Priscilla Cullen: There isn't enough concern about asymmetrical devolution
Priscilla Cullen is Secretary to the Campaign for an English Parliament
It is sometimes said that the English do not care about asymmetrical devolution. The reason they appear not to care is because they have been kept in ignorance of the effects asymmetric devolution has upon them. The British media and political parties have acted, either deliberately or through ignorance, in such a way as to obscure these issues in England. The British television media, (unlike Scotland there are no television channels devoted to English affairs), do not explain, when reporting on devolved issues, the difference between the situation in England and that of Scotland.
Scotland has national newspapers that do report on devolution issues. England has none. The British newspapers also obscure the differences within the UK that asymmetrical devolution has caused. Even the Daily Telegraph, no lover of this government, confuses Britain and England when referring to National Health Trusts.
The Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties issue separate manifestos for Scotland and Wales but do not do so for England. The manifestos available in England address or refer to Britain or the UK. The man in the street in Surrey can be expected to believe that the manifesto available to him is applicable to the whole of the UK. Moreover neither is he aware that greater benefits are being offered to Scotland and Wales by these Parties than they offer to those of us in England although we all pay the same taxes.
Surveys and polls indicate that there is a growing awareness in England of the unfairness of the current situation. In 2002 an NOP survey of 999 people showed that 47% wanted an English Parliament. In the same year, following discussion of the issue on a chat show there was a telephone poll. The result was 94% (14,556 people) voted for an English Parliament. In 2003 figures from the British Social Attitudes survey showed 23% support for an English Parliament by the people of England, although the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister cynically quotes the figure 16% which is for the whole of the UK. (England was not included in the referenda for Scottish and Welsh devolution!) In 2004 a YouGov poll of 2390 indicated that 71% wanted some form of national devolution for England. So at the very least virtually a quarter of the English people, when consulted, want national devolution for England.
Constitutionally there are two questions to be answered; the West Lothian and the English. The first asks: Why should Scottish MPs in the British Parliament at Westminster be barred from voting on matters internal to Scotland that affect their constituents, but still be able to influence internal matters in England? No English MP has reciprocal rights in Scotland. The second asks: Why should MPs from Scotland, whose constituents are not affected and who are thus non-representative, have ministerial portfolios for internal matters in England?
The Conservative party recognise and attempt to answer only the first question. However there are glaring constitutional faults in their approach, which can be summarised as follows:
English votes for English measures is a procedural device that can be reversed at any time, English laws will still be proposed by a UK government and scrutinised by a House of Lords, containing members from across the UK. There is no administration devoted to English affairs and MPs will still vote on UK party lines. It will create two classes of MPs and does not provide a workable solution for the eventuality of a Government being in power with an overall majority but without a majority of English seats.