View from the constituency. By John Glen MP for Salisbury
A month after the historic Scottish referendum vote, I was appointed to the No.10 Policy Board, with the constitutional affairs brief.
Much of my time in London has been taken up by considering the next steps towards the promised devolution. But my postbag bulged with comments from constituents who feel, as I do, there needs to be a settlement that does not just suit the Scots, but is fair for the whole UK.
I am giving a great deal of thought to English Votes for English Laws. Even though details can be technical, the underlying principle is extremely simple – English MPs should have sole final discretion over English legislation.
The devolution debate has also – rightly – raised questions about how money is allocated right across the UK and why differences exist. In the next Parliament, we need a Fair Funding Commission which looks at spending across all government departments over all the regions.
English devolution is in the historic spirit of the union. Part of the UK’s strength is that its nations can learn from each other, while being tied in our history and in our shared future. The impetus for devolution is, and should be, strengthening and preserving the union. Failing to address the West Lothian question, and the wider questions of regional spending, could compromise the future of the union, as English grievances remain unaddressed.
It is easy to identify some mis-steps. One is evident in the early calls for a fully federal United Kingdom. The creation of an English Assembly would inevitably bring the prospect of Westminster becoming a hollowed-out federal senate. This would represent a Pyrrhic victory, dividing up the very union that the Scottish people voted to preserve.
Another is the call for regional assemblies. We mustn’t forget the decisive way in which regional assemblies were rejected by local people under Labour. Often the concern is that the interests and needs of rural communities are overlooked by an authority in a metropolitan area – and regional assemblies do little to address this.
The other major weakness of the proposals is that our constituents don’t want to see the cost of politics increase, or more of us! It will do no good to introduce a federal senate or another layer of local government.
I think English Votes for English Laws needs to hold tightly to the principle of sole final discretion for English MPs, accompanied by a new Fair Funding Commission to address the reasonable protests of unfair spending disparities across the UK.
None of these proposals breaks the party leaders’ commitments to Scotland. The questions of Scottish and English devolution must proceed together, as we deliberate about the future of our United Kingdom.