Is an Unrepresentative Parliament a necessary EVEL?
The Scots (specifically the Scottish Nationalists at Westminster) look to be about to “save the fox“. That raises yet more questions about Cameron’s piecemeal approach to a new “constitutional settlement”.
This arises from the unanswered question about what the UK Parliament at Westminster should be. Whilst I have often complained that I am unrepresented in Parliament, I none-the-less subscribe to the belief that a Parliament should be a representative body rather than merely a body of representatives.
The difference is important and possibly holds the key to the current “Westminster Question”.
The difference is important because decisions made by the UK parliament should be in the best interests of the UK – which is not necessarily the best interests of a temporary majority of the people of the Kingdom. Hence we have MPs to take such decisions – in the National Interest.
A body of representatives where each MP is primarily a representative of their constituency fails for a number of reasons.
- Each MP (other than rare independents) has been selected by their party – and therefore represents a subset of opinion within that party.
- The electorate in each constituency then has to choose between a number of candidates representing single sub-set of each party.
- The current electoral system then means that in an election with more than two candidates, the candidate (representing a subset of their party) with the biggest minority wins.
The “representative” is therefore unlikely to be that representative of their constituency. The body of representatives idea also invites salami slicing approaches to voting – such as EVEL (English Votes for English Laws).
Traditionally we have tried to overcome this problem by saying that MPs, once elected become part of a representative body in that – in total – all opinions are adequately represented.
In the old two-party days this may have worked in that different shades of opinion in the Conservative and Labour parties would gain representatives somewhere. So a south coast Labour voter might not have a “Socialist MP”, but none-the-less the chances were that somewhere a true “Socialist” would be elected (possibly in Glasgow or the North of England). Likewise Glaswegian Labour voters wanting a “Democratic Socialist MP” could be confident that somewhere in the country an MP to their liking would be elected. Thus the national balance was broadly representative and Parliament was a representative body.
But in a multi-party system this fudge no longer really works. In addition the South Coast Socialist writing to a Socialist MP “representing” a Glasgow constituency seeking support for a socialist standpoint would be politely referred to his own MP (irrespective of whether that MP was even a Labour MP!)
If the “representative body” argument really applies, an MP should be able to vote on any issue within the United Kingdom because their voice would be aggregated with all others to “create” a representative view of opinion within the United Kingdom. Thus a London MP should feel free to vote on matters concerning policing in Yorkshire, or a Scottish MP should feel free to vote on matters concerning, say fox-hunting, in England.
To challenge the ability to vote on any issue (because say Policing in London is devolved to the London Assembly, or fox-killing in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Parliament) challenges the idea that the Westminster Parliament is a representative body.
This problem cannot be totally solved where we have asymmetric devolution. Asymmetric devolution is not unknown:
- In the United States those areas that did not have “statehood” would be governed from the federal capital of Washington – with congressmen and senators from all parts of the USA voting.
- In Canada, those territories that were not recognised as Provinces would be governed by Ottawa – again by all federal representatives.
- In Australia, those territories that were not recognised as states would be governed by Canberra – again by all federal representatives.
In all the above cases, those parts of the nation that were centrally governed were were too small in population for feasible self-government and possibly “less democratically developed”. In the UK it is different! It is a majority of the nation that does not have the equivalent of “Statehood” – and most people in that majority area (i.e. the regions of England outside London) would, at first thought, be reluctant to view themselves as “less democratically developed”.
So, if a parliament is discussing a matter that is not symmetrically devolved surely all members should be entitled to take part and vote.
- In the US Congress when discussing a matter concerning say District Columbia, all members will take part.
- In the Federal Canadian Parliament when discussing a matter concerning say The North West Territories, all members will take part.
- In the Federal Australian Parliament when discussing a matter concerning say The Northern Territory, all members will take part.
It is quite likely that when such discussions are taking place, representatives from outside the area concerned will act with sensitivity towards the non-state area – for fear of the Federal Parliament being seen to be bullying the non-state area – but they will take part, they will not temporarily abdicate the Federal Parliament to the control of representatives from the area that does not have “statehood”.
For the Scottish Nationalists to seek to take part in and vote on Fox-hunting (in England and Wales) is entirely consistent – in fact I suspect that they will (in this case) represent my views far better than my MP (a Conservative elected with a minority of votes).
They form part of the representative body that is the United Kingdom Parliament. If the Conservatives do not like that they need to address the issue of achieving if not full devolution a more symmetrical devolution to all parts of the United Kingdom.
EVEL (English Votes for English laws) is a fudge and will only cause more problems.
- Even apparently “English” matters – such as the English Health Service – have Scottish ramifications due to the way that changes to funding the English NHS affect funding of the Scottish Parliament (which does not have full fiscal devolution).
- Some matters might be all UK, others “purely” English (EVEL), others English and Welsh (E&WVE&WL)
- It is proposed that the Speaker should rule on the applicability of individual measures – opening up the dangers of the speaker being accused of being partial and acting for or against the interests of part of the Kingdom.
- No account is taken of excluding London MPs from matters that are devolved to the London Assembly (Non-London, English Votes for Non-London English Laws – NLEVNLEL, NLE&WVNLE&WL etc.)
- No account is planned to be taken of excluding Manchester MPs from matters that are devolved to the shrunken “Northern Power House” – now more properly recognised as Greater Manchester. (Non-London & Non-Manchester English Votes for … it gets stupid!)
Until we have full devolution, we have to accept that the full UK Parliament will discuss and vote on all matters that are not devolved.