It is time to address the democratic deficit in England
Update: SNP MP Angus MacNeil has responded to this piece here
Daniel Kawczynski has been MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham since 2005 and voices his concerns here about what he sees as the "democratic deficit" for voters in England as compared with the other constituent parts of the UK.
Since the Government introduced devolution, a democratic deficit has crept back into the United Kingdom which challenges all the reforming and democratic improvements of our electoral process over the last 150 years.
Depending on where you live, you have more or less chance of meeting your MP at a local surgery, or discussing your problems with him or her directly. My seat of Shrewsbury and Atcham has around 74,000 constituents whereas Na h-Eilanan an Iar, in the Western Isles of Scotland, has just over 20,000. This gives the people of the Western Isles as individuals far more access to their MP and to Parliament itself as they have to compete with so many fewer constituents to get access to setting their MP's agenda in the House. Most English seats have roughly 70,000 electors, compared to 60,000 in Northern Ireland and 55,000 in Wales.
It might be thought that this does not make too much of a difference, but it does, every day. MPs receive, on average, fifty letters a day and countless more emails. The bigger the constituency, the more correspondence, and the less time MPs can dedicate to each. At local surgeries people are often not given the time they deserve because it is simply not possible to spend as much time as we’d like on each case.
An individual from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland effectively has more say in Westminster than someone from England, despite the fact that many of the issues are now devolved. If any other group of people had the value of their vote weighted in this way, there would be an uproar. As it is, most people seem to accept it as a quirk of the way Britain is run; an idiosyncrasy more than a character flaw. In my view, it is inherently anti-democratic to give any group or individual voter more of a say than another, and the situation needs to change.
On the border with Wales, we see the effects of this democratic deficit every day, and by devolution. Wales has free parking in hospitals, no prescription charges, free dental examinations for OAPs, whilst Welsh students pay no top-up fees at Welsh universities. It makes sense that the Welsh Assembly may spend its money how it wants, but the formula for distributing money is set too high. Furthermore, the fees that English students pay were voted through with the help of Welsh MPs. No matter what your opinion of those fees is, it is wrong that Welsh MPs have decided a policy that does not affect the people that voted for them. They can vote on a controversial issue and curry favour with the party leadership, all the while safe in the knowledge that they will not be held to account by their own voters on the issue.
The Government refuses to countenance reform on the basis that it will create two tiers of MPs, but these already exist: collectively, those from Scotland and Wales have much more power. I believe that it is vital that devolution is made to work, but it needs to work fairly, so that people in England do not feel hard done by. Politicians can not stick their heads in the sand on this, and need to realise that English nationalism is as big a danger to the Union as Scottish or Welsh nationalism. Conservatives are considering the creation of an English Grand Committee, so that English MPs will get a chance to vote on legislation that affects England only, thereby making Westminster more accountable to people living in England. I do agree with David Cameron on this issue. Ken Clarke’s proposals strike a balance between giving the English electorate the accountability they deserve, and preserving the UK as a single state.
We may have got rid of rotten boroughs nearly two centuries ago, but over the last ten years democracy has taken a step back. It is time for that to change.