 Lord Porter told us that the Local Government Association had previously followed a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Local Government had now adopted an approach, as Sir Richard Leese put it, of moving “at the speed of the fastest, dragging other people along. If we believe in localism, different places have different needs and that implies that you do different things in those places. One size fits all does not relate to those different needs.”550

398.We heard that in any case there was likely to be increasing symmetry as the process developed. Mr Cox and Stephen Herring, Head of Taxation at the Institute of Directors, told us that the process was likely to lead to a more symmetrical position in the end. In the meantime they suggested it was acceptable for different areas to get there in an asymmetrical way or at different speeds. Mr Cox felt that the deals being announced were more similar than the Government’s presentation of them suggested.551

399.In a recent report, the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee tabulated the areas covered by the first eight ‘devolution deals’: almost all of them included a devolved, consolidated transport budget, bus franchising and smart ticketing on local transport, control over further education and adult skills funding, and various common business support provisions.552 Differences notwithstanding, there is clearly a core set of powers being agreed for most combined authorities as part of the ‘devolution deals’ process.

400.One of the problems of devolving to regions in England, as noted above, is the difficulty of establishing what regions should be used. The ‘devolution deals’ approach addresses this by broadly reflecting functional economic areas.553 This does not necessarily match citizens’ sense of identity, which could limit the extent to which the new combined authorities answer the English Question. While it is clear that people feel Cornish or Mancunian, it is less obvious that the people of Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Norfolk and Suffolk will feel that the proposed East Anglia Combined Authority reflects their local identities.

401.Although he supported asymmetry in the ‘devolution deals’ process, Mr Cox told us that it was piecemeal and partial and should be replaced by a more systematic and coherent scheme for devolution in England:

“[If] we are to get to a position on decentralisation that is coherent and credible, we need a 10-year process, based on some clear principles. Those clear principles need to include understanding the purpose of our devolution in the first place. We need a clear and co-ordinated approach over 10 years that allows for asymmetry but has some clear outcomes at the end of it, be those economic, or on public services or democratic devolution.”554

402.Lord Porter was opposed to a more systemic approach, equating it with central direction and “centralised localism” rather than devolution.555 We do not consider that there is an automatic link between a more systematic approach and central direction. We note that a recent Political Studies Association Research Commission report called for ‘light touch’ guidance “on (i) central government objectives (ii) what policy areas might be included in the deals (iii) characteristics of a successful bid (iv) how implementation might be monitored and (v) central and local government expectations for consultation and engagement.”556

403.We are concerned that the Government’s lack of vision at the level of the Union seems to be replicated in relation to the governance of England. Mr Nowak told us that:

“The one thing that is missing from our perspective is, if we agree that there is no blueprint for what devolution looks like, do we have a shared vision of what we want devolution to deliver? It is clear, because of those funding pressures, lots of local authorities are reaching out for these deals … However, they are reaching out without clearly thinking through what they want devolution to deliver.”557

404.Oliver Letwin MP, the UK Government Minister responsible for the constitution, told us that the Government’s aim was “to arrive at an England in which there is a great deal more power a great deal nearer to the people and less of it controlled further away from them. Exactly what powers reside exactly where is something which will evolve and continue to evolve.”558

405.We generally support the principle of decentralising power within England, and consequently we cautiously welcome the ‘devolution deals’.

406.We have concerns, however, about the apparent lack of consideration given to how these deals will affect the overall governance of England in the longer-term, and the wider territorial constitution of the UK. It is unclear whether the UK Government has a clear set of objectives in mind to guide the development of the ‘devolution deals’. Clarity on these matters would not only help guide local government when they seek to reach agreement with the UK Government, but would also give Parliament a yardstick against which to measure the success of the UK Government’s devolution agenda in the future. As with any development of devolution across the UK more generally, the UK Government should set out a vision of what it seeks to achieve with these reforms and where it envisages the process of ‘devolution deals’ will eventually lead.

Directly-elected mayors

407.One controversial aspect of the ‘devolution deals’ is the Government’s insistence on a near universal adoption of a directly-elected mayor model for the new combined authorities.559 The mayoral model has been advocated by successive governments in recent years, but has proven less than popular with electors. The Coalition Government promised to create directly-elected mayors for the 12 largest English cities and towns other than London. Liverpool and Leicester adopted the model without a referendum but nine of the 10 other cities rejected the mayoral model in 2012.560

408.The idea of a directly-elected mayor was popular with some of our witnesses. Andrew RT Davies AM, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, told us of the beneficial impact of the elected mayor of Bristol, while Martin McTague, National Policy Vice-Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, told us that members of the Federation favoured the model.561 Other witnesses were uneasy, not so much with the idea of directly-elected mayors as with the apparent requirement for them as part of an area’s ‘devolution deal’. The imposition of a mayoral model on areas like Manchester that have already rejected the model in recent referendums was found to be particularly objectionable by some witnesses.562

409.Mr Cox felt the problem was that, although there were high levels of support for more devolution, the public did not have a clear vision of how they wanted England to be governed: “[if you] ask the general population, ‘Do you want mayors?’, they say that they do not know. … It is the form that people are less clear about, not the fact that they want more devolution.”563

410.ResPublica’s concern was that the model, while suitable for conurbations, was not suited to all areas that might seek to become combined authorities: “The model is appropriate where a clear metro region is already in existence, but there exist[,] too[,] clearly and logically defined regions where local factors—such as the lack of a single dominant conurbation—make it inappropriate.”564 The Communities and Local Government Committee echoed these concerns in a recent report, warning that mayors were better suited to urban areas. They recommended that local areas should be able to decide whether to adopt the mayor model, and be able to propose an alternative model, as part of their deal.565

411.Mr Letwin stated that the UK Government was not imposing mayors on the combined authorities, because “to impose would be to say that from a certain date everyone shall have an elected mayor.”566 Instead, he argued that:

“We are saying, ‘We are open to bids. We are willing to transfer powers from the centre to the localities, but only under certain conditions. You have to choose. If you do not like our conditions you do not have to take the powers’. The reason for doing that is that we want to ensure that there is perspicuous democratic accountability where we have transferred significant powers”.567

412.Notwithstanding the Minister’s narrow definition of the meaning of “impose”, it is clear that in the majority of cases the UK Government is imposing elected mayors on authorities which wish to take advantage of the UK Government’s ‘devolution deals’. In some cases, this will result in mayors being installed in areas that have previously rejected elected mayors in referendums. The UK Government should explain why they have seen fit to override the publicly expressed wishes of the electorate in this way.

413.Earlier in this report we concluded that the benefits of tailoring devolution settlements to local circumstances outweighed the potential problems caused by asymmetry (see paragraph 180). Consequently, it would be more appropriate for a wider range of governance structures for combined authorities to be available for negotiation, rather than for the UK Government rigidly to apply a single model regardless of local circumstances and wishes.

The negotiation process

414.Paul Nowak of the TUC and Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive Officer of Locality, both echoed this Committee’s concerns about the speed with which the ‘devolution deals’ were being rolled out. They criticised the timescale for the ‘devolution deals’, which were “artificial” deadlines set by the Government. Time needed to be taken, Mr Armstrong told us, to “build up that conversation across civil society, [otherwise] we are definitely guaranteed to have alienation from the process and poor access to decision-making processes”.568 The timetable was also criticised in recent reports by the Institute for Government and the Communities and Local Government Committee.569

415.Mr Nowak and Mr Cox also stressed the difficulty of ensuring that there was capacity on both sides of the ‘deal’ process. Mr Nowak told us that time was required to allow the community and volunteer sectors and trade unions to engage with the process and new structures.570 On the other hand, Mr Cox was concerned that Whitehall did not have the capacity and capability to deal with the large number of applications; a concern shared by the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee.571

416.The speed with which the UK Government expects the ‘devolution deals’ process to proceed may impair the ability of some areas to put forward proposals, or to achieve the optimal deal for their area.

417.Our apprehension about the speed with which the ‘devolution deals’ are being agreed is compounded by our concern that they will receive little parliamentary scrutiny, given that they will be enacted by secondary legislation under extremely broad powers delegated to the Secretary of State in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. The breadth of delegated powers is something we have previously expressed concern about, both in this context and more generally.572

Public and civic engagement

418.The most substantial criticism of the ‘devolution deals’ approach was of its lack of engagement with the public or civil society. Many of our witnesses told us that it should be more open; the deals were seen as simply “agreements between central government and the elites within local authorities”.573 Mr Nowak suggested that “if you are serious about reinvigorating local democracy … it is important to find ways right at the outset of engaging the broader spread of civic society, rather than this being seen as a deal done behind closed doors by local authority leaders.”574 We heard that businesses were also concerned that they were not sufficiently engaged in the ‘devolution deals’ process.575

419.There is no requirement for the Government or the areas bidding for deals to consult with local electors or civil society.576 It is entirely down to the local authorities themselves to decide whether and how to engage with their communities, meaning that public engagement has been largely arbitrary.577 We heard that Cornwall Council had consulted on its proposals,578 while Mr Armstrong told us that negotiations over a West Yorkshire deal occurred without any public accountability or scrutiny.579

420.The Greater Manchester Combined Authority deal was a particular focus for comment, given that it was the first deal announced and is, in many ways, the flagship deal of the Government’s policy. Dr Eichhorn told us it was “a process that did not involve the public, full stop—that is very problematic”. It was, he said, “exactly the opposite of what should happen from a point of view of getting people along and participating”.580 Professor Robert Thomas, Professor of Public Law, University of Manchester, told us that the deal was “imposed top-down, in an elite-driven process”.581 Sir Richard Leese conceded that communication and public engagement around the proposed combined authority had not been “particularly good”, although he stated it something they were “now putting right”.582

421.Mr Cox felt that there was a problematic “cynicism on the part of both central government and local authority leaders” leading them “to strike relatively secretive deals in order to transact power from one to the other. They believe that it is better to do it that way than to involve the general public in these things”.583 Lord Porter rejected the criticism of secrecy, however, saying that the deals were announced and passed through the local democratic process and that there was no indication of dissatisfaction with the ‘devolution deals’ in the press or in complaints to councillors and MPs.584 Since then, some local authorities have rejected recently-announced deals.585 Moreover, the results of the pilot Citizens’ Assemblies, held in areas where deals had been announced (see paragraph 235), suggest that although people were “generally in favour of the Government’s plans for devolution within England”, they were “not in favour of the specific model that was currently on offer”.586

422.Given the importance of responsiveness and consent, it is of great concern that so little emphasis has been placed on consulting and engaging with the public on the content and form of the ‘devolution deals’. Mr Letwin argued that it was important to trust local politicians rather than advocate “rule by plebiscite in each locality”, given that those politicians would, in the end, have to submit themselves for re-election.587 While that is undoubtedly true, it does not alter the fact that the public are not only unable to have an input into negotiations, but are often being kept in the dark about what is being discussed. The fact that they may, once the deals have been agreed, be able to express a view at the ballot box about the outcome, will not alter the deals that have been agreed, nor will it allow them to express their view about specific aspects of the proposals—such as the imposition of directly-elected mayors.

423.Public perception is of great importance if the territorial constitution is to retain the confidence of the public. Public support for the devolution of power was required in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. The lack of public and community engagement around the ‘devolution deals’ is a weakness in the current policy for the governance of England. There should be a requirement for informing and engaging local citizens and civil society in areas bidding for and negotiating ‘devolution deals’.588 Local politicians seeking ‘devolution deals’ should lead this engagement.

424.If public concerns about the governance of England are properly to be addressed, the UK Government, and individuals engaged in political activity at all levels, need to engage with the public on these issues and to understand their concerns. There needs to be a greater effort to understand what people and communities want from devolution or decentralisation. This requires far greater public engagement, both in general across England and in those areas seeking or agreeing greater powers, with real discussions about what those powers should be and by whom they should be exercised.

Devolution assessment process

425.In Chapter 5, we proposed a list of important matters that should be addressed when considering any proposals for the devolution of powers to the nations of the UK. A similar assessment should also be made when considering the devolution of power within England. For the foreseeable future this will relate to the devolution or decentralisation of power to local government or combined authorities.

426.Being required to address these issues should help ensure that the Government—and the local authorities involved in ‘devolution deals’—put more effort than has hitherto been in evidence into engaging with the public and establishing clarity over responsibility and accountability for the powers under consideration.

427.As with any proposals for further devolution to the devolved nations, when bringing forward proposals for devolution or decentralisation of power in England, the UK Government should produce a Devolution Impact Assessment. This would include a thorough analysis of the proposals, addressing (but not restricted to) the following elements:

An answer to the English Question?

428.The English Question encompasses both concerns about the representation of England within the Union, and about the devolution or decentralisation of power within England. Part of the reason that the English Question remains unanswered is that nobody has yet put forward a solution, or set of solutions, that provide a coherent answer to both facets of the Question, and that are likely to command political and public support.

429.The approach the UK Government has taken to addressing public concerns over the representation of England within the Union, English votes for English laws, is (when asked) the English public’s preferred approach. It was, however, viewed unfavourably by a number of our witnesses, including many of those representing the devolved nations. Likewise, the UK Government’s ‘devolution deals’ may address some of the concerns about the centralisation of power within England—but without a clear vision of where the process might lead it is hard to tell to what extent.

430.It is too soon to know whether EVEL and the ‘devolution deals’, separately or in combination, will provide an answer to the English Question. What is clear is that the English Question remains one of the central unresolved issues facing decision-makers grappling with the UK’s territorial constitution.

477 Q 261 (Andrew RT Davies AM)

478 Q 261 (Kirsty Williams AM and Andrew RT Davies AM), Q 105 (Ed Cox), Q 24 (Sir Kenneth Calman), QQ 125 and 127 (Fiona Hyslop MSP) and Q 272 (Professor Robert Thomas)

480 Written evidence from Professor Roger Scully (UDE0069)

482 See Q 272 (Professor Robert Thomas) and written evidence from the Political Studies Association (UDE0033)

483 Written evidence from the Political Studies Association (UDE0033)

484 Q 73 (Alexandra Runswick)

485 Q 40 (Peter Riddell)

486 Q 140 (Robert Brown and Maggie Chapman)

487 See supplementary written evidence from Professor Ailsa Henderson (UDE0065)

488 Q 273 (Professor Richard Rawlings)

491 Jeffery et al, Taking England Seriously, pp 5, 19-20; see also written evidence from Professor Roger Scully (UDE0069)

492 The name ‘West Lothian Question’ was applied to it by Enoch Powell. See House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, The Future of the Union, part one: English Votes for English laws (5th Report, Session 2015–16, HC 523), para 11

493 Divisions in 2003 and 2004 on higher education tuition fees, foxhunting, and foundation hospitals are widely-cited examples. A recent division on Sunday trading hours (which did not extend to Scotland but was not subject to the EVEL procedure) was controversial as the result would have been different if Scottish MPs’ votes were not included: see Daniel Gover and Michael Kenny, ‘Sunday trading and the limits of EVEL’, Constitution Unit Blog (10 March 2016): [accessed 28 April 2016]

494 See written evidence from the Campaign for an English Parliament (UDE0012)

495 See House of Commons Library, The West Lothian Question, 1995, Research Paper 95/95, pp 13-14

496 Q 63 (Professor John Curtice) and written evidence from the Mile End Institute (UDE0042). Professor Curtice also noted that we do not know whether this option would have been popular prior to legislative devolution as well as after it began.

498 Written evidence from Professor John Curtice (UDE0056)

499 McKay Commission, Report of the Commission on the Consequences of Devolution for the House of Commons (March 2013): [accessed 9 May 2016]

500 For further details, see Cabinet Office, English Votes for English Laws: Revised Proposed Changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and Explanatory Memorandum – October 2015: [accessed 9 May 2016]

501 Written evidence from Professor John Curtice (UDE0056)

502 See John Curtice, ‘How Popular is EVEL?’. What Scotland Thinks (4 September 2015): [accessed 11 April 2016]. Professor Curtice notes that Ipsos Mori conducted a poll in July 2015 that asked respondents about the veto option as well as the exclusion option, showing slightly higher levels of support for the former.

503 See HC Deb, 22 October 2015, col 1180.

504 See written evidence from the Campaign for an English Parliament (UDE0012)

505 Q 261 (Leanne Wood AM) and written evidence from Dr Paolo Dardanelli (UDE0035); Professor Philip Booth advocated an English Parliament as part of a federal structure (Q 100).

506 Written evidence from Professor Roger Scully (UDE0069)

507 Q 5 (Professor Adam Tomkins), Q 86 (Professor Nicola McEwen), Q 55 (Jim Gallagher), Q 272 (Professor Robert Thomas and Dr David S Moon), and written evidence from Professor Charles Lees (UDE0058)

508 Q 75; see also written evidence from Dr Ben Wellings (UDE0032)

511 Written evidence from the Campaign for an English Parliament (UDE0012)

512 Q 190 (Lord Porter of Spalding), Q 197 (Sir Richard Leese), Q 272 (Professor Robert Thomas), supplementary written evidence from the Campaign for a Cornish Assembly (UDE0063)

513 Deputy Prime Minister, Your Region, Your Voice: Revitalising the English Regions, Cm 5511, May 2002:

514 Kilbrandon Report Chs 24-25. These are the main recommendations, they were not unanimous and other proposals are also recorded in the report.

515 Q 39; see also written evidence from the Federal Trust for Education and Research (UDE0018)

518 Q 71 (Brendan Donnelly)

520 Q 5 (Professor Adam Tomkins), Q 304 (Professor Derek Birrell) and Q 55 (Jim Gallagher)

521 Q 38 (Peter Riddell), Q 70 (Brendan Donnelly) and Q 209 (Lord Hain)

523 Jeffery et al, Taking England Seriously, Table 13

524 Written evidence from Jan Eichhorn (UDE0055)

528 Q 304 (Professor Derek Birrell and Professor Arthur Aughey), 267 (Professor Richard Rawlings), and written evidence from Justice for Wales (UDE0025)

529 Q 78 (Alexandra Runswick), Q 190 (Sir Richard Leese), Q 139 (Maggie Chapman), Q 179 (Martin Sime), Q 288 (Steve Thomas), and written evidence from Scotland in Union (UDE0017); see also Bingham Centre, A Constitutional Crossroads, p 34.

530 Q 78 (Brendan Donnelly)

531 House of Commons Library, City Deals, Briefing Paper 7158, 16 March 2016

532 Sir Richard Leese told us that the combined authority had its roots in proposals brought forward in 2006 (Q 191)

533 Additional deals were announced for Sheffield in October 2015 and Liverpool in March 2016.

534 For example Q 273 (Professor Richard Rawlings) and Bingham Centre, A Constitutional Crossroads, Chapter 5

535 Q 140 (Claire Baker MSP)

536 Q 272 (Dr David S Moon), Q 55 (Professor Charlie Jeffery) and Q 38 (Peter Riddell)

541 55 (Professor Charlie Jeffery) and written evidence from the Political Studies Association (UDE0033)

542 Written evidence from the Political Studies Association (UDE0033)

545 Q 17 (Professor Robert Hazell) and Q 225 (Professor Matthew Flinders)

546 Q 120 (Scilla Cullen), Q 182 (Martin McTague), and written evidence from the Political Studies Association (UDE0033)

548 QQ 191 and 195. Since this evidence was taken, further ‘devolution deals’ have been announced covering non-metropolitan areas.

549 Q 122 (Julian German), Q 182 (Martin McTague) and Q 191 (Sir Richard Leese)

551 QQ 106 and 108 (Ed Cox) and 182 (Stephen Herring)

552 Communities and Local Government Committee, Devolution: the next five years and beyond (1st Report, Session 2015–16, HC 369), Table 1

553 Q 197 (Sir Richard Leese); see also supplementary written evidence from Campaign for a Cornish Assembly (UDE0063)

556 Political Studies Association Research Commission, Examining the role of ‘informal governance’ on devolution to England’s cities (March 2016): [accessed 5 May 2016]

559 The Cornwall deal does not include a directly-elected mayor, but the agreement includes a statement that “any future Devolution Deal will be predicated on strengthening of local governance, which would meet the Government’s ambition for visible and accountable leadership that enables residents to understand who is taking local decisions.” Department for Communities and Local Government, ‘Cornwall Devolution Deal’ (July 2015) p 21: [accessed 9 May 2016])

560 House of Commons Library, Directly-elected Mayors, Briefing paper, SN05000, May 2016. London’s unique mayor-and-assembly model came from different legislation and was approved in a referendum in 1998.

561 Q 255 (Andrew RT Davies AM) Q 184 (Martin McTague)

562 Q 272 (Professor Robert Thomas), Q 215 (Tony Armstrong), and written evidence from the Political Studies Association (UDE0033) and the Campaign for an English Parliament (UDE0012)

564 Written evidence from ResPublica (UDE0039)

565 Communities and Local Government Committee, Devolution, para 70

569 Institute for Government, Making devolution deals work (January 2016) p 9: [accessed 5 May 2016] and Communities and Local Government Committee, Devolution, para 60

570 216 (Paul Nowak and Tony Armstrong)

571 Q 106; Communities and Local Government Committee, Devolution, para 49

573 Q 162 (Willie Sullivan); see also Q 4 (Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell), Q 17 (Professor Robert Hazell), Q 109 (Ed Cox), 181 (Martin McTague), Q 209 (Lord Salisbury), Q 215 (Paul Nowak), Q 224 (Professor Matthew Flinders); see also written evidence from the Political Studies Association (UDE0033)

575 See, for example, Q 182 (Mr Herring and Mr McTague)

576 Q 223 (Professor Matthew Flinders)

577 Q 225 (Katie Ghose)

578 Q 120 (Julian German)

579 Q217 (Tony Armstrong)

581 Q 272; see also 222 (Professor Matthew Flinders)

585 ‘Osborne’s devolution plans hit by dissenting councils’, Financial Times (24 March 2016): [accessed 21 April 2016]

588 Q 217 (Paul Nowak)

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