The English Question

I am in London this week attending the annual conference of the Political Studies Association (PSA), or rather I’m spending the week flitting between the PSA conference and the Lords.  Although both Houses are in recess, there is a fair amount of activity in the Palace. 

The conference opened this morning and I chaired a panel on ‘The principles of British Conservatism: from Balfour to Cameron’.  That was meant to be my only formal involvement.  However, I was immediately persuaded to be on a succeeding panel on ‘English Questions under the Coalition’.   (This was to compensate for the fact that two other members of the panel, including a leading MP, cried off.)  Rather than having days to think about what I was going to say, I had only the time in which the other paper givers spoke. 

Suffice to say that I kept my comments short.  (As I was the last to speak, I was all that stood between the audience and lunch.)  I made the point that the ‘English Question’ went wider than the West Lothian question – a point developed by previous speakers – and created two problems, an English problem and a Conservative problem.

The English problem was that the question invited an insular response in the context of a society not used to to being insular.   The English operate in the context of a United Kingdom, and a United Kingdom that has been used to operating on the world stage, but a United Kingdom that has a dominant English base.  The Act of Union was meant to be a merger, not least of two parliaments creating a new parliament, but what it was in practice was the English parliament with Scottish members added.  (A similar situation pertained with the Act of Union with Ireland.)  It was because of this English domination that there has not felt to be a need to celebrate St George’s Day.   The Conservative problem is that the Conservative Party is a Unionist party resting on English support.

Given these problems, my initial thought was that there was a need to answer the English question but without doing anything about it.   On reflection, though, I wondered if there may be a stronger case to do something, or rather some things, to adjust to the situation that has been created but without actually answering the question.  Lord Irvine famously said that the best thing to do with the West Lothian question was not to ask it.  I pondered whether that may be true of the wider English question.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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50 Responses to The English Question

  1. Alice Stretch says:

    So did you choose to answer the English Question in means of international politics? As, yes, England is represented in the United Kingdom on the “world’s stage” but England under the coalition surely acts as any other ‘group’ of constituencies?

  2. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton,

    I thimk there is profound and fundamental truth about the analysis of your Tory history here. However, like all truths beyond theory it is surely partial, is it not?

    “The English problem was that the question invited an insular response in the context of a society not used to to being insular. The English operate in the context of a United Kingdom, and a United Kingdom that has been used to operating on the world stage, but a United Kingdom that has a dominant English base.”

    The value in correcting a course by steering a while in the opposite direction is sometimes merely that one keeps in the channel one has been always in rather than crashing into the bank. First, there is surely a great deal of British history before the Treaty of Union. Secondly, it seems to me that the UK as a union would be a more trusted partner in countries like the United States as a special case and China, Japan and Brazil in different ways if there was an acknowledgement by the union that English ethnicity is something. Firstly this is true because it it something. Secondly because it creates a flexibility of operation which is not entirey poliyical and therefore reducible always to a set of underlying hostilities. The transition to the England you speak of was very gradual and its position is in my view extreme. going in the opposite direction might bring the course back into a channel more similar to the one in which the nation has usually actually lived.

    This will not make you all Yanks. There is still more Hobbes in the conception of London and more Locke in the conception of Washington than can be fathomed. Federalism will be vast continental distances from where such a direction would lead you. Nobody is likely to start referring to Britain as Scotland though many do refer to it as England.

    • Lord Norton says:

      frankwsummers3ba: There is a distinction between tacking and going in the opposite direction. There was much British history before the Act of Union but it was the Act of Union or rather the institutions that resulted from it that demonstrated my point about English hegemony. To some extent, one still sees this in perceptions abroad and not just at home, as your last comment indicates: how many Americans refer to the ‘Queen of England’? Federalism is not really an option, given that England has over 85% of the population and of the wealth and will dominate whatever form the union takes.

      • Frank W. Summers III says:

        Lord Norton,

        I think we are to a remarkable degree here having a dialogue which is “describing two side of a coin. We seem (to me) to agree on most facts and even interprestations but be far apart on a sense of proper emphasis.

        In pure theory I agree with you that federalism is highly improbable. Ithink if it occurs (centuries hence perhaps) it will be by effecting a hybrid relationship between the UK and the Commonwealth which is not exactly precedented in human history but is somewhat similar to what exists in the EU. If that happens my guess is is will be driven by a royal monarchist movement seekne to redefine things. The other kind of Federalism would be a very weak kind admitting weaknesses beyond itself and is in many ways what I think the Btitish political temperament most fears. I do believe that no great fear is groundless and so there must be some small chance of it but it seems really unlikely unless imposed by an EU I see no chance of emerging yet.

        Still there are I would argue a thousand slices between the status quo and federalism. Thus we disagree, a hard tack can result in very nearly oppsite directions — on cuts near a ninety degree first to be sure and then must nearly (or at one poin actually in historic terms) “screw around” and proceed toward the opposite limit before getting back on the general course. I think clear English action could be well advised while there is no crisis…. as such.

  3. ladytizzy says:

    The problem for every party is relevance and Tories who sell their wares in Newcastle are essentially no different from those in Edinburgh. That said, it is time for the Conservative party to look again and turn their red lines into blue and embrace changes at least at intranational level. They appear conflicted as they try to sell localism but refuse to address the greater pickle of devolution and federalism. Could this be Mr Cameron’s much sought-after ‘Clause 4’?

    These days, the West Lothian question has generally been surplanted by media stories of English students being charged more than their EU brethren in Scottish Universities, or those living in Wales not paying for prescriptions. But these are yaboosucks postcode matters, not ones that have bestowed some sort of national supremacy to their generators.

    Besides, it is the House of Commons that bequeathed the West Lothian problem, not the House of Lords.

    • Lord Norton says:

      ladytizzy: Tackling the problem of devolution and federalism is easier said than done. However, localism, properly applied, was certainly seen as an answer to the pressures for devolution, and to some extent still is. Rather than pushing power down to national or regional levels (or sucking it up to those levels from localities), the solution is seen as pushing power down to as local a level as possible. If one does push power down, to whatever level, then one has to accept that a consequence is indeed the postcode differences to which you refer. Governments have difficulty at times accepting that, saying on the one hand it is up to people locally to decided but then intervening when they decide in a way that Government finds objectionable or incompatible with how other localities have decided.

      It is interesting that the West Lothian question applies in the context of the Commons but has not been raised in the context of the Lords.

  4. Carl.H says:

    English ?

    I live in the United Kingdom, have a British Passport and not allowed to denote myself as English on Authority forms. I watch as Scots, Welsh and Irish get more and more self regulation whilst they still have a big say over rules for me. I have to say the most I heard on the English question was when Brown was PM, a Scot who was not voted for as PM !

    The George Cross is apparently a symbol of football supporters or the right wing which is wrong, partly why my company has as it’s emblem a Knight with a George Cross shield. People have said it may upset Islamic people, tough, it isn’t meant as a symbol of the Crusades and if your that sensitive don’t do business with me. The George Cross doesn’t just represent white English people, it represents all that consider themselves a resident of our Country no matter the colour.

    If devolution is to continue, we English want our identity back because it’s beginning to feel we are NOT part of a United Kingdom.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: I see no reason why the cross of St George should not be more widely used. (Your company emblem brings back memories for me of The Daily Express!) There is no reason why the English should not feel and express a particular identity, though Englishness has tended to be equated with Britishness, simply because of English domination and perhaps allied self-confidence. The UK has been strong through the unity of its parts; it is important that the unity is maintained, even if the parts express their own identity.

      • Carl.H says:

        I wonder if the Daily Express motto would have been politically correct now ?

        “Crusading for a better Britain”

        “it is important that the unity is maintained

        I agree but with devolution it is going to be hard to maintain and why in future should we stop the olde kingdoms also from devolving ? Perhaps we should bring the olde kingdoms back and have them represented in Parliament perhaps by a…….Lord 😉

  5. James Matthews says:

    A depressingly standard establishment view which will not hold. Our political class is not used to being insular and does not want to be. The rest of us are not used to being insular, thanks to our political class, but might welcome to the opportunity for a lot more insularity. In the main we are a lot more realistic about the collapse of English (and therefore British) power than those who govern us.

    I am reasonably confident that the Conservative Party under David Cameron will weasel out of doing anything about the West Lothian Question, but that does not mean it is the right course of action. There is a steadily building English resentment which will continue until the issue is addressed. Eventually we will decide that if it is not answered within the Union it should be answered by ending the Union. Many already subscribe to that view.

    Finally, of course there is a West Lothian issue in relation to the House of Lords. It is a less obvious issue than that concerning the commons which can easily be rolled up in general reform of the upper chamber and so has received less attention, but bodies like the Campaign for an English Parliament know it is there, as, I am sure, does the author of this blog.

    • Lord Norton says:

      James Matthews: Any problem with addressing the West Lothian Question is a consequence of the coalition agreement. There is an intention to set up a Commission on the subject, though whether it can improve on the recommendations of the Conservative Party’s Commission to Strengthen Parliament, which I chaired and which reported in 2000, remains to be seen. In so far as one square the circle in respect of the West Lothian Question, that sought to do so. I am aware that the question in relation to the House of Lords is usually deflected by the usual mantra of waiting for forthcoming reform proposals, but these are not likely to address the issue, just one of several not likely to be addressed.

  6. i albion says:

    So Lord Norton,will England be having her own Parliament any time soon?
    The Parliament we have now is a “British” Parliament.
    Or is that another Question best not to ask?
    Oh for a few “English Patriots “in Westminister.

    • Lord Norton says:

      i albion: Unlikely. One only has to recall ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ and Sir Humphrey’s explanation to Bernard of how to get the result you want in relation to an opinion poll. In that case, it was national service, but you could do a similar exercise in relation to an English Parliament.

      ‘The Scots and the Welsh have their own Parliament. Do you think the English should have one as well?’

      ‘Oh yes’.

      ‘Many people think that there are already too many full-time politicians operating at public expense. Would you favour the creation of another body of full-time politicians?’

      ‘Oh, no.’

      It is much more pertinent to explore how the Westminster Parliament could fulfil a dual role. One interesting suggestion was to abolish the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales and have MPs returned from Scottish constituencies meet to determine Scottish measures, MPs from Welsh seats to determine Welsh measures, and MPs from English seats to determine English measures. Mind you, that won’t happen either.

  7. JoolsB says:

    “simply because of English domination and perhaps allied self-confidence. The UK has been strong through the unity of its parts; it is important that the unity is maintained, even if the parts express their own identity.”

    Where has the English domination been in the last 13 years? We have had a Scottish Prime Minister and a Government dominated by Scottish MPs, voted for by no-one in England and yet they have been able to inflict things on England only, such as tuition fees, when they have had no such power to decide these things for their own constituents, the very people who voted for them. Gordon Brown, our unelected Prime Minister bizarrely had absolutely no say over 70% of Scottish matters, devolved matters being decided by 129 MSPs at Holyrood, but had 100% say in England where he never received a vote in his life. England overwhelmingly voted Conservative last May, the Tories winning a 61 seat majority in England, but England’s wishes were overturned because unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, England only gets the government chosen for it by the whole UK before Scotland, Wales & NI then go on to vote again for their own separate parliament/assembly taking decisions in their country’s interest, and their alone, totally separate from the UK coalition government they’ve chosen to govern England. If Brown had got his way last May and the numbers had worked out, he would have tried to form a rainbow coalition government which predominately would have governed England only but would have been made up of Labour, LibDems,PlaidCymru & SNP, every party except the one England voted for. This could easily happen in the future and it is probably only when it does that England might wake up and demand the same self representation as the rest of the UK, i.e. it’s own parliament. The status quo is unacceptable and it is the present arrangement which will eventually break up this un-United Kingdom and it’s about time Politicians of all colours took their head out of the sand and faced it if they want to keep their precious Union.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Jools B: This addresses primarily the West Lothian question. Various proposals have been put forward for addressing it, though the problems alluded to by Lord Irvine of Lairg will always remain. The English Question embraces the West Lothian Question but goes much wider and has a European as well as UK face.

  8. Ian Campbell says:

    Legally, the Acts of Union 1707 abolished both the English and Scottish Parliaments and created a new Parliament for the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
    Devolution has re-created a Scottish Parliament, wihtout full powers, and assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland. Although devolution said to be about ‘bringing government closer to the people’, Tony Blair frankly admitted that the Scottish Parliament and the NAWA were to provide a ‘focus for the nation’.
    As you rightly say, however, England has not been given any political voice or focus and, yes too, there is a wider English Question which includes the ‘West Lothian Quesetion’. With regard to the WLQ, it is simply unacceptable, post devolution, that MPs from Scotland, Wales and N Ireland can vote on English domestic policy. This need to be corrected without further delay. In the wider sense, England needs to be accorded some political existence. English patriotism is no longer satisfied by the UK and patriotism is one of the planks of a civil and cohesive society. This will inevitably involve some form of quasi-federal solution. If that is not achieved the likely consequence is that the Union will break up.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Ian Campbell: The Actof Union did, as you say, formally create a new Parliament, though the reality was that the new Parliament was the English Parliament with Scottish Members added. It was also the English Parliament in terms of its constitutional powers. Hence the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty has endured (though sometimes challenged by some Scottish jurists). The problems generated by devolution are not new. The term ‘West Lothian Question’ was coined in the 1970s but the concept is far from new, and parliamentarians were wrestling with it in the 19th Century. Let me put in a shameless plug for a forthcoming chapter of mine (‘The Englishness of Westminster’) which addresses these very issues.

    • Ian Campbell says:

      Thank you for your reply. The main problem with your article is that it raises questions but avoids any suggestion of a solution. Some time back, Prof Vernon Bogdanor made a presentation about the English Question to Tony Wright’s conmittee on the Constitution. He went through all the options, only to dismiss them all. The (Labour) chairman, who was standing in for Dr Wright, replied that the Professor’s answer was not good enough. Sooner or later, he said, this matter will become a live issue and when it does our party must have an answer.
      In another reply, you suggested, as Prof Bogdanor, did that because of its relative size England would unbalance a federal solution. This argument was demolished by Tom Waterhouse in his prize-winning undergraduate thesis at Leicester University. Tom pointed out that there is of course nothing new in England’s ‘size’. England has dominated the Union since 1707. Its domination is now slightly lessened. Allowing England its own domestic parliament, so far from unbalancing the Union, would lesson England’s domination still further. There is no need to assume that a federation with one large member would be any less stable than a similar Union. Indeed, because it would have the support of the people, if introduced, through a referedum it might well be stronger than previously.
      There is a very simple solution to the English/West Lothian Question(a), one proposed ten years ago by the Marquis of Salisbury – that the House of Commons should become the English Parliament while the House of Lords is abolished and replaced by a British Parliament. This has the advantages of reducing the number of politicians (we would not need 760 members in the new British Parliament), requiring no new buildings (if the British Parliament occupied the House of Lords), solving the question of Lords reform, removing one tier of governance for England, costing very little while costing very little to introduce. Such a solution may even provide a way out of the constitutional difficulties you raise, e.g. regarding the supremacy of Parliament. As you say, before 1707 such supremacy applied only in England, not in Scotland, and has been a doubtful area ever since. An English Parliament could have supremacy in England. This might even be a confederate rather than a federal solution.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Ian Campbell: Creating an English Parliament would not replicate the situation that existed before 1707, as a few moments reflection of what existed before 1707 – or rather what did not exist then – reveals. The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty has not been in doubt since the Act of Union. It was queried by some Scottish jurists but that has been the extent of it. Your institutional ‘solution’ runs up against some rather practical problems: an English parliament would have difficulty surviving as a unicameral legislature (how many nations with a population the size of England have unicameral legislatures?) and how big would the Union parliament be? If one had full-time members and, more important in this context, support staff, then one would have problems finding space in the Palace of Westminster.

      • Ian Campbell says:

        I think you misunderstood me. I did not suggest that having an English Parliament would restore the pre-1707 position. You believe that a quasi-federal solution in which each nation had its own Parliament would be ‘unbalanced’. The point is that giving England domestic self-government lessens English domination of the Union.
        If the House of Lords became the British Parliament, concentrating on UK-wide taxation, defence and foreign policy it is hard to see that we would need more than say 250 representatives. They would have plenty of room!
        The supremacy of Parliament in Scotland has been challenged not just by Scottish jurists. It was also challenged, most recently, by the Claim of Right for Scotland, signed by many Scottish ministers, which recognised that the Scottish people had a sovereign right to determine the form of governance that best suited their needs. If Scotland eventually decides to break away what will the ‘supreme’ Parliament do about it?
        Devolution is a process. It is not going to stop. What is your answer to the English Question? If it cannot be answered the end result can only be the end the Union as the people of England will not permanently tolerate full domestic self-goverment in Scotland and Wales, to which devolution is leading, while allowing MPs from those countries to have a say and sometimes even to determine English domestic policy.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Ian Campbell: There is no evidence that people in England will not tolerate the present situation indefinitely, but then again there is no reason why Government cannot take some action to address the present imbalance, which was what I was saying. If a majority of Scots were to decide to breakaway from the Union, that would be a political decision which the UK Parliament would doubtless recognise but would not affect the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty.

        “If the House of Lords became the British Parliament, concentrating on UK-wide taxation, defence and foreign policy it is hard to see that we would need more than say 250 representatives. They would have plenty of room!” Oh no they wouldn’t, unless they were not given staff and offices in which to put staff. The Lords only manages at the moment with peers having to share cramped offices (though many don’t even have office space now) and no space (or money) for secretaries and researchers.

      • Ian Campbell says:

        Thank you for your further comments, Lord Norton. As you still haven’t proposed any solution presumably your solution is, as with Lord Irvine, to do nothing.
        There is mounting evidence that the people of England will not accept the preferential treatment of the devolved nations indefinitely. All recent surveys from 2006 show 60%-70% support for some form of English self-government, e.g. ‘English votes for English laws’, including Power 2010. Support for an English Parliament has climbed to 30% in the most recent survey. The way in which the Barnett formula allows the devolved administrations to provide extra benefits to those who live in Scotland, Wales & N Ireland illustrates to everyone why England needs to have its own administration. Yes, I appreciate that the ‘formula’ can be changed but it won’t be so long as it gives the Scots a considerable advantage which neither the Labour or Conservative parties would risk removing. The SNP would love it if they did. If as is likely both Scotland and Wales steadily increase local autonomy over the next few years, as is likely, it is hard to imagine that the people of England will continue to accept that MPs from Scotland and Wales should nevertheless vote on English legislation.
        Awareness of English identity is also steadily increasing – put at 47% in the latest survey. It will be interesting to see what emerges from the census. Eventually this will require recognition. Initially this may not be political but, given the pace of devolution, it seems most likely that English identity will at some point need political representation. It would depend on how the British government handles future events. It was Prescott’s plans to replace England’s counties by regional assemblies without any English national focus, that led me to become an English nationalist. I do not wish to see England abolished. Some future goverment is very likely to try again to ‘solve’ the English question by abolishing England.
        I had not appreciated that the House of Lords is so overcrowded that even reducing its population by two-thirds would not provide adequate accommodation, even though Law Lords have now moved to the Guildhall. This does not affect my argument as clearly the Lords need extra room now. As a smaller British Parliament they would need ‘less extra’.

      • Carl.H says:

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1535193/Britain-wants-UK-break-up-poll-shows.html

        “A clear majority of people in both England and Scotland are in favour of full independence for Scotland, an ICM opinion poll for The Sunday Telegraph has found. Independence is backed by 52 per cent of Scots while an astonishing 59 per cent of English voters want Scotland to go it alone”.

  9. Chris says:

    Each nation of the UK has the right to have their own Parliament with equal powers within a UK federal structure. The failure to give England the same equality as that of the devovled nations is evident, for those who wish to keep a UK an English parliament is the only way to go, there is great inbalance in representation equality and democracy, the union is breaking as we discuss this.
    4 goverments in the Federal UK.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Chris: The sheer size and economic wealth of England would make it difficult to sustain a federal solution. I fear the danger is that the way that balance would be sought would be through a break-up of England into regions.

  10. Len Welsh says:

    All of you naysayers can ignore the English Question if you wish but a huge mistake you will make, with people like me around it will never go away. I will fight England’s corner until I drop, England’s People are a nation and as such deserve their own parliament, the Scots have one as do the N Irish and the Welsh whilst England is ignored. English constituency MPs are useless at looking after my interests most being Unionists, about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike; I am English no longer British thank you very much.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Len Welsh: English MPs dominate Westminster and that domination becomes greater as attention focuses more on England. That has become more so as the number of MPs from Scotland has been reduced. It is also the MPs that you need if an English Parliament is ever to be delivered.

      • Len Welsh says:

        “It is also the MPs that you need if an English Parliament is ever to be delivered.”
        Yes and they are useless for my cause they are almost all Unionists. You need people like me to get an English Parliament and we will get one in the end.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Len Welsh: There is a clear paradox in what you write! You won’t get people like you if MPs remain Unionists and you do not explain how the change will occur.

    • chris smith says:

      hear hear!!

  11. Michael Knowles says:

    Lord Norton,
    The most significant and the historic assertion and achievement of the 1998 Devolution legislation was for the UK Parliament to give formal political and constitutional recognition of Scotland and Wales as distinct nations within the Union. As from 1707 neither England nor Wales nor Scotland existed politically and constitutionally. In 1998 the historic step was taken of reversing that fact, positively not least for Scotland and Wales by giving them powers of self-rule, which are now being increased with both of them. That legislation negatively gave formal and constitutional recognition to England too by the implication that the rest of this island which is England is distinct from Scotland and Wales. In other words, the 1998 devolution legislation has driven a coach and horses through the 1707 Act of Union in that it has effectively and fundamentally changed the nature of the Union set up in 1707. That legislation has politically and constitutionally decreed that the British nation set up in 1707 with the abolition of both the English and the Scottish Parliaments no longer exists. Instead there are three distinct nations which now exist each in a different relationship to the Union Government and Crown. The fundamental flaw of the 1998 legislation therefore is that the Union is unbalanced because the different relationship of each of the three to the Union Government and Crown is decidedly to the great advantage of Scotland, to a lesser extent to the advantage of the Welsh who are now working hard to put it right and get equality with Scotland, but to the gross disadvantage of the English nation. The West Lothian Question and the unfairness of such matters as tuition fees, prescription charges, hospital parking charges etc are but examples of that disadvantage. The most fundamental unfairness and disadvantage, indeed act of political discrimination, is that the English nation unlike the Scottish nation and the Welsh nation does not have self-rule, which of course following the precedent set by Scotland and Wales would mean its own parliament separately situated from the British Parliament and separately elected. It is -might I say this?- a pity you seem not to see or appreciate this. The Union will not be balanced and fair in the way it conducts government until both Wales and Scotland stand in the same relationship to the Union as Scotland stands.
    Michael Knowles

    • Lord Norton says:

      Michael Knowles: The devolution legislation did not undo the Act of Union because, as mentioned in response to an earlier comment, the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty carried over and therefore there remains one dominant Union Parliament which is superior to the bodies created in different but not all parts of the United Kingdom. I am aware of the logic of the argument you develop regarding an English Parliament, but that is a matter for Parliament: it is a matter for Parliament as to whether an English Parliament should be created. The imbalance you mention is within the context of the Union; it does not undo it.

  12. Don Beadle says:

    Leaving the English Question unanswered is the main threat to the continuation of the Union as the people of England become even more unfairly governed directly by the UK government. To brush it aside by simply arguing theoretically that a federal system is not possible because England is so large is not good enough. A way needs to be found and there should be an English Constitutional Conference to produce a solution that could be put in a referendum to England – the one nation which has not been consulted about devolution.

    Possible ideas are to devolve powers similar to those accorded to Scotland to an English Grand Committee which would elect an English Executive. To ensure that such powers were not exceeded its legislation might perhaps be reviewed by the House of Lords which is not required for Scottish legislation.

    Surely we have plenty of constitutional experts to find a good British compromise instead of them all hiding their heads in the sand. If the Union fails because of their neglect they will deserve to lose their heads for ever!

    Incidentally should the Union break up either because of Scotland or England breaking away how would the assets and liabilities be divided fairly without there being a democratically eleected body to speak for England? The UK government cannot do so and also be the arbiter?

    • Lord Norton says:

      Don Beadle: When I was taking part in some media debates about devolution in 1997, I did raise the issue of a UK-wide referendum, since I did not see the logic of allowing referendums only in Scotland and Wales. The changes proposed affected the whole of the UK and not just Scotland and Wales. Robin Cook’s response to my argument was that the views of people in England were known through opinion polls. That obviously didn’t meet the point – we knew the views of people in Scotland through opinion polls!

      Various atempts to address the West Lothian Question have been made, including – as mentioned above – in the report of the Conservative Party Commission to Strengthen Parliament. Your last question raises some highly pertinent issues.

  13. Pingback: The English Question (via The Norton View) « English Warrior

  14. scilla says:

    It seems to me that Lord Louth was left in the hot seat by those members of the panel who were ‘frit’. Thus we could not expect a deeper understanding of the serious question of who governs England, which is the English Question. In the present situation, and even with the WLQ answered we, in England are still faced with the fact that we are governed by a British administration at Westminster, a government of British MPs from British political parties in a British Parliament that flies the British flag. The fact that the majority of British MPs represent English constituencies is a red herring. They have no remit to consider England’s needs and many are positively anglophobic. Moreover we can be, and have been, governed by a PM who made policies for England, though no-one in England voted for him, and Ministers of English Departments such as Health whose own constituents were unaffected by their decisions. Those MPs are unaccountable to the people their policies and decisions affect. That is undemocratic and reminiscent of the regimes that the British Government sees fit to interfere with on behalf of other people.

    Perhaps Lord Louth has only just noticed that for the last 12 years the Act of Union has been superseded by the Scottish and Welsh Acts of Devolution. The Act of Union was meant to be a merger and perhaps it was in practice the English parliament (with Welsh members) and Scottish members added but that is history. What should also not be forgotten is that in addition two of the clauses of that Act decreed that there should be equality of benefit for all UK citizens. Clearly not only is that no longer the case but the disparity in provision has been approved by the British Government which routinely spends less on the people of England than the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations are enabled, by British Government largesse, to spend on their citizens.

    How on earth can anyone claim that there is a need to answer the English question without doing anything about it? Lord Louth says “On reflection, though, I wondered if there may be a stronger case to do something, or rather some things, to adjust to the situation that has been created but without actually answering the question”. This gives the impression of a typical political class fudge and is as insulting to us in England as Lord Irvine (of Largs), a Scottish peer, who infamously said that the best thing to do with the West Lothian question was not to ask it. Lord Louth ponders whether that may be true of the wider English question. I am so sorry to disturb your desire for peace Lord Louth but in the interests of democracy and of myself and all of us living in England it will not do and we will continue to ask the English Question until we have a satisfactory and democratic answer whereby all the citizens of the UK are equally enfranchised.

    • Lord Norton says:

      scilla: There were some very good papers at the panel by people who had a very good grasp of the English Question and indeed of the data. There is a notable lack of empirical support for claims made in your comments and indeed of others on this thread. Assertions are merely that. What is the basis for the claim that MPs representing English seats “have no remit to consider England’s needs and many are positively anglophobic”? Ministers qua ministers are accountable for their actions to Parliament. The issue of spending is independent of the West Lothian Question, with the Barnett formula predating devolution. Lord Irvine of Lairg’s comment reflected an important truth about the West Lothian Question: it cannot be answered, except by some sort of fudge. The answer is either to undo devolution or move to a federal, confederal or independent arrangement. I fear some questions are extraordinarily difficult to answer and sometimes the answer, or answers, may prove unpalatable – or at least less palatable than the existing arrangements.

    • chris smith says:

      articulate and relavant argument!!
      Winds of change are blowing. Devolution is the future with England to become self determined, provided a political mean is realised at Westminster.
      English political moderates are recognising they are being sidelined. This marginalisation has to be further felt economically before they wake up and force change.
      The English hitorical alliance to the union is misguided, why? because unionism requires strength in numbers. The Welsh and NI can afford to pay no more than lip service to true independence.
      The Scots will go there own way. Economically there are some foundations for economic independence although weak ones.
      The Welsh and Northern Irish? Collectively some of the weakest economic areas in western europe!!

  15. Michael Knowles says:

    Lordelf. Norton,

    Just a final word. Of course the UK Parliament retains supreme legislative authority. that is so obvious it does not need to be said -not least because it is in the 1998 legislation itself. But what you very carefully ie deliberately omit to address is the unbalance of that legislation, its total omission of England, its total lack of political and constitutional recognition etc. I say ‘deliberately’ because you cannot possibly not be aware of all that. You are avoiding the English Question simply because, no matter how discriminatory in respect of England and how unbalanced and dangerous in its implications the 1998 Devolution Settlement is, you want to steer well clear of it because to address it will mean a radical rethink of the Union. Of that you are deeply afraid. In other words, you are a latter-day Lord Irving.
    Michael Knowles

    • Carl.H says:

      I don’t think this question can be avoided for much longer, as the English look around and see free prescriptions, lower university fees (if any) etc., in the devolved states(?) it will start to cause problems in politics.

      A major problem with this country is everywhere you turn minorities seem to be put ahead of the majority, this has to change. Why should we not be on par with Scotland, Wales and NI ? Scottish law appears different to English, finances are obviously different so why are they represented in Parliament if they are doing their own thing ? Isn’t it time to ask the English if they want these other countries to be a part of their nation, not the reverse ?

      If one partner wants seperation and the other not it will still end in seperation no matter that one party wishes to hold the Union together. I’d prefer not to break up but will not accede to demands that give others more and our own less. All or nothing.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Carl.H: The question of finances can be addressed within the context of the existing arranrements. One needs to distinguish the Barnett formula from the West Lothian Question.

      • Carl.H says:

        The Barnett formula is said to have “no legal standing or democratic justification”, and being merely a convention, could be changed by the Treasury at will. In recent years, Joel Barnett has called for a review of its long term viability.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnett_formula

  16. The Englishman says:

    Until the British realise that Europe is not for them, you and the rest of the British establishment will carry on side stepping answering England’s questions, and any committee set up by a British Government supposedly to solve it will ultimately come up with reasons why it shouldn’t, so for you to speak on the issue when MPs walked away from it only proves your naivety. At the moment the establishment maybe succeeding to dampen the majority of English anger but you should remember that you can only fool some people all of the time, not all of the people all of the time. Claiming as an excuse that the people do not want to pay for another layer of politicians in a English Parliament is hypocrisy when it as not stopped you creating another 491 peers since the cull in the House of Lords and are continuing to add more.

    • Lord Norton says:

      The Englishman: It is not clear what the naivety is to which you refer. The English Question may have a European dimension but the issue of European integration can be addressed independently of the issue of devolution within the UK. I have long argued that we need to preserve the nation state as a means of resisting the further strengthening of the European Union. I am also not clear as to what the hard data are for demonstrating ‘the majority of English anger’. As for the House of Lords, there were 666 peers following the House of Lords Act 1999 and there are now just under 800.

  17. Carl.H says:

    Happy Saint Georges Day.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: We are doubly blessed this weekend. Happy St George’s Day and Happy Easter.

      I find it quite interesting that those who want an English Parliament embrace a saint who is an exemplar of the very nature of the outward looking kingdom to which I referred.

      • Carl.H says:

        My Lord I am not against a United Kingdom, it is my preference, but as with Europe we must attempt to keep all equal, devolution is causing questions to be raised about that equality. It is a question frequently raised by the general public in concern of many minorities, any system not only has to be fair but must be seen to be fair.

        Devolution has always been against interest of this country and will in future cause it more problems until the Union fails.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Carl.H: My point is that the answer is not that simple.

        Lord Pearson of Rannoch did introduce a Bill to abolish the Scottish Parliament….

      • Carl.H says:

        It’s politics my Lord, what is !!

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