I recently tabled a question asking the government “Who speaks for England?” At least I thought I had. Then just as Parliament broke for the Easter recess my written question found its way back to my office. The Table Office had decided it was a question that could not be asked.
Before you all fly off the handle, there is something you should know about our democracy. A good number of potential written questions are blocked. Some are blocked for good reason. If they are about matters for which the government has no responsibility, for example, or where the government has no knowledge, there is no point in allowing them. If the same or very similar question has just been answered, then why not look up the answer instead of going through it all again.
When we had a Labour government I was regularly blocked from asking written questions on the grounds that the Table Office knew the government would not answer them. Sometimes after a long argument it was possible to put the question into a shape where it could at least be asked, though the answers were often disappointing. I daresay if I try I can find a way of changing this question to ask something related that the Table Office would regard as being in order.
Instead I think it is better to highlight this extraordinary fact that an English MP sitting for an English constituency in the UK Parliament is not allowed to pose the simple written question of the UK government, “Who in government speaks for England?” By writing about this the question may get more attention than if I had been allowed to table the original version.
Englishmen and women should be concerned at this insouciance towards our cause. Many of us think England has had a poor settlement from the UK, and a lousy one from the EU. I would expect the government to answer the Who speaks for England? question with an account of the English Cabinet Ministers who handle just English affairs – Education, Health, Local Government – and the Cabinet Ministers like the Home Secretary who do not deal with Scottish matters.
I want them to reconsider the issue of English votes for English issues in the Commons. I want them to work up an agenda of how England’s interests and views can be properly reflected by the Union government as there is no separate English Parliament to parallel the Scottish one and the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies. Surely England needs to have a voice from inside the Westminster government, as it lacks one from its own separate body?