WHY ENGLAND NEEDS A PARLIAMENT OF IT'S OWN: Responding to Mr. Austin Mitchell (MP for Grimsby)
By Phil Evans
There are essentially seven points made in Mr Mitchell's assertion that an English Parliament would be "disastrous". I deal with each of these below. I note with disdain that he does not say who he thinks a Parliament would be disastrous for. I can only assume that he feels that a fair deal for England would compromise the unfair advantages in representation and public spending currently enjoyed by the rest of the UK. So be it. If he's frightened by Parliaments then he's no democrat.
The seven points:
(The Parliament's) "size would be quite disproportionate. It would outbalance the others and be like an elephant in a cuckoo's nest."
I presume this refers to the relative size of the budgets etc that an English Parliament and Executive would handle, in comparison with those under the control of the Scottish Parliament etc. In essence his complaint is therefore that England is too big (or it's population too large). Fairness and democracy dictate that the size and scope of the Parliament must necessarily be in proportion to the population it represents. England has 50 million people. Scotland has 5 million. That is the reality. It may be inconvenient to the other components of the UK that 85% of the population resides in England but that is no justification for the denial of collective democratic and constitutional rights to the English people. We had a constitutional settlement before Devolution which over-represented Scotland and Wales in a broadly acceptable system of 'asymmetry'. The Scots elected to change the status quo and opted for a Parliament. This shifted the degree of imbalance to an unacceptable extent and created unworkable anomalies such as the 'West Lothian' question. An English Parliament addresses these anomalies in a fair and democratic way. The stated aim of the CEP is to establish an English Parliament with powers similar to those already granted to Scotland. Nothing more.
"The main problem which affects us is domination by London in a system in which the interests of London are made paramount and in which the congestion and higher costs create inflation. The measures for dealing with these, like higher interest rates, then hit us more severely. If we have an English Parliament it actually increases the power and weight of London and hence it's domination over the rest."
Mr Mitchell's apparent personal grudge against London is colourful but not a useful contribution in this context. London has a population of 7.5 million or 15% of the English population and 12.5% of the total for the UK. London's alleged 'domination' is in fact no more than a refection of it's demographic, economic and cultural weight. Another inconvenient fact perhaps, but there it is. Does Mr Mitchell advocate making it smaller? Those of us (like me) who live outside the South-East have good reason to be thankful for it's prosperity. The dreary resentment of some in the North of England at the relative economic success of South-East is an indefensible and irrational prejudice and ignores the significant benefits which accrue to the rest of the economy as a result. As for the concentration of government agencies in London, would Mr Mitchell support their relocation? I would. Moreover, why does he assume that an English Parliament would be based there? There is no incompatibility between the establishment of an English Parliament and the decentralisation of administration. My personal choice for the location of our Parliament would be York. I'll ignore the nonsense about inflation and interest rates, apart from observing that these have been low for a decade and that house prices, often cited as the reason for 'high' interest rates, are now rising faster in the North than in the South-East.
"A dual Parliament system for England is impractical. It would be an expensive mess."
Democracy is not cheap and it is always messy. If Mr Mitchell's concern with the tiresome procedures and financial costs of Parliamentary democracy are genuine then can we conclude that he would prefer something less sluggish and more cost-effective. A military junta perhaps? As a committed democrat I might observe that there are many examples of 'dual Parliaments' that work perfectly well. California seems to struggle along; New South Wales and Ontario apparently manage without too much trouble. The Bavarians seem to be making a go of it. Indeed, completing the process of devolution to the nations of the UK would seem to afford an ideal opportunity to cut Westminster down to size. It is already awash with part-time Scottish MPs, most apparently unable to resist interfering in English affairs. Once an English Parliament is established we can presumably look forward to Mr Mitchell's support for a streamlining of Westminster procedures and a drastic reduction in the number of London-based MPs. And if a 'dual parliament' is practical for Scotland, can Mr Mitchell explain why it is impractical for England?
"(The Government)...is going to allow the setting up of regional assemblies if supported by local referenda and these will become areas to which further powers will inevitably be given. This is, in my view, a more sensible approach."
So, Mr Mitchell objects to an English Parliament on the grounds of cost and complexity, but supports the creation of an entirely new tier of government involving nine regional assemblies and their associated bureaucracies as 'sensible'. I can only point out this obvious inconsistency and observe that he must be a bit confused. Financial considerations aside, 'regions' are no substitute for a Parliament. They leave England governed by Westminster, with Scottish and Welsh MPs entitled to influence English affairs and vote on English legislation without reciprocation and in their own interest. How can they be expected to act fairly?
And why in any case should we tolerate this absurdity? 'Regions' do not address the fundamental constitutional inequality created by devolution to Scotland and Wales, in fact they compound it. Nor can they provide a collective national voice representing English interests. The partition of England into regions actively deprives it's people of proper political representation and effectively abolishes it as a nation. Of course the underlying truth is that England has no 'regions'. They're not real. The proposed bodies do not reflect any meaningful historical, social, economic, cultural or political traditions, being entirely an invention of politicians and bureaucrats whose objective is the preservation of the UK at any cost.
Rather than addressing the legitimate needs of the English nation within the UK by providing a Parliament similar to that already established in Scotland, we are to be fobbed-off with a unseemly muddle of competing regional non-entities, divided against ourselves and bidding against each other for funds. An ironic and sad end for a country that has been unified for more than a thousand years and that has contributed so much to the progress of the human race. The proposed partition of England by the UK government is an insidious act of aggression against the English people. It is a deceit; a regime of 'divide and rule' disingenuously sold as an extension of democracy.
"Although Scotland does indeed get over Stg. 1000 more spending per head than citizens in Yorkshire and Humberside, while those in London and the South-East get around Stg. 3,700 a year more per head."
This is rubbish. If Mr Mitchell really claimed that per capita public spending is Stg. 3,700 higher in the South-East than in Yorkshire then he is deluded. Once again we might observe that Mr Mitchell has some kind of deep-seated psychiatric problem with the people of Southern England, an inferiority complex perhaps, but seems happy to dole out money to the Scots. The figures below are the most recent ones I have:
COUNTRY 2000-1 PER CAPITA SPEND
Northern Ireland Stg. 5,939
Scotland Stg. 5,271
Wales Stg. 5,052
England Stg. 4,283
ENGLISH REGION 2000-1 PER CAPITA SPEND
North East Stg. 5,148
North West Stg. 4,888
Yorkshire and Humberside Stg. 4,669
East Midlands Stg. 4,280
West Midlands Stg. 4,491
South West Stg. 4,312
Eastern Stg. 4,142
London Stg. 5,067
South East Stg. 4,000
To complicate matters: these figures are from the Analyses of Public Expenditure published May 2002. They deal with 'identifiable' expenditure and therefore hide further subsidies to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland via 'non-identifiable' budgets such as those allocated to Defence, the Royal Mail, Broadcasting and others. Bear in mind also that these figures deal only with expenditure and not with taxation. The English contribute more in taxation than the others. The figures for London and the South-East particularly have to be seen in that context. Per capita taxes collected (because of higher incomes, spending and company profitability) are significantly higher in these areas and the fiscal transfer away from them that much greater.
As can be seen the South-East region (population 9 million) is particularly hard-done-by. It has easily the lowest level of public expenditure and yet contributes massively to the exchequer. It is worth bearing in mind that all of the so-called English regions are in fiscal deficit with the UK (ie they all pay more in taxes than they receive in spending) with the sole exception of the North-East which receives a significant subsidy. Yorkshire and Humberside receives higher spending than the English average but nevertheless, in common with most of the rest of us, shells out to subsidise ungrateful Celts. In fact that is the defining characteristic of the UK's fiscal balances - England pays huge subsidies to the other three countries.
"...even the Tories don't accept that an English Parliament is viable." Is this true?
In what sense can an English Parliament not be viable? Perhaps it's because our own MPs betray us and dismiss our national political rights with such blithe contempt. The English people deserve better than to be sold out by the likes of Mr Mitchell. What he means of course is that he thinks that an English Parliament is incompatible with the stability of the UK. That England is too large to be independently represented and therefore must sacrifice it's unity and forgo it's right to proper democratic representation because the Scots and the Welsh are intimidated. We can't have a Parliament because it's inconvenient. What drivel! These are the empty compromises of a moral and philosophical illiterate. The Labour party's view is absolutely corrupted by their desperate need to hold on to Scottish and Welsh seats without which they have little hope of forming majority governments at Westminster. Mitchell and his ilk obstinately refuse to accept that it is Scottish and Welsh devolution that has already undermined the viability of the UK by rendering the previous 'asymmetry' unworkable.
They must now reconcile themselves to the English dimension; they have no choice if they wish to maintain the Union. And while it is true that the Conservatives have no policy aimed at redressing the current constitutional nonsense, this is because they are hamstrung by a slavish commitment to Unionism. Both main parties, though internally exercised by the issue have failed to produce a coherent policy in respect of the 'English Question'. Foolishly they fail to perceive that the only way to preserve the UK is by directly addressing the rights of the English people. Instead their instinct is to attempt to emasculate or just ignore legitimate English aspirations and hope the Union will survive. (Thus Lord Irvine's solution to the West Lothian question is: "don't ask it".) Sooner or later they will realise that without an English Parliament the Union is finished. It is as natural as it is inevitable: we will have a Parliament either within the UK or without it. One further point: several prominent Tory figures including David Davies and Lord Baker have publicly declared their support for an English Parliament. A number of Conservative MPs are CEP members.
The North East Lincolnshire Question
The stupidity of including North-East Lincolnshire (including Great Grimsby) in the 'Yorkshire and Humberside' 'region' is symptomatic of the essentially fraudulent nature of the whole undertaking. Traditional local loyalties are ignored in order to fit the model, producing a string of absurdities up and down the country. I doubt that Mr Mitchell is unaware that his constituents would strongly prefer to return to the ancient county of Lincolnshire, he just doesn't give a damn. Including the short-lived and now defunct County of Humberside in with Yorkshire turns England's largest ancient County into a 'region' which fits the policy requirement. At one level or another, all the so-called regions are a nonsense. Herefordshire isn't really in the West Midlands and has nothing to do with Birmingham. Pity poor Cumbria which used to be lumped together with the 'North-East' to form the 'North', but has recently been moved, for no apparent reason, to the 'North-West' and now faces the prospect of rule from Manchester. And I understand Lincolnshire is now in the 'East Midlands' which I'm sure would have surprised DH Lawrence. Don't try to make sense of it; just vote no!
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