Nick Clegg was on the Marr show to discuss fairness. Towards the end of the interview Andrew Marr asked him about Simon Hughes' call for an English Parliament.
Andrew Marr: "Your deputy in the party, Simon Highes, has called this morning for an English parliament. Do you agree with him?"
Nick Clegg: "No I don't agree with Simon on that. Simon has had views on this for many years."
Andrew Marr: "You don't think that the English are under-represented in the system."
Nick Clegg: "Do you know, I really think that at a time when the central argument is about the wisdon of wrenching Scotland out of the United Kingdom, let's focus on that debate and let's get the SNP to provide basis answers to some pretty basic... I mean, you would have thought that for a party whose sole purpose in life is to advocate independence, they would have been able to provide answers about what it means for defence, for taxation, for investment, for the currency, and that's what I think we should focus on."
So where's the fairness in that? Why should the English wait? Haven't we waited long enough as the rest of the United Kingdom has been asked, and asked again, about how they wish to be governed?
Nick Clegg is an odious little worm of a man. Before the election the Lib Dems (and the Tories) promised to address the Barnett Formula, but that has been kicked into the long-grass because they don't want the introduction of a fair system of funding for fear that it will lose them votes in Scotland. And let us not forget that Nick Clegg is the man with responsibility for constitutional reform, so it is Clegg who must be blamed for the West Lothian Commission and the failure of the Government to address the English Question.
In the comments Mr Rob helpfully reminds me of this quote from Nick Clegg:
“In a modern democracy it is important that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom those laws apply."
When I first published this quote I expanded upon Nick Cleggs point of principle to ask:
whether it is important that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom those laws apply. In other words, is it acceptable for MPs elected outside England to have a say in government bill relating to England; should government ministers who are elected outside England have any say in drafting English legislation; should they be sitting around the Cabinet table influencing it, potentially as ministers for departments with an English portfolio; and should they even form a part of the electoral college that determines the government that England gets?
This is another way of asking Simon Lee's Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Question, the question that Nick Clegg will studiously ignore.
This is Simon Hughes' call for an 'English Parliament' (which is actually an English grand committee, not an English parliament):
It is now clear that there will be a vote during this parliament on Scottish independence. Given the policy and election commitments of the SNP government in Scotland this is right and proper.
People of the other three main parts of the United Kingdom may oppose or support independence for Scotland - I am one of those who strongly believe that Scotland should remain part of the UK.
But people in England should see this debate and referendum as an opportunity not a threat.
We now also have an opportunity to make an important constitutional decision about the way we make laws for England in the future too.
This past week the government honoured its commitment to set up a commission to consider the West Lothian question - which is exactly this question. This commission will start work next month and report before the summer of 2013. So in this parliament we have a chance to sort out this issue that has been ducked by too many governments for too long.
Now that there has been welcome devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there needs to be devolution to England too.
In my view the easiest way to do this is for MPs elected for English seats in future to have sole responsibility for deciding on laws only affecting England.
The present system has become unjust to England and should not continue. At last we have an opportunity to correct this in this parliament - and in a way that I believe will be widely welcome across England.
We now have a chance to make a decision which will be good for lawmaking, good for parliament, good for the public and good for all four corners of the United Kingdom."
Which is the more pressing issue: the West Lothian question or House of Lords reform?
I do not think that it is an either/or choice. As the hon. Lady knows, there is a commitment in the coalition agreement to establish a commission to look into the West Lothian question, but I do not think that that precludes the Joint Committee looking at proposals for reform of the House of Lords at the same time.
Do the Government’s proposals for the House of Lords include excluding peers not from England on voting on matters solely related to England?
We have not addressed that in the White Paper. If people want to discuss it in the Joint Committee, they are free to do so.
On 5 April the Deputy Prime Minister said there was “a need to ensure” that reform of the other place did not “overlap” with the establishment of the West Lothian commission. Given that reform of the other place may take some time, can the Deputy Prime Minister reassure us that the West Lothian commission will be in place by the time of the Report stage and Third Reading of my private Member’s Bill on 9 September?
I can confirm that the commission that will look into the West Lothian question will be established this year.
If Clegg thought that both issues were equally important, then surely the Committee on the West Lothian Question would already be established (as it was supposed to be) and could inform the debate over the Lords. I can see no possible reason for delaying the Committee on the West Lothian Question other than Nick Clegg believing it to be unimportant or that it might preclude the desired outcome of his Lords Reform White Paper.
Via A National Conversation for England comes this hostage to fortune from Nick Clegg:
“In a modern democracy it is important that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom those laws apply. The House of Lords performs its work well but lacks sufficient democratic authority”.
Nick Clegg, who prevaricated unconvincingly over the West Lothian Question infront of the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, will be reminded of this quote if he eventually gets around to putting together a committee on the West Lothian Question with the intention of preventing non-English MPs voting on English laws.
The question posed by Nick Clegg goes a bit wider than the West Lothian Question because it asks whether it is important that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom those laws apply. In other words, is it acceptable for MPs elected outside England to have a say in government bill relating to England; should government ministers who are elected outside England have any say in drafting English legislation; should they be sitting around the Cabinet table influencing it, potentially as ministers for departments with an English portfolio; and should they even form a part of the electoral college that determines the government that England gets?
Image courtesy of the CEP
As Tim Montgomerie points out, David Cameron has avoided antagonising the Scots (personally I would have inserted the word 'unnecessarily' before antagonising):
If Cameron enjoyed Miliband's discomfort at the collapse of Scottish Labour, he won't relish the prospect of going down in history as the prime minister who presided over the end of the Union. Despite pressure from some quarters in the Conservative camp, the Tory leader has carefully avoided antagonising the Scots. He has opposed the idea of an English parliament and any review of the Barnett formula, which determines the funding allocated to the devolved administrations.
But in doing so Cameron has antagonised the English, as the Sun's YouGov poll on Scottish independence illustrates (see attached). More people in England and Wales (41%) support Scottish independence than oppose it (40%), and 54% think Scotland benefits more than England and Wales from the Union (£4.5billion is a lot of money).
My earlier suggestion that the referendum on Scottish independence would in itself be the transformational event (rather than the result) looks like it needs revising. The mere prospect of a referendum in 2014 (on the anniversary of Bannockburn and timed to coincide with Glasgow's Commonwealth Games) appears to have focussed minds on the left and the right. About time too.
We can only hope that the cross-party "Stronger United" group, trailed by Marcus Booth, takes on board these views, and isn't just a Gordon Brown-esque "Britishness" campaign that extols the tired old trope of Westminster sovereignty - power devolved is power retained - in an era 'whose leitmotif is the sovereignty of the people' [Bogdanor].
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, defended the principle of Scottish popular sovereignty in Parliament yesterday, when he rejected demands that the English should have a referendum on the future of the Union:
"I think it is right to say that any nation within the UK, in a sense, if it seeks to express a view about its own future, that that is primarily their prerogative to do so.
"It's equally right to say that that debate and the outcome of that debate has a knock-on effect on the rest of the UK. But do I think that, therefore, this parliament should somehow try to pre-empt that debate in Scotland? That's a separate debate.
Clegg also informed the constitutional reform select committee that he had delayed plans for a commission into the West Lothian question.
From Nick Clegg's "vision for political reform".
Britain’s proudest political tradition is our capacity to modernise and our constitution’s history is punctuated by distinct periods of swift and dramatic change. Moments in which we have radically updated our political practices so that they make sense in our changing world.
It happened in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when Parliament asserted its power over the monarchy to bring about the Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights.
OK, so it's nowhere near as retarded as Gordon Brown's 'golden thread of liberty' quote.
"So there is, a golden thread which runs through British history - that runs from that long ago day in Runnymede in 1215; on to the Bill of Rights in 1689 where Britain became the first country to successfully assert the power of Parliament over the King"
But can you imagine Clegg or Brown claiming that the Scottish Claim of Right Act (1689) was part of Britain’s proud political tradition? No, prior to Union it's only English achievements that are lauded as British.
Needless to say, Clegg did not bother to mention England or the West Lothian Question.
It was the postcard that he received from Nick Clegg that first aroused the suspicions of David Davis.
Having kicked the West Lothian Question into the long grass, Nick Clegg has only gone and lost the bloody thing. Fortunately the Labour Party's Alan Whitehead (yes, you read correctly, he's a Labour MP) was on hand to remind the Deputy Prime Minister that he had promised to set up a commission.
To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what progress he has made on establishing a commission to consider the West Lothian Question.
And the response from Conservative Mark Harper (Parliamentary underling to Nick Clegg, Political and Constitutional Reform) was:
I will be giving consideration to the requirements over the coming weeks and aim to announce our plans for the commission by autumn 2010.
In other words they've done absolutely bugger all because they're all too busy slashing the budgets on English departments. Isn't it strange to have a Labour MP raising the West Lothian Question? If my memory serves me correctly only three Labour MPs ever mentioned it during Labour's thirteen years in power (Frank Field, Andrew Macinlay and Derek Wyatt).
And since the coalition government took power Labour's Lord Stoddart and Lord Grocott have each asked two Parliamentary questions on the WLQ, both enquiring as to the predicted cost of such a commission and its likely composition. Perhaps some Scottish Labour sphincters are a twitching at the prospect of English Votes on English Laws, or perhaps Labour sense that this is an issue with which to divide Conservative from Lib Dem.
The following press release was put out by the Lib Dems on their website yesterday. I've highlighted a few words in red.
£1 Billion fund to help regional business Tue, 29 Jun 2010
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg today launched a £1 Billion Regional Growth Fund to help areas and communities at risk of being particularly affected by public spending cuts. The fund, which will operate in 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 will help areas most dependent on public sector employment as the country makes the transition to private sector-led growth and prosperity. Both private bodies and public-private partnerships will be able to bid for funding by demonstrating that their proposal will bring in private investment and support sustainable increases in private sector jobs and growth in their area.
Speaking in Bradford after the first Coalition Cabinet meeting outside of London today, Nick Clegg said:
"While we sort out the nation's finances we can also help to foster a thriving and more balanced economy so that no region or community gets left behind.
"The Regional Growth Fund will create the conditions for growth and enterprise in the regions by stimulating investment and create sustainable private sector jobs.
"Alongside our commitment to waive some employment taxes for new businesses starting up in targeted regions of the country, this fund can make a real difference to companies during difficult times."
Nick Clegg also set out plans for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) that will bring together councils and business on an equal footing with one voice, replacing the current Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). In a joint letter sent to councils and business leaders today, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles have asked them to consider forming new Local Enterprise Partnerships that can provide strategic leadership in their local areas and create the right environment for business success and economic growth.
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary said:
"We are determined to rebalance the economy towards the private sector, so it's important we create a more effective structure to drive economic growth and development across the country."
All very interesting, as I think you'll agree. But I have some questions: The areas, communities and regions of where; to which nation - England or the United Kingdom - is this press release applicable?
Call me suspicious, but the absence of any named territory in this press release, along with use of the ambiguous 'the country', leads me to conclude that it is most probably a press release that is applicable to England alone.
Today sees the first plenary session of the Joint Ministerial Committee, with representatives from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland travelling down to Westminster to meet with their British counterparts to discuss where the axe should fall on public services:
The economy is expected to dominate talks between Prime Minister David Cameron and the leaders of the devolved administrations.
The Tory leader will chair the first plenary session of the joint ministerial committee (JMC) which brings together the heads of all the UK nations.
Not quite all the UK nations. England won't be represented.
There will be smart arses who say that England is represented by UK ministers, or by the UK Government as a whole, but that is a downright lie. The Government represents the United Kingdom in its entirety, not parts of it. Nick Clegg, who attends the JMC talks, is only a minister because the Tory party could not command a majority across the UK despite the fact that it won the majority of seats in England. Yet Clegg will have a ministerial say on English domestic matters. Danny Alexander, Nick Clegg's axe-weilding Scottish Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will not be attending the meeting, but he - constitutionally no less a representative of England than Cameron or Clegg - will slash England's public spending despite being elected outside England and possessing no direct democratic mandate from the people whose lives his cuts may ruin.
If the UK Government truly represented England's interests then they would lose no time in scrapping the Barnett Formula in favour of something transparent and fair, which is the only way of making the spending cuts open, responsible and fair.
I want to make sure we go about the urgent task of cutting our deficit in a way that is open, responsible and fair.
I want this government to carry out Britain's unavoidable deficit reduction plan in a way that strengthens and unites the country.
I have said before that as we deal with the debt crisis we must take the whole country with us - and I mean it. - David Cameron, 7th June 2010
The BBC reports that Nick Clegg will be in charge of 'considering' the West Lothian Question.
He will also be in charge of considering the "West Lothian question" - the longstanding anomaly which sees Scottish MPs voting on matters affecting England, but not vice versa.
The letter that I recently received from Nick Clegg's office tends to suggest that Clegg favours mitigating the West Lothian Question rather than answering it.
We recognise that devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland poses difficult questions for the governance of England within the Union. I think it’s important to be honest about the fact that it is difficult to find an immediate solution. The idea of ‘English votes for English laws’ is extremely complicated to implement – particularly because many laws actually extend to England only in some parts, while covering other parts of the UK in other areas. Given the fact that changes in spending on English services which would be devolved in the rest of the UK directly affect the devolved administration’s budgets, it is also often the case that ‘English’ legislation actually will affect devolved issues outside of England.
We believe that we can only really deal with this question by looking at it as part of the wider political system. We need to do more, first of all, to give more power to people locally in England – so that they, too, have more control over their own affairs rather than being micromanaged from Whitehall. We want to give local communities real power over their health services and policing, through fairly elected local health boards and police authorities – as well as freeing the hands of local councils, removing power from Westminster and Whitehall. Ultimately, we want to move towards a federal United Kingdom – devolving power within England further and thus resolving this question.