The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Michael Fabricant Headshot

An English Parliament... And Not in London Either

Posted: Updated:

I was never one of those people convinced by the arguments for an English Parliament, but the Scottish Referendum has changed my mind. There should be one, and oh, it really ought to be in Lichfield - or not, in any event, in Westminster.

The Act of Union has been amended more in the past 14 years than it has in all its 307 year history. Devolution in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has changed decision making across the Union without regard for the sleeping giant of the United Kingdom - England. Back in August last year, I advocated in an article that the time has come for a New Act of Union, giving not only parity to nations of the UK, but stopping the drip-drip-drip effect of devolution that is not only debilitating to our constitution, but a hindrance to progress in policy. Over recent years it has become apparent that policy delivery in some areas has fallen behind because of continuing obsession by the political class over the constitution.

One of the strengths of the United Kingdom is the social and cultural union that exists without the need for politics to bind it together. But this has lead to the fiscal politics of the Barnett Formula; an outmoded calculation of subsidies between the nations. It is only a rare grumble from some in England that fiscal transfers take place in the UK from the wealthier parts to the poorer giving extra benefits to Scotland through the increasingly antiquated formula.

In recent weeks, the government has taken forward most of the considerations of the Silk Commission in Wales, giving England's most porous economic border beneficial taxation powers that don't exist in England. Northern Ireland already has more competitive corporation tax and air passenger duty than anywhere in England.

In less than 300 days' time, 300 years political union could be ended. I sincerely hope that it isn't, and that we have the common sense to evolve as a United Kingdom.

So why the need for an English Parliament?

Firstly, many of the Departments of State in Whitehall are no longer British institutions. They're English only. The Departments for Education, for Health, for Communities and Local Government, much of Environment, and even Business and Industry all make decisions just for England, with our Celtic cousins holding the levers of power themselves. Their own ministers and government departments implement their own policies in those departmental areas. So I believe that Whitehall Departments should be renamed as English Departments and held accountable to an English Parliament, creating policy unashamedly for the English and their needs.

Secondly, if the Mackay Commission's recommendations on the West Lothian Question were taken forward and we do end up with English votes for English MPs, this will solve only part of the question. It is still difficult to envisage how it would improve policy making on English only issues. Why can Wales and Scotland have the ability to vary income tax, whilst still receiving block grants from England?

But there is something else important about this proposal. The English Parliament should be in Lichfield for a reason.

Lichfield is at the very centre of England and, more importantly, is outside of London and London-centric-thinking. One of the weaknesses of the United Kingdom is that it is a highly centralised country. London is a truly global city; moving English-only decision making away from London would remove very little from that city, but it would open up, with fresh eyes, the way the nation looks at itself. The BBC has done just that with its creation of Media City in Salford, and increasingly businesses are looking at cities like Birmingham and Manchester to relocate. So why not English politics too?

The United Kingdom would become quasi-federal as a result, but would be fairer, stronger, and more enduring.

Decisions that need to be made together like our national finances, our transport programme, our welfare provisions, our diplomatic activities, and our national defence can still all be undertaken as at present by the Parliament in Westminster. But there is clearly a need for the English voice to be heard on other affairs of State. The Scottish referendum will increase the feeling of English nationalism and rather than ignore it and allow animosity to develop, let's look towards the practical.

I don't doubt that there is not the same strength of feeling towards devolution in England as there is in Wales and Scotland, however the very fact that the Celtic nations have taken the route of devolution, and that it has advanced as far as it has, inevitably drives England in the same direction. That is not something to be feared - it is to be built on.

To quote one of our Greatest Britons on England, "There is a forgotten, nay almost forbidden word, which means more to me than any other. That word is England".

In the context of devolution, Winston Churchill probably got it right.

Around the Web

www.parliament.uk Home page - UK Parliament

Parliament of the United Kingdom - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Syria crisis: Cameron loses Commons vote on Syria action - BBC.com

U.K. Parliament Rejects Syria Action - WSJ.com

The English question will need an answer

UK parliament to rent out function rooms in fundraising drive