An answer or adding to the confusion?

Tony’s Blair’s uneveness and spasmodic nature of constitutional reform left it incomplete. Gordon Brown has stated his intention to carry on with the reforms but continues, as Blair did, to assiduously avoid answering the West Lothian question. The Conservatives seem to be toying with the idea of an English Grand Committee as an answer and Iain Dale is keen for it to be considered. However, Jack Straw argues that it is unworkable in practical terms. Straw points out similar notions have been floated twice before, Gladstone tried to include it in the Irish Home Rule proposals before concluding it couldn’t work and Wilson tried to exclude Ulster MP’s from some votes after parliamentary defeats in the 1960’s (which the Tories then opposed). However, while the Conservatives may not have found the answer at least they are not ignoring the question.

  • When the third Home Rule Bill was being put together, Winston Churchill, as a member of the Cabinet committee, put up a paper (21 Feb 1911) proposing a federal system for the whole UK. This would have divided the United Kingdom into ten jurisdictions, each with a legislature and administration [Alan O’Day, Irish Home Rule, page 243]. It was Augustine Birrell who shot that one down.

    Who goes around, comes around. This effort, first from Rifkind and now Cameron, is no more than another ballon d’essai.

    We are witnessing the decline and fall of the West Saxon/Norman empire, however.

  • dewi

    If you want a consitutional nightmare imagine a Labour goverment with a Tory majority in England under the Tories’ prposals.Apart from obvious independence all round English parliament only sensible suggestion.

    P.S. Malcolm – finished Ferriter – little too kind to Dev weak on post Ww2 Unionism but otherwise very good.

  • England currently has 529 constituencies, Scotland 59, Wales 40 and Northern Ireland 18.

    In Scotland the Conservatives have 1 MP, and in Wales 3. I think that means there are 194 Conservative MPs representing English seats.

    That may be the rationale (apart from sucking up to the Campaign for an English Parliament fringe). It still doesn’t deliver a Tory majority in England or in the UK. It does encourage English regionalism: why should the LibDem/radical south-west, or the Labour northern industrial belt tolerate government by and for the rural/suburban Tory heartland? Therefore expect this proposal to die quietly at some point in the electoral cycle.

    Meanwhile, real democrats might start to wonder why England alone has no truck with PR. Just a thought.

    dewi @ 06:12 PM:
    Congratulations on making it through 750+ pages of Ferriter. I’d like to believe he was too soft on Dev, but I believe that old soul is coming up for re-appraisal. Over the last decade, he suffered badly at the hands of:
    * Tim Pat Coogan’s 1993 biography, and
    * Neil Jordan/Alan Rickman,
    so the balance got tilted, probably unfairly.

    Four of the five events that make de Valera are, surely, the Oath, the Economic War, the re-written Constitution, and Neutrality. On all of which issues de Valera effectively won.

    So, I’m currently trying to make it, at the second attempt, through John P. Duggan’s shoddy Herr Hempel at the Irish Legation, as a counterbalance to Brian Girvin’s far better-written The Emergency. In his conclusion Girvin ponders:
    It is interesting to ask what would have happened if de Valera had retired in 1945 rather than 1959. Personality is important, and de Valera’s continuing leadership after the war extended many of the negative and illiberal features of irish society. Notwithstanding this, these features were also embedded in the society and a different leader would possibly have behaved much the same. Fine Gael was largely moribund for much of this period, often outdoing Fianna Fáil in presenting itself as the authentic voice of catholic Ireland. Likewise, Clann na Poblachta … was simply Fianna Fáil mark two … Nor did the Labour Party give much of a lead. Broken by the anti-communist split in 1944, it remained a conservative force in Irish politics until the late 1960s.

    Realistic, but thoroughly depressing stuff, and totally irrelevant to this thread. Perhaps, both with respect to Ireland both in the pre-Tiger days and now, as well as the business of English constitutionalism, our little archipelago doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. We may be sweating on how things are in Glockamora, but, sure as hell, it don’t concern them in Pocatello, Idaho!

  • Dewi

    “Four of the five events that make de Valera are, surely, the Oath, the Economic War, the re-written Constitution, and Neutrality. On all of which issues de Valera effectively won. ”

    Thank the Lord I’ve read the other books u mention. As far as I’m concerned Ireland, sorry De Valera, lost on three of the four with neutrality post Pearl Harbour questionable……Lemass the bloke though – really need a good biography of him…anything you can recommend ?

    On the thread – it’s Murphy’s Law – as soon as Tories ask for English laws for English MPS you’ll get UK majority and England majority different…….and that could be really dangerous.

  • páid

    “We are witnessing the decline and fall of the West Saxon/Norman empire, however.”

    I’ll say Amen to that, with a tear for the Cumbrians, who didn’t make it.

    And look forward to genuine humorous friendship between the peoples of this archipelago.

  • Garibaldy


    So Dev should have started a civil war by allying with Britain then? Cause that’s what entering WWII meant, and that’s what would have happened. And who knows, maybe the Blueshirts might have come out of it as a fascist government.

  • dewi

    On stupid blackberry so can’t see peoples names – but whoever – long time ago but since so many Irish fought and died in Ww2 dev lost a chance for reunification IMHO

  • Garibaldy

    No chance for reunification despite the offer. WWI all over again – promises to both sides that can’t be kept. And again, civil war.

  • There is no way, in this thread, that I’m into the pros-and-cons of 1940-1: that way madness lies.

    Dewi @ 10:26 PM:
    I’m trying to think of anything better than Paul Bew and Henry Patterson Seán Lemass and the Making of Modern Ireland 1945-66 (Gill and Macmillan, 1982), which is much broader than just considering the man. There was a short biography by Brian Farrell in the Gill’s Irish Lives series, which I thought was out-of-print, but seems still to be on the Amazon site.

    Lemass had vision and ability, and was also lucky/wise to have the services of T.K.Whitaker (RTE’s Irishman of the 20th Century; architect of the Programme for Economic Expansion and of the rapprochement with O’Neill, via O’Neill’s private secretary, James Malley). I can still picture Lemass on the Front Bench in the 1960s (he was Taoiseach as I was going through TCD), brooding and saturnine. When I saw Brando as the Godfather, I recognised a fatter-faced version of Lemass.

    Meanwhile, back to Fair Deal‘s original posting:
    However, while the Conservatives may not have found the answer at least they are not ignoring the question.
    I’m not entirely sure that we have defined that “question”.

  • Garibaldy

    I had thought there was a recent biography of Lemass, but can’t find anything on the BL catalouge more recent than John Horgan’s Sean Lemass the Enigmatic Patriot. I think it is fairly well regarded.

    Henry Patterson also dug up a lot of speeches he had given round the country of the fourth green field variety for his inaugural lecture to say that he wasn’t as modern as people like to think. It was published as an article, though can’t remember where.

  • dewi

    Strangely enough Malcolm queing at TCD for Book of Kells at very minute…..

  • dewi

    Ain’t got the numbers on me but Tories beat Labour in England on popular vote last time. Can understand resentment but logical response not some half baked differential voting but an English Parliament.

    P.S. Thanks for Lemass advice.
    PPS B of K mint…sole source of blue pigment a mine in North East Afghanistan….logistics ?
    PPPS Someone’s plonked a big huge knitting needle in Dublin Town centre – what’s that about ?

  • dewi @ 12:07 PM:

    Ah, Kelly’s book (as all those American tourists used to ask): TCD’s biggest asset. I was over last year for a reunion, with a briefing on how much the College makes out of it.

    As you say, the obvious source of the lapis lazuli is the Kokcha Valley (though there is an alternative source in the Chilean Andes, but that would presuppose St Brendan went even further … ). And only earlier this week we had some dingbat arguing those were the “Dark Ages”.

    There’s a useful Q&A briefing on the English Grand Committee idea on Nick Robinson’s blog ( ).

    Take the idea further. Why can’t we have an updated Council of the North? Only MPs from north of the Trent allowed in: make everyone realise that Notts County is a proper northern club, but Forest are soft southerners.

    And don’t mock the Spike, An Túr Solais, the Stiffy by the Liffey. They had something better before the boyos took a dislike (in 1966) to its predecessor. And RTÉ justified itself by playing Neil Young’s The Needle and the Damage Done to celebrate its inauguration.

  • dewi

    That’s wonderful Malcolm – I’m just thinking about that monk trudging over the Khyber Pass and meeting the miners (Cornish of course!) :

    “Sorry lads – slightly wrong shade… JIT delivery week Wednesday Ok with you ?”

    On topic – we’ll have Rheged back in any settlement if that helps….

    Enterprise quite good service BTW

  • dewi @ 01:25 PM:

    As far as I’m concerned, anything that takes the Penrith constituency off the map is a Labour gain. You’ll have to speak nicely to Mr Salmond to see if he’ll let you have the Galwyddel bit, though.

  • Brian Walker

    Just to try to keep it in C21.. And we might add, it might mean the reduction of NI Westminster seats back to 12.

    Has Malcolm Rifkind found the key to the English Question?

    Sir Malcolm Rifkind claims he has found an East Lothian Answer to the West Lothian Question, by proposing that English laws would be scrutinised by an English Grand Committee at Westminster, with a convention that the House of Commons would not overrule its decisions. Is this the magic answer which has eluded all previous searchers? Is it likely ever to happen? And can it be made to work?

    The Conservatives have been searching for an answer ever since William Hague first committed the party to English votes on English laws in 2000. Malcolm Rifkind is not the first to propose this answer. An English Grand Committee was proposed by the Norton Commission on Strengthening Parliament in 2000, and before them the House of Commons Procedure Committee. But the difficulties of implementing such a policy remain formidable, at both a technical and a political level.

    The technical difficulty is identifying those English laws which would be referred to Grand Committee. Strictly speaking there is no such thing as an English law, in the sense of a Westminster statute which applies only to England. The territorial extent clauses in Westminster statutes typically extend to the United Kingdom, Great Britain or England and Wales. Many statutes vary in their territorial application in different parts of the Act. Is the Speaker to identify in advance those parts or clauses which apply only to England, and rule that those parts be referred to Grand Committee? If the Conservatives are hoping that Parliamentary Counsel could draft statutes differently, separating out all the English provisions into England only bills, then it behoves them to take a year’s worth of the statute book to demonstrate how this might be done.

    If the technical difficulties are daunting, the political difficulties are even greater. Proponents of special procedures for English laws tend to under-estimate just what a huge change would be involved. An English Grand Committee would effectively create two classes of MP, ending the traditional reciprocity whereby all members can vote on all matters. It could in time lead to the creation of an English parliament within the Westminster parliament. And after close fought elections, the UK government might not be able to command a majority for its English business, leading to great political instability. These political difficulties cast doubt on the likelihood of English votes on English laws ever becoming political reality.

    It is worth asking, if the Conservatives win the next election, would they go ahead and introduce English votes on English laws? By ending the equal voting rights of all MPs, the Conservatives could no longer claim to be Unionist, but would have become an English party. An English party does not sound like a party of government. They might find it more expedient to reduce the numbers of Scottish and Welsh MPs, than to attempt the more complicated task of trying to restrict their voting rights.

    The Conservatives proposed to reduce the number of Scottish and Welsh MPs in their 2005 manifesto, to reflect their reduced role at Westminster post-devolution. Research done by the Constitution Unit on the incoming and outgoing postbags of Scottish and Welsh MPs, and the hours they spend on constituency work, shows that they have considerably less to do since devolution. In the Stormont era of the first Northern Ireland Parliament the number of Northern Irish MPs was reduced by one third. If a similar discount were applied today, Scottish representation would be reduced to around 40 MPs at Westminster and Wales to around 22. It would not eliminate the possibility of Scottish and Welsh MPs voting on English laws, but it would further reduce the likelihood of their votes being able to tip the balance.

    David Cameron faces some difficult tactical and strategic choices in deciding whether to support Rifkind’s proposal. English votes on English laws is far more than just a procedural issue. It is seen by some proponents (Kenneth Baker is an example) as the precursor to an English Parliament. William Hague flirted with an English Parliament in 1999 but backed away. If the Conservatives now were to embrace a policy which led to an English Parliament, the issue might conceivably split the Conservative party, much as the Irish Question split the Liberals in Gladstone’s time.
    From Brian Walker Hon Senior Fellow
    Professor Robert Hazell is Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London

  • Dewi

    Malcolm – been thinking about the Irish Afghan economic relationship all day. So Patric goes to the Bishop and says :
    “It’s like this Sir I just ain’t got the right shade of blue – but if u send someone half the way round the world and back we’ll be OK”

    The Bishops’s cost accountant pipes up.

    “Make do with some red from Ynys Mon – it’s a third of the price and we’ll get it my next Thurday”

    I dunno – where’s Trowbridge when u need him ?

    Brian Walker Hon Senior Fellow – what’s the big deal with an English Parliament – makes logical sense nad makes all this nonsense about differential votes irrelevant – Is there summat I am missing ?

  • Dewi @ 10:40 PM:

    What makes your fantasy even weirder is lapis lazuli had a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac. You grated it up, and put it in milk … (which begins to sound like the classic Bob Newhart monologue about Raleigh and tobacco).

    Any way the Book of Kells was (probably) done, at least in part, at Iona, so any moment now the Salmond repatriation brigade will be wanting bits of it back. After all, it’s Scotland’s toil.

    As for the Brian Walker piece, I reckon it comes down to a single assumption: because Parliament makes laws for the jurisdiction of “England and Wales”, there can be no such thing as laws for England. Do you reckon we should mention Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru, or let it sneak up on him unawares?

  • dewi

    It’s Scotland’s toil – wonderful ! – got a day left in Dublin – apart from giant knitting needles what’s best to see ?

  • dewi

    Still selling stamps at Dublin GPO – I think that’s wonderful.
    On topic Mick was on about how politicos take note of the blogosphere. If so English parliament not far away – response from England’s political blogs quite overwhelming.

  • Splurge

    If the English or the Tories want devolution for England then they should get it on the same basis as everyone else and not start messing with Westminister. If they don’t like Scottish or Irish MPs voting on their issues they know what they have to do.

  • dewi

    Yes – a succinct summary of our academic friend’s prescient observations above would be:
    Total incoherent shambolic bollocks. Grow uo and liberate yourself with an English parliament for the English people.

    Much more intersting is that Celto- Afghan Free Trade Area (CAFTA of course) – I’ve oftened fancied a doctorate and now I’ve found the subject.
    Malcolm – like those spice caravan things – did they go from Kandahar to Killkenny ?

  • Dewi
  • My view is that the United Kingdom must stop trying to muddle through with its vast governmental problems, and finally consult and adopt a written constitution which its component parts can agree upon and live with.

    With the UK’s entry into the EU, UN and Nato, there is no longer any hope of hiving off bits or adopting convenient conventions to keep the ship-of-state from crashing on the rocks.

    British governments have delayed far too long in making fundamental institutional changes, acting as if London is still the center of some kind of world empire when it is only a member of several larger institutions which highly direct what it does.

    It’s time to lay it all out, including written protections for its citizens, and processes to ensure their performance, and see that it is approved by all concerned. The UK can no longer be a dynastic, administrative state which muddles through with Westminster majorities, the Presidential PM, the prerogative, multi-lateral and bi-lateral negotiations with other states, etc., while dragging its own component parts along in the process.

    But it will probably not happen because London is addicted to doing thing the way it always has.

    Still, it needs a grand constitutional convention.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford 02:19 PM:

    I’m not picking an argument, much of your thesis is indisputable and I quite see where you’re going. However:
    … it needs a grand constitutional convention.


    Wherever, whenever one of those gabfests happens, two near-certainties arise: it’s hay-making time for constitutional lawyers, and the end result is a stitch-up. The trouble is British civil servants are just too good at these things: there’s always the need to tidy up every possible loose end in a 300-clause Parliamentary Bill.

    Two awful examples could be the never-ending arrangements with the EU, and the d’Hondt caucus-race in Stormont.

    On the other hand, Churchillian “buggering-on”, ad-hockery and spatchcocking seem to work. A case in point might be the whole post-war German constitutional settlement, which to a large extent was Whitehall’s shenanagling the US State Department (while Iraq points up what a total disaster a US administration can achieve unaided).

    I know it’s a trite analogy, but I am put in mind of R.V.Jones (the wartime scientific researcher, author of “Most Secret War”) in his throw-away comment on the different uses of technology under wartime conditions. He suggested that the Germans insisted on having a fully-working system, whereas the British approach was “if we can make it work, bung it together and let’s try it”. (That’s not a quotation, by the way.)

    So, I suggest we let it all come out in the wash. There’s not going to be blood in the streets. There’s no instant crisis. The guillotine would be erected at Tyburn, or gulags in Galloway. Stormont and Salmond haven’t brought the pillars of the temple down — yet.

    After all, despite the odd civil war and some extended unpleasantnesses, with the exception of Burma and Zimbabwe, most of the old “Empire” seems to be back on speaking terms. Large bits of it even manage versions of democracy.

    I am conscious, too, in the noble words of Charles II, “A stirred turd stinks”. So I say [all together now], “Let it be.”

  • All too English, Malcolm, though I am glad that we are finally talking to one another in at least a civil, possibly informative way.

    And all I can add is another quotation by King Charles II to his brother James while they were walking around during London one of its riots over the possibility of the Catholic becoming king:

    “No Englishman would ever kill me to make you king.”

    While this never happened, there was still a most turbulent generation which followed, with its Exclusionist Parliaments, James becoming king, a civil war resulting in his overthrow and death, and Parliament finally having to put William of Orange and Queen Mary back on the Throne.

    I would prefer to work to prevent something like a repeat happening.