Back of a fag packet constitutional solution

by Charlie_East_West on September 24, 2014

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In the aftermath of the momentous Scottish independence referendum, we now have a constitutional dogs dinner. David Cameron is a lucky politician. This time last week he was staring down the barrel of overseeing the break up of Britain on his watch. Now, he is throwing down a challenge to Labour to answer the old chestnut of the West Lothian question.

Labour have been completely outflanked on this issue. They are currently giving off the impression of playing ostrich politics. But, they need to get their heads out of the sand bloody quickly. Already the Tories and right wing media are portraying Labour as an “Anti-English” party who are hell bent on protecting the West Lothian question to shore up their own parliamentary numbers at Westminster.

But, the West Lothian question does need answered. As does the function and form of devolved powers for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. As does the merits or otherwise of an English Parliament and also federalism. It is a bloody mess. We currently have the great and not so good of our political elite grappling around for back of a fag packet constitutional solutions. We are currently witnessing all three major parties proposing different solutions to what appears to be an unsolvable constitutional puzzle. All of this muddle and confusion has simply allowed UKIP to open up another campaigning flank – both on the need to address the West Lothian Question and also a need for an English Parliament. It is a story that will run and run until the General Election. It may be the issue that costs Labour the election.

But, through all of this constitutional discombobulation, there may be a workable solution – at least in my own befuddled little brain. I therefore suggest the following constitutional sketch outline (back of a fag packet) recommendation:

i) Give the Parliaments in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland the same powers.
ii) Create a new English Parliament in the House of Lords (with the same devolved powers as the other parliaments) but with the additional caveat of locked in and allocated region-by-region parliamentary time.
iii) The London Assembly carries on its current format.
iv) Keep the House of Commons and English Parliament completely autonomous and separate from each other. A second elected chamber (English Parliament) where the elected representatives conduct English debates and legislation and an agreed amount of time is allocated to English regional issues (federalism-lite).

This new constitutional framework has its flaws, but it works better than the current one. It is more democratic. The West Lothian question is answered once and for all as the House of Commons MPs become sole and exclusive representatives required to vote only on issues that are not devolved out to the other parliaments.

Having a hybrid English Parliament/Regional Assembly in the House of Lords kills two birds with one stone – it provides an already workable location that would save a fortune by preventing the outsourcing new parliaments elsewhere and also present a viable and timely opportunity for the antiquated and undemocratic shambles of the House of Lords to be scrapped and replaced with a fully elected second chamber (English Parliament).

There. Done. Our constitutional crisis is solved. We can all go to the pub now. A more democratic and balanced solution that splits autonomy between the House of Commons, devolved parliaments, a version of federalism-lite whilst addressing the West Lothian question.

It is shame that this will never happen. No one will agree to it. Too many squabbles. Too many conflicting vested interests and not enough collective willpower.

I am sure that our elected elite will come up with their own back of a fag packet constitutional solution. A solution that will please a few (them) and annoy the most (us).

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ceri September 25, 2014 at 8:13 am

I agree that a federal UK with an English parliament is the way to go. David Melding AM (Con, S Wales Central) wrote a thoughtful extended essay on this a few years ago. I often think it is the Welsh who care most about Britain as multi-national nation, rather than just a Greater England or ‘the Union’.
By the way, I love the map! I am just reading Norman Davies’ Vanished Kingdoms and he would love to see Cornwall, Rheged and Mercia return.

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Eddie Kaye September 25, 2014 at 11:25 am

Better idea than some I have seen Charlie, I remain sceptical as to the necessity for an ‘English’ Parliament however. My chief caveats for any solution must be:-

1) The MPs in Westminster must have the same voting rights – the vote cast in a Scottish, Welsh or Norther Irish constiuency should not be devalued by so-called ‘English Votes for English Legislation’.
2) The legislative pat through Parliament must maintain the checks and balances it has now. Yes, the Lords needs reforming, but replacing it with an English Parliament would have its drawbacks. Is the UK in effect to become a unicameral legislature – with just the Commons.
3) Could an elected English chamber scrutinising England only legislation create some kind of legislative deadlock?

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Demotivatrix September 25, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Yep, while I think the House of Lords needs reforming, I do think we need an external body of people with expertise in various areas to provide oversight on the legislation through the Commons. Having an English Parliament would also mean we’d probably end up with a “London Question”, where they’re discussing matters that have been devolved to the Mayor and the Assembly in London but not elsewhere. And while making use of the Lords’ space is attractive from a financial point of view, it perpetuates the “Westminster Bubble” problem.

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John Stone September 26, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Would tend to include Devon with Cornwall, but otherwise this looks great.

Agree Labour needs to look at this as an opportunity; why do they always look like a rabbit in the headlights?

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