Anders has written an interesting post on an English Parliament, which has generated a followup from Tom, so I thought I’d throw in my 2p’s worth while it was the hottish topic of the Lib Dem blogosphere.

In an effort to square the circle, my suggestion is to have an English Parliament that’s made up of Regional Assemblies, a Parliament that’s structured around the principle of subsidiarity. The way I see it, while an English Parliament would provide balance within the four constituent nations of the UK, it wouldn’t necessarily provide a balanced solution for England. While there are some issues that could be settled at an English level, there are others best left to a regional – or even lower – level. England is a large country, and I’m sceptical that a one-size-fits-all approach is best in all matters.

So, my suggestion would be to elect members of an English Parliament but for those members to also compose their relevant regional assembly. The English Parliament would meet as a whole as and when appropriate, but its members would then also meet separately as the regional assemblies. (The balance of how much time it spends in each form would be one for the members of the Parliament to decide themselves after its formed.) What this would mean is that we’d have decisions being made at the level most appropriate for them, but also that the Parliament would be much closer to the people it represented – personally, I’d have it that the assemblies on the whole didn’t have fixed locations, but met at different points in the region. As well as reporting back to the Parliament on the decisions taken for their region, the assemblies would also allow for preliminary discussion and consultation on national-level issues to take place locally, allowing the Parliament as a whole to hear opinion from across the country by having actually gone there, not sat in London/York/Meriden/wherever it’s based and waited for people to come to it.

Thoughts, anyone?

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7 comments untill now

  1. It’s interesting, and I don’t dismiss it out of hand. There is certainly a need for decision making nearer the citizen.

    My concern is that your suggestion would effectively mean England devolving its powers further. The problem here is that it will (for it inevitably must) lead to different outcomes in different regions. In a properly devolved system that’s fine – if you want to be the same as the neighbouring region, you vote for the same policies. In a system where a higher authority (in this case the English Parliament) has the power to second-guess the region, there will inevitably be calls for the England to step in to equalise between regions. This is the death of devolution, for it completely undermines both the autonomy of the region and the most valuable effect of localism: that it creates a breeding ground for experimentation
    and emulation.

    This is why I argue that the powers of the various levels of government must be protected in a constitutional document. Otherwise they will be battered by teh demands of the disgruntled, referring to the higher power to over-rule their own duly-elected government.

  2. Good points, Tom, and I think one of the issues in getting support for devolution is persuading people to accept different outcomes for different priorities in different places.

    Maybe the solution is to look at building from the bottom up – though that’s a very un-English/British way of doing it with our desire for centralised power – perhaps some way in which power rests within the assemblies (or lower) and they agree to co-operate on certain issues at an English level? That’s the way the US is supposed to work, of course.

    On a wider level, I’m beginning to think that this is getting towards the sort of message we should be pushing more as a party – that we believe power begins with the people and flows up, rather than begins in the centre and is begrudgingly shared out. We just need to find a catchy slogan…

  3. A regional system operating within an English parliament is not a bad option, but what would the regions be? I don’t feel any allegiance to any region of England. cities yes, counties yes, but regions no.

    Let’s face it, the Lib Dems only really supported regional assemblies because it looked like a route to federalism. But if we are moving towards a federation of nations (as the union should be) then there’s little point in Prescott’s regions because they are an anathema to devolution.

    I’d cut regions out altogether. A tough decision for Lib Dems to make, having invested much into the idea of regions, but there’s no evidence that the idea resonates with the voters. Devolution should be to smaller units than regions, and if those cities and counties want then they can form working partnerships on the basis of stategic need in order to better deliver public services. English MPs, freed up from the business of reserved UK matters, would be ideally positioned to help facilitate cooperation between devolved bodies where there is a strategic need and public demand for it.

    The regions that we have at the moment – those undemocratic Prescottian administrative monstrosities – have very little to do with devolution and have instead resulted in central government wresting control of local decision making from local authorities. Power should be given back to local authorities, the regions should be completely abolished.

    All this needs to be done as part of an English constitutional convention. The people of England need to be asked how they wish to be governed. Simply imposing devolution, or regions, or an English parliament, upon us would be wrong. In my mind there’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the English will choose an English parliament if offered the choice. This is why, uniquely amongst the UK nations, we have not been asked. The English would also vote to scrap Prescott’s regions. I think we would vote to strengthen local democracy through devolution to county councils, and beneath. But until there’s some agreement on the principle that England, as a nation, has the same right to decide all these fine words are pretty fruitless.

    Ming Campbell is on record saying that there should be an English Constitutional Convention but since becoming leader he’s done and said absolutely nothing on the subject. At the moment there’s a mexican stand-off. The Democracy Task Force was supposed to report in November but they’ve delayed publishing their report for fear of how Gordon Brown will counter. Lord Falconer and the Dept. Constitutional Affairs are completely silent on the matter realising perhaps that they come across as bigots everytime they oppose an English parliament. Even the Constitution Unit – having had all their predictions blown out the water by countless successive polls in favour of an English parliament – are conspicuous by their silence. It’s all rather pathetic really. The failure to grant England any constitutional recognition – or even acknowledge our sovereign right to decide as a nation – is a festering sore that threatens to undermine the UK, the rancour between England and Scotland will just grow and grow.

  4. Hereward the wake @ 2007-05-10 21:33

    “England is a large country, and I’m sceptical that a one-size-fits-all approach is best in all matters”

    So why haven’t you come out against the UK ? Why haven’t you said that the UK is too big for a parliament? Or should I say, why aren’t you against the UK parliament?
    I think your reasons for being against an English parliament have nothing to do with England being too large. If you reallly believe that size matters then tell me why Scotland has a parliament? If any place should have regions, it should be scotland. Highlands, Islands, the fan north.
    You are against the English people. Why not admit it?

    “The way I see it, while an English Parliament would provide balance within the four constituent nations of the UK, it wouldn’t necessarily provide a balanced solution for England”

    Oh you’re scared that an English parliament would look after the English people, but not non-English people. That’s why you don’t want English self-determination. You are a joke if you live in England.

  5. You are against the English people. Why not admit it?
    Probably because being English myself, I’m not.

    What I said was that I’m not convinced that there are many issues on which having one rule for the whole of England is the best solution and (unless you advocate the abolition of all local and county councils in favour of all those decisions being taken by an English Parliament) you likely feel the same but we choose to express it differently.

    What’s more, I’m puzzled as to how you can think I’m ‘against an English parliament’ when this entire post was a suggestion of a way to have one and make it work.

  6. First the people of England need a representative national parliament. Then we deal with how England is governed on a county/regional level. 78% of those in the North East voted against a regional assembly, and no matter how much the government has spun things since, the electorate genuinely believed that they were voting on whether to have an assembly at all, not just an elected one.

    The people of England identify much more with the nation’s historic counties than “regions” set up during war-time or in more recent years.

    First a national parliament for England, THEN the people decide, through their elected representatives, how things work closer to home.

    England is the largest country in the UK, but it is no less an historic nation than Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Having visited Scotland and Wales, I have been startled by the diversity of the various regions within those countries and having travelled abroad I have come across the same in many other countries.

    Diversity has always been a fact of life in Britain and is still very much so today, but it should not mean second rate treatment for the people of any UK nation – including England.

  7. Hereward the wake @ 2007-05-14 15:14

    It doesn’t matter what way you look at it, England IS a country AND a people. All the endless chit chat about false regions and so and so wouldn’t agree with it are just red herrings to avoid discussing the plain truth. The truth being that whoever is against England having
    it’s own parliament (for whatever reason), is a fascist.
    I do not care what reason you come up with I am against it. England is a country that should have a national parliament. The English people do not have to prove why this is so.

    If any country needs regions it’s scotland. Highlands, lowlands, far north, Western isles, Orneys.
    Scotland should be regionalised!
    So should wales. Ever heard of the Landskar line? Look it up. What about little England beyond wales?
    I am not advocating anything for these places, It is up to them what they do. I am saying that John Prescott the regions man should have started with these places first. He loves regions doesn’t he?