English bodies may push for powers

Nick Clegg has said the next few years will see a 'rewiring' of the British constitution, with power being passed from Westminster to the nations and regions. Picture: TSPL
Nick Clegg has said the next few years will see a 'rewiring' of the British constitution, with power being passed from Westminster to the nations and regions. Picture: TSPL
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With a package of extra powers set to be granted to Holyrood, a fresh constitutional battleground is set to open in England with cities and councils demanding greater freedom from Whitehall.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said the next few years will see a “rewiring” of the British constitution, with power being passed from Westminster to the nations and regions.

Some MPs and commentators believe the devolution processes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland now make it necessary for England to have its own parliament.

Others want a greater degree of regional autonomy, to help create economic rivals to London and the South East.

Graham Allen, Labour chairman of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, has argued in favour of local councils being given far greater freedom.

England is the “last country in the Empire to be ruled from Whitehall” and is the “most over-centralised country in Western Europe”, he said.

He added: “I would like to see England emerging from this with the same level of devolution that Scotland has.”

But Tory former Cabinet minister John Redwood said there was “no sign of huge pent-up demands for more powerful elected local government” and what English voters wanted was their own parliament.

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Calls for an English parliament have largely been motivated by the feeling of unfairness over the “West Lothian question” - the power of Scottish MPs at Westminster to vote on matters which do not affect their constituents.

Writing on his blog, Mr Redwood said: “Anything that Scotland wants England should be given as well. I welcome the new spirit in Scotland for an equal partnership.

“That means an English parliament for us. That means fair burden-sharing when it comes to taxes and benefits from the Union. We must make sure this time England’s voice is heard. England expects ...

“Scotland wants to have the government they voted for. In the Scottish Parliament for devolved matters they do. England voted Conservative in 2010 but got a coalition Government.

“It’s high time England also got the government it voted for, at least for all devolved matters.”

Mr Clegg has indicated that greater devolution to Scotland could force changes in Westminster to address the West Lothian question.

“It’s just simply not fair to say, ‘okay we have a more devolved set of nations that makes up the United Kingdom’ but somehow that new devolution settlement isn’t reflected in any way in changes in Westminster.

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“That doesn’t make any sense. You have to make changes in Westminster as well,” he said.

Mr Clegg’s Liberal Democrats have promised to offer “devolution on demand” in England to councils, or groups of authorities working together, potentially creating institutions such as a Cornish Assembly.

The Local Government Association has called for councils to be “set free from the grip of Whitehall” and allowed to raise and spend money in the way that will best serve their communities.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, along with the leaders of the “core cities” group, have called for greater financial freedoms for their cities.

They have called for the devolution of property tax revenue streams - including council tax, stamp duty, land tax and business rates - with the ability to reform those taxes.

But recent initiatives to change the way democracy works at local levels have met with little enthusiasm from voters.

In 2012, voters in nine cities rejected having a directly-elected mayor, with only Bristol backing the change.

In 2004, the north east of England voted overwhelmingly against setting up a regional elected assembly, effectively killing off plans to establish a series of the devolved bodies across the country.