Friday, January 19, 2007

But who lit the bloody fire, Wayne.

Just appeared on Call To Order, Patrick Hanaan's great Radio Wales programme which goes out at 6.03 every Friday. MP, Wayne David was the other guest. The only issue tonight where Wayne and I disagreed (except on matters of detail) was about Peter Hain's absolute 'tosh' about the Tories fanning the flames of the demise of the Union.

Tories warned Labour in 1997, as did many Labourites, (notable Tam Dayell) that the devolution settlement had within it an inherent unfairness towards the English (The West Lothian Question). This made the devolution settlement unstable. Now, the English take some stirring on constitutional matters - but when top-up fees were introduced in England by a vote at Westminster which depended on the votes of Scottish and Welsh MPs, whose constituents would not be subject to them because education is devolved, the sleeping giant stirred. The most worrying poll I have seen for a long time was that a majority of the English now favour cutting Scotland adrift. It is absolutely right that David Cameron should address this issue.

Wayne David, Gordon Brown and Peter Hain have the brass neck to accuse the Tories of "playing with fire" over this issue - and "fanning the flames". The question is "But who lit the bloody fire, Wayne". I'll tell Wayne who lit the fire. It was Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Hain. All David Cameron is doing is trying to put it out.


Abermaw said...

In fairness to the Labour Party, they did try to answer the West Loathian Question by allowing English regions to ballot for Regional Assemblies if they wished to do so. The overwhelming no vote in the only English Region to hold such a referendum (the North East, I think) put a bit of a dampener on this idea.

I don't like the idea of English Regional Assemblies, mainly because their existence would make Wales and Scotland regions on a par with the North East, the West Midlands etc rather than the Nations that they are, and that devolution is supposed to recognise.

The present Conservative proposal that only English MPs should vote on English issues is, however, fatally flawed for a number of reasons.

Firstly if I like the Labour Party's proposals on Health and Education, but prefer the Conservatives attitudes on Defence and Immigration, I can split my vote. Vote Labour in the Assembly and vote Tory in general elections and get the best of both worlds. An English voter wouldn't be able to do so, and would still be deprived of an advantage that Welsh and Scottish voters have.

Secondly, there is a difficulty in deciding what an "English" issue is. Anything that has a financial implication in England effects the budget settlements for Wales and Scotland, so there is always a Welsh and Scottish "interest" in such decisions.

Because of the different Devolutionary settlements the possible permutations of which MP can and which MP cannot vote on a particular issue would lead to huge confusion. On Bill A only English MPs can vote, on Bill B only English and Welsh MPs can vote. Bill C allows English Scottish and Welsh MPs to vote but not Northern Irish MPs. It is even within the bounds of possibility that there could be a Bill D that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs can vote on but not English ones - a dog's breakfast of a legislature.

Thirdly what would happen, as happened during the Wilson-Callaghan years, when the Labour government had a majority in the House of Commons, (so formed the government) but the majority of English MPs were Conservative? Either England would be ungovernable or bills would be drafted in a way that "ensured" that they had all UK implications, taking power away from Scotland and Wales - and what implications might that have on the future of the Union?

Fourthly there is the "Cabinet" problem. The Minister of Health and the Minister for Education "for England" are members of the UK Cabinet, and can influence Cabinet decisions on the whole swathe of UK decisions, including non-devolved issues, such as defence and the budget. Their Welsh and Scottish counterparts are not a part of the UK Cabinet so don't have as much influence. The idea that the "English Health Minister" can influence the budget but the Scots one can't isn't going to go down well in Scotland and will be Manna for the SNP!

Most House of Commons decisions have to be ratified by the House of Lords. Lords don't represent any area, so how do you decide who is an English or a Welsh Lord? Is Rowan Williams, the Welsh Speaking Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Lords as a Welshman or because of his English primacy? Can Rowan vote on English issues or can he not?

Of course there is one devolved English Region - London. Can London MP's vote on Egnlish only issues under the Conservative's proposals?

The whole idea of English MPs only voting creates more problems than it solves. The only reasonable answers are either independence for all three countries or for England, Scotland and Wales to have devolved parliaments with equal powers and a separate (smaller) UK parliament.

Glyn Davies AM said...

I will just have to disagree with abermaw's conclusions, even if some good and fair points are made.

I, too dislike the idea of the EU inspired plan for the 'regionalisation' of England - and I also dislike the idea of a separate 'English' Parliament. However, I do not believe the current position is sustainable and in my opinion, the least damaging, most stable constitutional settlement would be an arrangement where only 'English' MPs are allowed to debate and vote on devolved matters. I accept that this does raise problems - but this solution is not fatally flawed'. It is less of a dog's breakfast than now.

So what if English voters can't 'split' their vote. I do not think this is a significantly important point.

What constitutes an 'English' issue would be decided in the same way as a devolved issue is now. If it's devolved to Wales and Scotland, it should be restricted to English MPs only.

I don't believe policies should be forced on a majority of English MPs by Welsh and Scottish MPs. That is what happened with top-up fees, which has led to the current resentment in England.

I do not see that the 'Cabinet' position in my preferred arrangement would be any different from now - nor would be the position of the Lords.

No-one pretends that resolving the West Lothian Question is easy or that there is a clear answer - but without some sort of an answer, the sheer unfairness of the present 'English' position will lead to the breakdown of the 'Union', which very few want to see.

Perhaps the only logical position is four seperate parliaments (including Northern Ireland) with a UK 'federal' parliament - but I just do not accept that the voters want it. They would prefer to see whether extended powers for English MPs could be made to work.

Anonymous said...

"It is absolutely right that David Cameron should address this issue."

Which issue? West Lothian or top-up fees? Cameron voted against fees in the vote you mention, but another vote today wouldn't be quite so close because he's now all for them.

Glyn Davies AM said...

Blamerbell, the issue to be addressed is the West Lothian Question - and I just used top up fees as an example of a constitutional anomoly.

As you write, top up fees would skate through Parliament today. David Cameron has changed his mind. As it happens, this has always been a difficult issue for me - in that my party whip in the Assembly has always required me to oppose top up fees in Wales, while I personally always thought they should be introduced in Wales at the same time as in England.

Anonymous said...

As usual Glyn is right again. For many Labour party members Peter Hain's article was painful to read. He really should sack the adviser who wrote the tosh about Dr Who and Torchwood. Probably the only person in the UK who could be swayed by the argument that the Tories were a threat to the union would be Jade Goodey! The problem for Labour is that its next Leader is Scottish and the SNP are doing well in the polls. If an English MP was next in line to be PM I think that there would be a much more relaxed view of what might happen in May in both Scotland and Wales.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, regional assemblies were no answer to the West Lothian Question - they would not prevent Scottish or Welsh MPs from voting on issues that affected England as a NATION. As it is, England has unelected regional assemblies - and they don't make a scrap of difference.