How to keep England under Labour's thumb

THE English, who comprise 85% of the UK's population, will never be trusted to look after their own affairs while Tony Blair remains in Downing Street.

By Graham Dines

THE English, who comprise 85% of the UK's population, will never be trusted to look after their own affairs while Tony Blair remains in Downing Street.

That's the gist of the Prime Minister's assertion this week that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs should be allowed to continue voting on England-only issues when their constituents are not affected.

His belief that it would create “two classes of MP” seems more to do with the fact that Labour's parliamentary majority depends on its loyalist Scotland and Wales MPs turning up to vote, even if they have no interest whatsoever in the proposed legislation that is being debated.


You may also want to watch:


During his bi-annual grilling by the Commons Liaison Committee this week, it was pointed out to Mr Blair that all MPs would have a vote on the proposed smoking ban in England, even though Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had already made their own decisions.

Committee chairman Alan Williams, Father of the House and a Labour opponent of devolution, accused ministers of failing to address the issue.

Most Read

Back shot a glib Mr Blair: “I'm not failing to address it. I don't agree. English MPs still remain in overwhelming majority.”

He could have added that most of them are pesky Tories and Liberal Democrats who oppose his policies, but he probably thought better of it.

“I think if you try to create two classes of MPs, you will get yourselves in all sorts of trouble and you will find it very hard to distinguish between those things that are purely English, purely Scottish and so on.

“We have got a UK Parliament. In the end I totally understand why people think it's a good idea from other political parties but in the end, if you try to divide MPs up into two categories and then you have to define the legislation they are able to vote on, you will find it very hard.

“I doubt if a government is going to introduce this.”

I wouldn't bet on it, Prime Minister. The Tories aren't going to let it go.

Oliver Heald, the Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional affairs Oliver Heald, said: “The Prime minister seems to have lost his sense of equity and fair play.

“Scots accept England should be treated equally with Scotland; why won't the Prime Minister?

“In ruling out English votes for English laws, he is thinking of the Labour Party's interests rather than the interests of the United Kingdom.”

The Scottish National Party's constitutional affairs spokesman Pete Wishart agreed. “English MPs have every right to feel aggrieved that the Government's lobby loyalists from north of the border will determine controversial English outcomes on legislation.”

Even the Government's much loved regional assemblies would not be the answer. London and the eight English regions will never be given the same powers as the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assemblies and it's no use apologists for the Government, such as Peter Facey, director of the New Politics Network think tank, trying to say they will.

“The answer is not necessarily England-only votes in the Commons or an English Parliament but to put decision-making at a level much closer to the people,” says Mr Facey.

Let's take the example of the smoking ban. The East of England Regional Assembly, if it ever existed in a democratically elected form, would not have been given the power to vote on a ban smoking across the six counties.

Indeed, it would be a nonsense if the East assembly voted yes to a ban and the South East voted no. Quite properly, the decision rests with MPs at Westminster - and as devolution gave Scotland and Wales the say on a smoking ban in their own back yards without any input from England's MP, it is only right that the England's MPs, sitting as a Grand Committee, should make the decision for the majority part of the UK.

Perhaps the fairest form of devolution is to maintain the Commons as an overarching federal body deciding on foreign and defence policy, European Union directives, taxation and revenue matters, trade and industry and other UK-wide issues, with England's MPs dealing with health, education, and transport policies which affect their constituents.

However, not even the Tories want this, because it could lead to the break-up of the union, but it is line with the thinking of the fledgling English Democrats' Party.

I'm reminded of a headline I commented on a few years back: “Will England be the first country to leave the UK?”

Nonsense you might say. But if too many more Scottish MPs are appointed to head departments of state which only govern England - John Reid was at one time Health Secretary and Alistair Darling remains Transport Secretary - even the chattering classes might start objecting.

THE machinations of the European Commission never cease amazing UK Independence Party Euro MP for the East of England. He's branded the reappointment of Franz-Herman Bruner as Director General of the EU's fraud investigation unit, OLAF, as an: “absolute disgrace.”

“The decision says everything that anybody needs to know about how serious the European Union is about reform. It also demonstrates the utter pointlessness of the European Parliament and its committee system.

“All the candidates for the post gave presentations before the Budgetary Control Committee, of which I am a member. We carefully questioned the candidates and, when the vote was held, we selected an infinitely superior candidate from Sweden. Now we find that the whole time consuming process was a meaningless charade.”

Mr Titford said Herr Bruner supported action against journalists who exposed EU fraud. “He has also been criticised both by politicians and his own supervisory board. The Commission wanted Bruner from the start and that is exactly what it got. So much for democracy.”

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“She endured the saddest of human cruelties with the greatest of grace. By her steadfast determination, she helped to grind away falsehoods and ignorance that had for too long been used to divide our society” - President George Bush Snr, paying tribute at the funeral of Coretta Scott King, widow of the assassinated Martin Luther King.

.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter