Andrew Rosindell is Member of Parliament for Romford. He is also Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary group for St. George’s Day and Chairman of the Houses of Parliament branch of the Royal Society of St. George.
The No vote in the Scottish referendum has kept the Union together, for now. I fear however, that the issue has not gone away. We must act soon and take this opportunity to secure the future of the United Kingdom.
If we are bold and imaginative, I believe we may have a unique and exciting opportunity to put our nation on a stronger footing. The referendum campaign and subsequent result has opened the door to a much needed debate on England’s constitutional status, but any new settlement must be in the interests of all the component parts of the United Kingdom – and we should also remember the wider British family.
During the referendum campaign we heard a great deal about Scotland and the aspirations of the Scottish people. That’s fine, but now is the time for England to find its voice.
In September, we witnessed all kinds of promises being made to Scotland. Although unforeseen, these promises have led many within England to question the balance of devolution and have highlighted the flaw in our current system. As an Englishman, I for one was overjoyed by the news that our Scottish cousins were keen to stay as part of the Union, but we must now ask, at what cost to England? Many English people, with justification, regard the current arrangements as unfair.
This resentment lies almost solely as a result of the West Lothian Question. England is the only constituent part of the United Kingdom without any devolved powers and the only country to have constituency representatives from outside it voting on issues that affect it. This, on top of the fact the Barnett Formula gives people living north of the border much more public expenditure per head than in England. This has led to many people in England questioning the Union. These legitimate concerns cannot be ignored any longer.
The future, however, does show some promising signs.
The Prime Minister’s determination to finally address the existing discrepancies and give England some serious and much-needed attention is welcome. The Government has recently appointed William Hague to prepare draft proposals on how a reformed system would work. I hope he is bold; this is not a time for being timid. Our nation needs a new settlement that will last for centuries, not just one that will see us through the General Election. This is no time for a sticking plaster solution or a fudge.
The current system is simply not fair to England and I believe that the only way to redress this unfairness is to establish an English Parliament where English MPs vote on matters which relate to England, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already do. This will put the question of fairness to rest and give the English a parliament of equal standing to Scotland, reflecting English symbolism along with our ancient English traditions, culture and history. There can be no second best for the people of England.
So with parliaments in all four home nations of the United Kingdom, every MP should then have a dual role in being a United Kingdom MP for United Kingdom issues, but also one for their respective nations. So for instance, I as an English MP would serve in both the UK Parliament in Westminster and the English Parliament.
This would continue to make all MPs directly accountable to their electors and save the taxpayer having to fund the cost of a second set of representatives. We must try not to apply further, needless layers of bureaucracy when developing such a project but it has to apply equally throughout the Kingdom. The same dual role should apply to Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh MPs.
As to where an English Parliament would be located, I am of the view that as London is the capital of England it should be in London. Where it cannot be is within the Palace of Westminster; the City of London or somewhere like Somerset House are possible locations. The Palace of Westminster must remain the parliament for all British people, as it has done for centuries, representing the whole of the country. We must never allow the House of Commons to be seen as effectively the English Parliament. That will eventually lead to the end of the Union of the parliaments altogether, as it will gradually be assumed to be more of an English Parliament than a British one.
The UK Parliament would deal with topics that had an overall British remit, such as Defence, Foreign Affairs, National Intelligence and Security, Sterling, Border Controls and so on. If that were to be the case, there would no longer be any argument against some form of representation from our Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and indeed British citizens living abroad, thus making it fully representative of all Britons. This constitutional and parliamentary reform should be about strengthening the entire scope of our nation and its peoples, in every corner of Her Majesty’s realm – so if we’re going to do this, we must do it properly.
As English patriots we have to ensure that this matter does not fall by the wayside yet again. This must be a central point within the Conservative Party’s manifesto ahead of the 2015 General Election and I shall lobby to ensure this is the case.
The English people have long supported our Union, but who can deny that the time has well and truly come for them to receive equal treatment within it?