Sunday, October 28, 2007

Twas Free Prescriptions what done it.

The slumbering giant that is England is on the move. Until this month the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament were but mere irritants. As Ken Stephens, one of my readers might say, they were no more than two teenagers who had left home, with possibly a bit more cash than mother thought they should have, not spending their money as mother would like. And this would have rumbled on - if the little Scottish one hadn't decided to rub mother's nose in it.

Free prescriptions in Wales - stupid but at least they paid for it with longer waiting times for elective surgery. Their choice, daft b*****rs. Free personal care - annoying but manageable because most people don't quite grasp what this means. Especially annoying because mother would like this herself - but can't afford it. But free prescriptions in Scotland, blatantly populist and introduced by the dreaded 'Nats' turned out to be a step too far. The worm turned. The giant awoke and now its too late. Some sort of English devolved government is inevitable.

Peter Hain, part-time Secretary of State for Wales is much agitated by this turn of events - as his spin-driven Government loses control. One of the reasons I opposed devolution (before the people voted for it in Sept. 1997) was, in part, because of the constitutional instability it would create. Peter Hain and Gordon Brown may prefer that the West Lothian question not be asked - but the slumbering giant has awoken and is asking it. And today, Malcolm Rifkind has answered it.

Personally, I don't support the idea of an English Parliament. There is no reason why the MPs representing English constituencies should not sit as an 'English Parliament' or 'Grand Committee' on one day per week. There would be consequences. The National Assembly for Wales would assume the same powers as the Scottish Parliament - and the number of Welsh MPs would be reduced from 40 to 26. This reduction in numbers was Conservative policy at the last General Election. I remember Michael Howard telephoning me at home to tell me about it personally. I told him that I supported it then. Of course, this would remove at a stroke, the unjustified electoral advantage that Labour enjoys because of the over-representation at Westminster from Scotland and Wales. Its no wonder Labour are squirming. Just deserts I'd say.


Left Field said...

If Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can have their own parliaments, then surely England is entitled to one ?

Just like the other bodies it needs to be elected by PR, or we would have an almost permanent Tory ruled English Parliament, as would happen with a grand committee. One party rule by ANY party for an extended time isn't healthy. If we had first past the post for Scotland and Wales it would be the same problem but with Labour rule.

Any English parliament, of course, needs to be approved by a referendum. I personally thought regional assemblies were better. Newcastle and Surrey don't have an awful lot in common. If I were still in England I would prefer an assembly in Manchester, rather than a parliament in London. But the government messed that up by offering something akin to a super county council.

Glyn Davies said...

left field - I prefer to work in the world of realism. I do not believe there is a cat-in-hell's chance of an English Parliament winning a referendum - and it is much more likely that an English Grand Committee would be accepted.

Left Field said...

Since there hasn't even been a campaign for an English parliament we don't really know.

I think the Tories just want a grand committee to give them a permanent government of England.

We've alread had a Tory government of the UK with a majority of 144 and 42% of the vote, and a Labour government with 36% of the vote. I think England deserves some democracy, not a grand committee dominated by southern Tories.

long memory said...

my big question is Malcolm Rifkind.he who was the architect of the poll tax How can he ever be taken seriously again

Matt Wardman said...

-Just like the other bodies it needs to be elected by PR, or we would have an almost permanent Tory ruled English Parliament, as would happen with a grand committee.

The obvious point to reply with is that was that not precisely the position with the Scottish Grand Committee - for however many decades it has been dominated by a permanent Labour majority? The tension with the whole HoC having to approve everything kept things in balance.

I'm open to correction, however, if wrong - as I do not know the exact details of the Scottish Grand Committee over the whole period.

I'm tempted to ask whether you complained about *that* permanent majority, but that would be mischevious !

I do not really approve of such a proliferation of Parliaments - being basically a small government man. If we have regional assemblies as well then that is three tiers of Parliaments (including the moveable European feast). The whole needs a savage application of Occam's Razor somewhere.

Therefore I would support giving a further role to our existing MPs.

It is tempting to suggest the strategy used by various US States, and have non-Westminster Parliaments (including the English Pt or GC) meet only for 6-8 weeks once a year.

The biggest problem is that there is just too much of it all. I shall invent a new verse for "Partridge in a Pear Tree":

32567 Politicians Politicking

If they don't exist they don't have to create work for themselves to justify their existence by needing to interfere with us, and that makes life much easier for everyone.

My take - only slightly tongue in cheek.

Glyn Davies said...

left field - I see the Lib Dems are on board for something like an 'English Grand'. There will have to be a lot of talking about this before it can happen. I still don't know what would happen in rerspect of Wales. It could be an 'England and Wales Grand' which sometimes meets as an England only Committee. Or are we going to re a new flowering of the Welsh Grand'.

Long memory - I'm afraid that I have to admit a very high regard for Malcolm.

Matt - in general, I'm with you on the size of government - which is why I do not support the idea of a seperate English Parliament. Lets just use the current MPs.
I accept the point you make about the possibility of a permanant majority - but what happened in Wales and Scotland was that the permanent Labour majorities dissappeared when devolved institutions arrived.

Anonymous said...

What's this rubbish about a permanent Tory majority in England? Labour has the most seats at present...

alanindyfed said...

A parliament for England
N. Ireland
Isle of Man

+ a Federal Assembly in Shrewsbury


Left Field said...

What's this rubbish about a permanent Tory majority in England? Labour has the most seats at present...

Yes, my mistake. Apologies for being factually incorrect.

I had generally believed that Welsh & Scottish MPs had enabled Labour governments to get majorities, and consequently the English vote was biased towards the Tories.

In fact the only times since the war when there has been a Labour majority government and Labour has not had a majority in England is 1964 and 1974, when they had slim majorities in parliament. In 1964 the Tories had a majority in England, in 1974 Labour was the biggest party, but without an English majority. So it would be correct to say that an English Grand committee would favour the Tories in a year with a close result.

If the 1964 result were to be repeated though, I assume there would be a Labour ministers, but a Tory majority. Wouldn't this just be a recipe for stagnation? At least with a parliament you would have the majority party doing the governing.

Left Field said...

I'm tempted to ask whether you complained about *that* permanent majority, but that would be mischevious !

I too am not really sure of the role of the Scottish Grand Committee. I assumed it was just a talking shop, as I never saw health and education policy being changed.

But to re-iterate, I have always been against prolonged one party rule. I am a fan of the old addage "Politicians are like nappies. They both need changing regularly and for the
same reason."

Glyn Davies said...

anon - thanks for making this point

alan - speechless

left field - thanks for clearing this up for me. I'd incorrectly shared your impression. And the changing of nappies are on my agenda again after a break of 27 years!!

alanindyfed said...


difficult to render you speechless Glyn.

What am I to say?

Your vision for the future?

Not GB's, that's for sure!