Questions sent, September 21st:During yesterday's conference speech by Nick Clegg he talked about abandoning your no tuition fee policy because of hard financial times...
HOWEVER, he talked very generally about where the policy would impact. For example, he talked about the need to act responsibly for the sake of the British people etc...
Am I right in thinking that he was only talking about tutition fees in England? (As I understand it, education is entirely devolved, apart from in England, obviously).
So if it is only about England that he is talking why did he never once mention England by name?
As the LibDems were supposed to be the party of honesty - how can Clegg do exactly the same as Brown and Cameron when talking about devolved issues - ie give the impression that he is talking about a British-wide policy when in actual fact he is only referring to policy in England
Also, I notice you have official Scottish LibDems and Welsh LibDems websites and organisations - but where are the English LibDems?
Two questions - I would appreciate an honest and unspun reply to both.
Answer received November 25th: Many thanks for your email to Nick Clegg MP. Nick has asked me to contact you on his behalf and I apologise for the delay in responding. I hope you will understand that, due to the sheer volume of correspondence that Nick has been receiving, it can take some time for us to reply.
Liberal Democrats recognise that the advent of devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland poses difficult questions for the governance of England within the Union. Solutions, however, are in many ways equally problematic. The ‘English votes for English laws’ solution is extremely complicated – partially because the Speaker would have to decide whether issues were England only; England and Wales; Great Britain; England, Wales and Northern Ireland; or UK-wide. 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, this is by no means a simple question. More fundamentally, in situations where English MPs had a majority of one political colour and the House of Commons as a whole another, it would mean that the government’s writ would not run over most of its legislative programme. An English Parliament would address some of these points, and we would not necessarily rule it out. However, it does beg the question of why we should wish to create a new level of government covering nearly 85% of the population. This might be a logical response, but it does not meaningfully move power closer to the people, which is the ultimate point of devolution. Furthermore, given the different levels of powers allocated to the different devolved assemblies, inconsistencies would still remain. We believe this question should be a matter for our proposed Constitutional Convention.
Our own party structure has always had a high degree of autonomy for regional and local parties, before and after devolution. We believe issues should be decided at the most appropriate level close to our constituents. I hope you’ll understand that, due to the nature of the current devolution settlement, it can be a little difficult to avoid moving from a devolved issue (e.g. education) to a UK-wide one (e.g. taxation policy) at the moment – but Nick certainly didn’t intend to cause confusion and I do apologise if you were irritated by it.
Finally, with respect to finance – as the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland have devolved bloc grants, I hope you’ll understand that Nick can’t generally lay down Lib Dem policy on matters like tuition fees in Scotland. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the level of bloc grant in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is automatically linked to total ‘English’ spending, so reductions in spending south of the border will translate into an equivalent reduction in the devolved nations.
Thank you once again for emailing. Once again, I’m very sorry for the delay in replying to you.
Office of Nick Clegg MP