Devolved English parliament


Devolved English parliament
England
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A devolved English parliament or assembly, giving separate decision-making powers to representatives for voters in England similar to the representation given by the National Assembly for Wales, Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly, is currently a growing issue in the politics of the United Kingdom.

The Campaign for an English Parliament is a pressure group that is lobbying for this. Public opinion surveys have resulted in widely differing conclusions on public support for the establishment of a devolved English parliament.

Contents

History

The first English Parliament arose during the 13th century, comprising members of the nobility and clergy, and representatives from shires and boroughs. It developed a bicameral arrangement with an upper House of Lords for the nobility and clergy, and a lower House of Commons for the shires and boroughs. The powers of the parliament were fairly great: the king could not institute a new law or tax without its consent.

The Laws in Wales Acts passed in 1536 and 1543, incorporating Wales into England. Previously, not all members were English by birth (notably Simon de Montfort), or had solely English concerns, but now, members could be elected by, and for, people who were not English. The parliament convened in 1542 had twenty-seven elected Welsh members in the House of Commons.

The English Parliament was dissolved (and the Parliament of Scotland with it) by the Treaty of Union in 1707, and replaced with the Parliament of Great Britain. In practice, however, this was a continuation of the English Parliament - it met in the same place, had the same traditions, usages, and officers, and English members comprised an overwhelming majority.

Devolution and the West Lothian question

Following the first elections to the newly created Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly in 1999, England was left as the only country in the United Kingdom with no separate representative body, although the Northern Ireland Assembly has been subject to periods of suspension. The West Lothian question which was posed by the Scottish MP Tam Dalyell in the 1970s is wide open:

If power over Scottish affairs is devolved to a Scottish Parliament, how can it be right that MPs representing Scottish constituencies in the Parliament of the United Kingdom still have the power to vote on equivalent issues affecting England and other parts of the UK, but not Scotland?

Although the Welsh Assembly has limited primary legislative powers in areas where it has been devolved from houses of parliament, there is a chance the introduction of an English Parliament would result in the Assembly gaining full legislative competence and becoming a Welsh Parliament. Of the mainstream political parties in Wales, only Plaid Cymru (which wants outright independence) and the Liberal Democrats support this. Scotland and Northern Ireland already have separate legal systems and laws, so the delegation of legislative authority does not cause any such issues.

Proposals

Consequently, some have advocated a new devolved English deliberative assembly, entirely separate from the Parliament of the United Kingdom, to counteract what they see as a democratic imbalance. Provision for such body existed in Tony Benn's defeated Commonwealth of Britain Bill.

Activity

There are currently several groups working to raise this issue of a devolved English parliament, including the Campaign for an English Parliament and the English Constitutional Convention. Also, the English Democrats Party supports the creation of an English parliament. Electoral support for English nationalist parties is low, however, even though there is public support for many of the policies they espouse.[1] The English Democrats gained just 64,826 votes in the 2010 UK general election, accounting for 0.3 per cent of all votes cast in England.[2]

Public opinion

Recent surveys of public opinion on the establishment of an English deliberative assembly have given widely varying conclusions. In the first five years of devolution for Scotland and Wales, support in England for the establishment of an English parliament was low at between 16 and 19 per cent, according to successive British Social Attitudes Surveys.[3] A report, also based on the British Social Attitudes Survey, published in December 2010 suggests that only 29 per cent of people in England support the establishment of an English parliament, though this figure had risen from 17 per cent in 2007.[4] One 2007 poll of 1,953 people throughout Great Britain carried out for BBC Newsnight, however, found 61 per cent support among the English for a parliament of their own, with 51 per cent of Scots and 48 per cent of Welsh people favouring the same.[5][6] An earlier ICM poll of 869 English people in November 2006 produced a slightly higher majority of 68 per cent backing the establishment of such a body.[7][8][9][10]

Academic Krishan Kumar notes that support for measures to ensure that only English MPs can vote on legislation that applies only to England is generally higher than that for the establishment of an English parliament, although support for both varies depending on the timing of the opinion poll and the wording of the question.[11] Kumar argues that "despite devolution and occasional bursts of English nationalism – more an expression of exasperation with the Scots or Northern Irish – the English remain on the whole satisfied with current constitutional arrangements".[12]

Regional assemblies

The Labour government favoured devolution to nine regions within England, claiming that England as a whole is too populous (with over 80% of the UK's population) to be governed as a subnational entity. A London Assembly was established on 3 July 2000, after a referendum in which 72% of those voting supported the creation of the Greater London Authority, which included the Assembly along with the Mayor of London. Growing support for the assemblies was thought to be present in the north of England, but a referendum to establish a regional assembly for North East England on 4 November 2004 was defeated by a majority of 78% against. Further referenda in the other regions, notably those planned for Yorkshire and the Humber and North West England have been abandoned.

The Cornish question

In Cornwall there has been a campaign since 1998 for a devolved Cornish Assembly, along the lines of the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly, which would operate independently of Westminster. In 2001 Cornwall demonstrated the largest expression of popular support for devolved power in the whole of the United Kingdom and possibly Europe when a 50,000 petition for a Cornish Assembly was handed to the government.[13] The petition had the support of all five Cornish Lib Dem MPs, Cornwall Council and most independent councillors. Cornish nationalists argue that the 'Cornish question' should not be overlooked and that any new constitutional arrangements involving a devolved English parliament would have to take into account Cornwall's nationhood. In 1998 Cornwall had been recognised by the UK Government as having "distinct cultural and historical factors reflecting a Celtic background"[14] and in a 2004 poll 44% of those asked in Cornwall said they felt Cornish, rather than English or British[15].On 8 May 1990, The Guardian newspaper editorial commented - “Smaller minorities also have equally proud visions of themselves as irreducibly Welsh, Irish, Manx or Cornish. These identities are distinctly national in ways which proud people from Yorkshire, much less proud people from Berkshire will never know. Any new constitutional settlement which ignores these factors will be built on uneven ground.”

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Copus, Colin (2009). "English national parties in post-devolution UK". British Politics 4 (3): 363–385. doi:10.1057/bp.2009.12. 
  2. ^ "Full England scoreboard". Election 2010 (BBC News). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/election2010/results/region/48.stm. Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
  3. ^ Hazell, Robert (2006). "The English Question". Publius 36 (1): 37–56. doi:10.1093/publius/pjj012. 
  4. ^ Ormston, Rachel; Curtice, John (December 2010). "Resentment or contentment? Attitudes towards the Union ten years on". National Centre for Social Research. http://www.natcen.ac.uk/media/606961/nat%20british%20social%20attitudes%20survey%20summary%207.pdf. Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
  5. ^ "Most 'support English parliament'". BBC. 8 January 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6264823.stm. Retrieved 2007-01-16. 
  6. ^ Newsnight Act of Union poll.
  7. ^ Hennessy, Patrick; Kite, Melissa (27 November 2006). "Britain wants UK break up, poll shows". Telegraph (London). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/11/26/nunion26.xml. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  8. ^ "68 per cent of English want independence from Scotland". This Is London. 26 November 2006. http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23375965-details/Poll+reveals+6+in+10+English+voters+back+Scottish+independence/article.do. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  9. ^ "English tell Scots to go for independence". Scotland on Sunday. 26 November 2006. http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1753002006. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  10. ^ "Poll says majority of British voters support independence for Scotland". International Herald Tribune. 26 November 2006. http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/11/26/europe/EU_GEN_Britain_Scottish_Independence.php. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  11. ^ Kumar 2010, p. 484.
  12. ^ Kumar 2010, p. 478.
  13. ^ BBC News 2001 - 50,000 declarations calling for a Cornish assembly
  14. ^ Hansard 1998 - Cornwall has distinct cultural and historical factors reflecting a Celtic background
  15. ^ BBC News 2004

References

  • Kumar, Krishan (2010). "Negotiating English identity: Englishness, Britishness and the future of the United Kingdom". Nations and Nationalism 16 (3): 469–487. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8129.2010.00442.x. 

Further reading

External links



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