Cameron & Clarke: Cobbled
together proposals for English
Votes for English Laws which
fob English Voters off
with an act of appeasement

Some might think that the man who once opined “I look forward to the day when the Westminster Parliament is just a council chamber in Europe,” was the least appropriate person to be put in charge of the Conservative party’s reforms to our Constitution. Ken Clarke’s proposals on English Votes for English Laws merely amount to rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic he so clearly despises.

Under this scheme English MPs are to be left as second-class members of our Parliament, able to amend legislation which affects solely English voters but unable, in the face of a determined government able to summon up a sackful of votes for Scotland, to ensure the passage into law of those amendments.

Scotland, on the other hand, because of the constitutional convention that has come into being since devolution, can vote entirely as it pleases on its legislation and know that it will not be voted down by Westminster. Its legislators have de facto primacy.

Not so under the Clarke plan. His is the classic act of appeasement, not unexpected when one considers his enthusiasm for propitiation of the EU’s relentless power-grabs when he was a Cabinet Minister. We in England are to be thrown a bone to gnaw on whilst the various petty Parliaments have, in their own affairs, plenipotentiary powers.

A determined and ideologically hide-bound government will not feel inhibited from voting down amendments made by English MPs to this or that clause of a bill. And the possibility of a serious constitutional clash is actually enhanced by this proposal if such a government used its power in Scotland to get its way.

We do not, however, need a separate Parliament. We already have far too many legislators and we need another lot of greedy pigs ordering us around like a hole in the head. Westminster is an institution which can be made to evolve to meet changed constitutional circumstances with imagination and if the will to give new arrangements real moral authority is deployed.

Thus Malcolm Rifkind’s proposal for an English Grand Committee, being an assembly of all the MPs of England, had the advantage of being a body distinctively English in character with distinctive power to signify its approval of each Bill
as a whole. Such would indeed have the requisite moral authority that would ensure that a constitutional convention that the Bill, as it left the Grand Committee, would not be voted down at third reading would be respected.

Needless to say Cameron, afraid of grasping the nettle, has already indicated his support for these proposals. They will do nothing to get him off the hook for this is a deeply unsatisfactory piece of irresolution which will do nothing properly to address the English democratic deficit that has been occasioned by devolution and will do nothing whatever to defuse the vocal claque which aspires to the nonsense of an English Parliament.

Cameron’s willingness not to grasp the nettle bodes ill for hopes that in the matter of Europe he might provide strong leadership. Instead he has opted to take a way out which proffers the line of lest resistance which can then be spun utterly falsely as a resolution of the ‘West Lothian Question’. This is not such a resolution and is no more than a typical politician’s fudge.

The people of England will not be fooled by this and they will know only too well that when push comes to shove the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish tail will still be able to wag the dog, vigourously if it so chooses. Because it will not work properly it makes even worse disaster of an English Parliament more rather than less likely, just as devolution was always going to make independence more rather than less likely.

UPDATE: Fraser Nelson at The Coffee House has this, which reminds us that there has been a significant retreat since 2001 on the Tory position. As I say, appeasement rules the day.