To: Justice for England
(via email) 25 July 2007
From: Lai-Sze Lai
Constitutional Settlement Division
Ministry of Justice.
Justice for England – on the 300th Anniversary of the British Union
Thank you for the presentation of a petition for an English Parliament.
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, are components of the United Kingdom (UK), each with their own histories and distinct national identities, as well as different administrative structures, size and population. As a result, the Government believes that different approaches and solutions are appropriate to address the differences that exist between the components that comprise the UK.
The highest priority was given to the creation of a parliament in Scotland, and a national assembly in Wales, since the demand for decentralisation in these countries was long-standing. Indeed, proposals to create similar institutions were enacted in the late 1970’s, but failed to secure the necessary majorities in referendums.
The existing devolution settlement introduced in 1997/98 was designed to meet varying needs, so that local decisions could be made to respond to local problems. This has been the success of devolution, which can be seen in the variety of policy such as Health and Education, which are implemented across England, Wales and Scotland.
The Barnett Formula, which you raised in your letter, provides the Devolved Administrations with a population based share of comparable increases in spending for UK Government departments and reflects long standing conventions that have governed funding for Scotland and Wales under successive administrations. This block grant and how it is spent is then decided by the Devolved Administrations.
Nonetheless, the UK Parliament remains sovereign, and retains the authority to legislate on any issues, devolved or otherwise. However, the UK Government works in accordance with the convention that it will not normally legislate with regards to devolved matters except with the agreement of the Devolved Administrations.
On the issue of voting rights of Scottish MPs, a fundamental principle of the UK Parliament is that all MPs have equal rights. This means that each MP can vote on any matter brought before them, whether they represent English, Scottish or any other constituencies.
It should be noted that the number of MPs representing Scottish constituencies in Westminster have been reduced, from 72 to 59 in the General Election of May 2005. Additionally, the Boundary Commission for Wales keeps the parliamentary constituencies within Wales under continual review. Looking at Scotland in particular, prior to devolution, there were special statutory provisions which stipulated a minimum of Scottish seats, designed to protect Scottish interests.
The Government is against discrimination of any kind and therefore will not deliberate on any proposal that would prevent anyone born in Scotland becoming a Member of Parliament within the UK.
You may also wish to note that the Government has asked Parliament to consider establishing regional select committees. Establishment of select committees is a matter for Parliament, not Government, so we look forward to proposals coming forward from Parliament.
In addition, the Communities and Local Government Select Committee recommended the establishment of regional select committees (Is there a future for regional government? Fourth Report of Session 2006-7, HC352-I). They highlighted the potential benefits, including effective examination of the work of regional bodies and calling Ministers to account. The Government agrees with that analysis.
I hope this addresses your concerns.
Constitutional Settlement Division
Err, no it doesn't, actually..
In the immortal words of the great John Patrick McEnroe...Answer the question, jerk!.