The question generally concentrates on the legislative branch of government, and in that narrow context, it is hard to argue with the claim that it is unfair that MPs from outside England can vote on issues such as health and education which are, in their own areas, devolved to another legislature. It’s made more complex by the different nature of the devolution settlements in the different parts of the UK, but the principle is quite clear.
The reverse problem applies, however, when it comes to the executive branch of government. This side receives a lot less attention, because here it is England which gains and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland which lose out. When the UK cabinet discusses the UK’s finances, or foreign affairs, or defence issues, the English ministers for health, education etc. can and do have a direct input to the discussions, whereas their Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish equivalents are shamelessly excluded. This is just as unfair as the problem with the legislature.
The problem with the simplistic responses which are being suggested by most is that they are overlooking the real cause of the problem, which is that the House of Commons and the Cabinet are trying to do different and incompatible things. The House of Commons is trying to be both a UK parliament and an English parliament, and the Cabinet is trying to be both a UK cabinet and an English cabinet.
English votes for English laws is a good slogan, and it’s hard to disagree. It might even be made to work, as long as the party which has a majority in the UK also has a majority in England. But it doesn’t solve the problem with the cabinet, and the idea that the interests and views of the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Ireland governments can ever be represented by the respective secretaries of state is complete nonsense. They seem to spend much of their time telling those other governments that they’re doing the wrong things.
It’s not often that I find myself in agreement with even part of what David Davis says, but in an article in the Sunday Times yesterday, he said that “we have started down a road that will almost certainly lead to an English parliament, an English first minister, and an English cabinet”. On that, I agree (although whether ‘England’ should be treated as a whole or as a number of regions is an open question. For anyone wanting to see a stable federal solution, ‘regionalisation’ is likely to be the preferred option, but it’s a matter for the English to decide for themselves.)
The real question is not what form the English legislature and executive take (they can keep their beloved Westminster for that, and simply elect members only from England) but what form the new federal structure should take. Whilst the reserved matters – largely defence and foreign affairs – are very important ones, the volume of legislation is hardly enormous. In their rush to cobble something (and we still don’t know what!) together to head off a yes vote, this is an area they haven’t even begun to think about.