David Davis: Equality for the English
Those members of the Parliament at Westminster who are committed to preserving the United Kingdom have to face a ferociously difficult question. Now that the Scots and Welsh have decided to have devolution, how do we deliver a fair deal for England, and do the best job of preserving the Union.
William Hague has, quite rightly, announced that an incoming Conser-vative government would respect the outcome of the referenda. But Labour's compromise proposals are a consti-tutional mess. They do not solve the so-called West Lothian question, the problem of Scottish MPs voting on matters that solely affect the English, whilst the English MPs cannot vote on similar matters that solely affect the Scots. This treats the English (and to some extent the Welsh) very unfairly.
Nobody should doubt that the English feel as passionately about their country as do the Scots or Welsh. The willingness of the English to subordinate their 'Englishness' to the greater interests of the Union is a measure of the strength of their commitment to that Union, not of any weakness in their love of their own country.
The best demonstration of this is the extent to which the English have been willing to make sacrifices in the interests of the Union. For example, on the basis of population, Scotland has fourteen more MPs than it would have with English-sized constituencies. In terms of public expenditure per head, Wales receives one sixth more money than England, Scotland a fifth more, and Northern Ireland a third more. Neither should the clamouring of the Scottish Nationalists to the contrary confuse us. Even if we, quite wrongly, allocated all the North Sea revenues to Scotland, they would still be receiving a net £6 billion from the English taxpayer. In addition - unlike England - Scotland and Wales have their own Cabinet Minister to represent their own unique interests, as well as all the other Scots and Welsh members that have occupied positions in every Cabinet in modern times.
There are, of course, reasons for these differences, and the English have accepted them because the vast majority place enormous value on the Union. They recognise the energy that the United Kingdom has gained from the amalgamation of the talents of all parts of the Kingdom. They recognise the huge advantage in all areas of endeavour - scientific, literary, military, commercial or political - which arises out of their hybrid vigour. They know that the United Kingdom is very much more than the sum of its parts.
Which is why Labour's proposals are potentially so disastrous. The Govern-ment is meddling with a finely balanced structure, which has historically worked to everybody's advantage. They are taking the risk of starting a process that will unravel the tightly woven fabric of our country. If it goes wrong, this process will be slow at first, but will accelerate under the pressure of the discontent and disunity that devolution will stir up.
The compromises that Labour are putting together to achieve their ends, whilst still maintaining their political advantage, will exacerbate this dis-content. Those Welsh people that want an Assembly will resent the stronger Scottish institution. As for the English, Labour's attempts to provide supposed "fairness" with regional councils is, of course, nonsense. It will not solve the West Lothian question. They will simply create soulless regional bureaucracies; bleak outstations of Brussels.
Nobody could with any serious constitutional sense equate, say, a Yorkshire and Humberside regional council with the Scottish parliament. The constant constitutional mess that we are being offered in exchange for our heritage and history is not going to satisfy anyone.
It is no accident that Labour's proposals fit well with the wishes of the European Commission. In the federalist lexicon, the nation state is seen as the source of many evils, from unemploy-ment to war. Whilst this dogma is unsurprising given the history of some parts of Europe, it is an ideology wholly unsuited to the United Kingdom, a country that has enjoyed hundreds of years of democracy, peace and tolerance under one national government.
The nation state is the strongest manifestation of the democratic will of the people. It is a moral concept, indissolubly tied to the emotional identity of the people, and is not an administrative convenience to suit Labour's apparent urge to bypass Westminster by every means possible.
Accordingly, if this change is inevitable, then the people of England deserve nothing less than equal treatment. And, the people of Britain deserve a constitutional settlement that is at least logical. Otherwise, it will unravel under the pressure of its own inconsistencies.
If each of the other nations of the United Kingdom is going to have its own parliament , then England's choice should be no less. If Labour truly believes that this is the proper future for the people of Scotland and Wales, their logic must mean the same for England. This means equal treatment in all respects. Not just financially, although we should have funding equality for England, Scotland and Wales. Nor just in Westminster representation - although we should have that equalised from the next election, not in fifteen years time as Labour propose.
The people of England deserve no less than the same choice as the peoples of Wales and Scotland last September: a referendum on whether they want a parliament of their own. In their own words, Labour should trust the people - in this case the people of England. An English parliament, on the same basis as the Scottish one, will be the minimum that the English people are likely to be satisfied with.
Anything less will lead to disaffection and discontent, to a belief that the English are being treated as second class citizens in their own land. If Labour wanted to bring about the dissolution of the United Kingdom, that disaffection would be the way to do it.