In an April survey on the “Future of England” (You Gov, sampled English voters) 62% wanted English votes for English issues, with only 12% against. ( 5 to 1)
42% of voters also favoured giving control of the majority of taxes raised in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament, with 25% against.
Many people in England like the idea of more fiscal devolution to Scotland, on the basis that Scotland would then be responsible for raising much more of the money itself which it wishes to spend.
I chair the NTB group of about 100 Conservative MPs. Formed in the 1980s to support Margaret Thatcher and her famous statement “The Lady’s not for turning”, the Group has evolved over the decades to offer frank advice to Ministers and Shadow Ministers in private, and to work together from time to time in public with campaigns that matter to us. The Group today as with Margaret Thatcher is there to support Conservative Ministers trying to do difficult but sensible things that can improve our country and its government, and to be candid friends in private where things are not working as we would wish.
We hold either a working sandwich lunch, or a working buffet dinner once a month. We usually invite a Minister as guest, and raise matters about their departmental policies and activities with them. Sometimes we invite an interesting non Ministerial speaker. Nigel Lawson came, for example, to tell us of the work of his Global Warming Policy Foundation,which most of us support. Occasionally one of us leads a discussion of what needs to be done next.
We do not inform the media of these events, as we wish to have good private conversations with Ministers. They need to know they will not read about it next day in the papers so we can have more wide ranging and honest discussions. I was therefore surprised to learn that on Wednesday the NTB had been invited to lunch at Downing Street for immediate topical reasons. This is simply untrue. I had invited the Prime Minister some time ago to be our guest in the Commons for a working sandwich lunch and he had agreed. The invitation was before recent by elections were in the air and was not about them.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for the time he gave us and for his attention to a number of issues where we wish to see changes and improvements in policy as we move from Coalition government to Conservative manifesto. I intend to keep silent over what was said and how the meeting went, as I remain strongly of the view that it is better if these exchanges between colleagues are done in private.In this hectic media world any critical comment or disagreement is blown up out of all proportion, as there is the absurd idea that members of a party always have to agree with one another.
I note that the UKIP supporters who write into this site who have in the past picked up on a very misleading account of a private meeting I attended with the Chairman of the Conservative party, have not come forward with comments on the selective reports of the NTB lunch with the Prime Minister as they clearly see no party advantage in quoting what it is alleged some of my colleagues said at this latest meeting.
Gordon Brown has changed his mind on English votes.
In the 1980 book ‘The Politics of Nationalism and Devolution’, (which he co authored with H Drucker)Gordon Brown accepted that on one of his two possible models for future devolution (and the one he favoured for Labour) Scottish MPs would be prevented from voting on English or Welsh domestic matters as the quid pro quo for devolution to Scotland of tax-raising powers.
These are the words from page 127 on the future:
“Some form of taxation power could be devolved if the price were paid. It is scandalous for the British Treasury to deny that it is capable of devolving any powers to levy tax when so many other countries do it. Most of all, a revised Scotland Act could embody some form of the ‘in-and-out’ principle. Under such a principle the remaining Scottish MPs at Westminster would not be allowed to take part in the proceedings of the House when it was debating England or Welsh domestic matters. The ‘in-and-out’ principle ought to be attractive to Conservatives since it would ensure them a semi-permanent majority on most social issues at Westminster – no small prize. Labour remains formally committed to devolution and may be expected to consider a plan along these lines in the future.”
So now we know that he and his co author once saw as a possible solution to the problem of devolution in Scotland offering some fiscal devolution. The authors saw the justice of England’s case, and saw no impediments to devolving tax raising powers to Scotland as long as there were also English votes for English issues
In my participation in debate with him on Tuesday I challenged his statement that Conservatives had not alerted the people of Scotland to the English votes issue before the referendum, and so raising it now was unreasonable. I pointed out that I deliberately raised it in Prime Minister’s Questions shortly before the Scottish vote, which got a lot of media pick up at the time. I also reminded him that English votes for English issues has been Conservative party policy since the 2001 Manifesto. We have given 15 years warning of the need to do this!
It is fascinating to discover he too had been thinking about the merits of this case in the context of fiscal devolution when he was a Politics lecturer at the Glasgow College of Technology.
Yesterday was an acrimonious day in the Commons. The debate on devolution and new settlement for the UK after the Scottish referendum brought out some strong disagreements.
The SNP accused the 3 main Union parties of bad faith. They said the promises were not being delivered, though all 3 parties confirmed they intended to do so. The SNP said we should only be debating Scotland, yet the debate was a general one on devolution with many wishing to discuss the consequences for England.
The Liberal Democrats and Labour mainly argued against any immediate justice for England. They disliked English votes for English issues, oppose an English Parliament, and want to take many months of consultation and discussion before coming up with any proposals of their own.
The more realistic ones accepted that the North East referendum on regional government had been decisive , and agreed elected regional government is dead. So now they wish to pursue selective devolution to selective cities or larger councils. They had no answer to the question of who would fix England’s tax rate, or replied that the whole Union Parliament should still do that.
The SNP supported English votes for English issues, and were keen on maximum fiscal devolution to Scotland. Wales and Northern Ireland were unclear about how they would like to proceed.
I made the case for fairness for England. I will post my speech later today.
Yesterday the government kept its first promise to Scotland by publishing a Command paper setting out the various political party views on further devolution to Scotland. All 3 main parties tabled proposals before the referendum and have resubmitted them for this document. The Green party and the SNP have also decided they wish now to be part of this debate, and have submitted their own proposals. The SNP of course did not table devolution proposals before the referendum vote as they preferred simply to leave the union. No other parties have written in.
The SNP want most powers now to be granted to the Scottish Parliament. The three main parties of the Union propose a wide range of new powers for Scotland. Over the important issue of Scotland’s role in setting and raising taxes, there is some disagreement. The Conservatives propose that Scotland be given the power to set the rates and bands of personal income tax. The Lib Dems also wish Income tax to be “almost entirely the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.” Labour proposes allowing the Scottish Parliament to control three quarters of basic income tax and its rate. Labour would also allow Scotland to increase the higher rates. Conservatives and Lib Dems are happy to devolve Air passenger duty, but Labour is not. Conservatives and Labour agree about devolving certain welfare benefits like Attendance Allowance and Housing Benefit.
The parties now have to get on with hammering out an agreement about the exact range of additional powers and duties that will pass to the Scottish Parliament. I asked Mr Hague yesterday for a further assurance that he will soon know whether or not the Liberal Democrats will allow a government motion to give us English votes for English issues, or whether we need to find another non government route to put it to the Commons and have a vote. He assured me he had set a deadline of the end of November for agreement – or lack of it – on resolving the unfairness to England, and confirmed that if there was no agreement Parliament should still be asked to vote on this crucial matter.
A few posters are sending me several very long contributions every day. I am currently very busy with a lot of speeches to make (with travel), work to be done on the English votes campaign, and on EU and economic issues, and media interest. I am finding it difficult to keep up with all these long pieces.
I would urge each of you who send lots to send me shorter and fewer contributions each day. I will sometimes just delete very long ones from people who send in lots to make it a bit easier to keep up.
The background to the Bloomberg speech, hammered out in a series of private meetings the Prime Minister held with some Conservative MPs, Ministers and his advisers, was a realistic and pessimistic view of the problems facing the present EU.
The PM said that three major issues were going to require fundamental EU change. The first is the “problems in the Eurozone.” The second is the “crisis of European competitiveness” where the EU as a whole is failing to compete and generate the jobs and incomes it needs. The third is the “gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years – and which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is – yes – felt particularly acutely in Britain”.
I entirely agree. I find it bizarre that the many people I debate the EU with from the Labour and Liberal Democratic parties in the UK or from the mainstream governments and parties on the continent, cannot seem to grasp the seriousness of the EU crisis and the need to make major changes. When I put to them the obvious need for a new relationship for non Euro members as Euro members plunge into greater political union, they either tell me I am wrong or seek to change the topic. When I say the EU energy policy or the business regulation policy is exporting jobs and prosperity to Asia and America from the EU there is a wish to deny or ignore the reality.
The speech explained to EU audiences that the UK has “the character of an island nation, independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our sovereignty”. The PM said he did not think there is a “single European demos” so there cannot be an EU wide democratic government. He explained that many of us “fear that the EU is heading for a level of political integration that is far outside Britain’s comfort zone”.
So, when people say what is the negotiating position, I say this is the negotiating position – the restoration of Parliamentary sovereignty and democratic accountability for the UK. The UK seeks a decisive move to being an independent state co-operating and trading with partners on the continent. At the same time we would be happy to accommodate the wishes of Euro members to create a political union for them which could not possibly include us.
Bloomberg should not be a prelude to some horse trading. It’s not a case of gives us back our fish and we will put up with your energy and agriculture policies. It’s not a case of repeal a few directives and let us make more decisions on welfare and we will be happy. Bloomberg is more radical than that. What Bloomberg pledges is to restore our right to self government. We want to trade and co-operate with the rest of the EU. We do not wish to be bound ever more tightly by rules, laws and EU government decisions.
Now UKIP has an MP at Westminster, who has considerable experience of Westminster as a former MP, does this make UKIP one of the “Westminster parties” that are the problem according to UKIP?
Whilst many of you have been praising Mr Carswell for switching parties and getting himself back into Parliament and condemning me for not doing the same, I have been working with like minded Conservative colleagues to get major changes of policy and approach within the Conservative party.
People often ask me now what kind of renegotiation does Mr Cameron have in mind? They accept that we have changed Conservative policy in three fundamental ways. It is now official policy to say the current EU relationship does not work in the UK’s interests. It is policy to see if we can negotiate a relationship that would be in the UK’s interests. It is also policy to give voters the choice of whether to stay in or leave. I regard these as crucial changes which means we now have a Conservative European policy I support. This was the policy which Mr Carswell welcomed strongly when he heard the speech.
UKIP critics argue that all this is not good enough. Some even say we will not get a referendum. That simply is untrue. If Conservatives win a majority of seats next time we will ensure there is a referendum.
They say it is not possible to negotiate a new satisfactory relationship. Let us suppose that counsel of despair is true. Then we will simply vote to leave, as the British people will sensibly conclude the current arrangements or something like them are not what we want.
They say the negotiating demands have not been spelt out and the Prime Minister will settle for not very much and present it as a triumph. Those who say that have either not read the Bloomberg speech or do not understand it.
Bloomberg makes clear the Prime Minister wants nothing less than the restoration of Parliamentary sovereignty. He said : “A new settlement subject to democratic legitimacy and accountability of national parliaments where member states combine in flexible co-operation, respecting national differences, not always trying to eliminate them”. In other words if the UK Parliament wishes to impose border controls or make its own decisions about welfare payments it should be free to do so.
Islamic extremist forces have captured more territory and are threatening an important city in the north west. A pilot has recently been brutally beheaded. Thousands are now dead as a result of the extremist uprising, and many thousands more have been thrown out of their homes. The black flag flies in many places proclaiming the new Caliphate.
All this is happening in Nigeria with very little western attention. We have not been asked to intervene militarily to defeat the forces of Boko Haram which now threaten a large part of north western Nigeria. Different standards and considerations seem to apply to Nigeria from those the President of the USA and his allies apply to Syria.
Those of us who urge caution about our further military engagement in Iraq and possibly Syria need some explanation of why the west ignores these actions in Nigeria, unites to take action in Iraq, and remains split over what to do in Syria.
We also need to know from Mr Obama and his advisers how they see the war in Iraq and Syria developing. Yesterday we were told that it is unlikely that bombardment from air and sea can save Kobani. The forces on the ground who could lift the siege and relieve the city may be unable to win their local war. Kurds there tell the west they do not have the weapons, and co-ordinating between the ground forces and the many western airforces now capable of bombing the area is clearly difficult. Mr Obama will be under pressure to have more and more troops on the ground short of fighting infantry. There will need to be special forces in case captives can be released, intelligence gatherers, communications experts, people who direct incoming fire and assess damage and accuracy achieved, suppliers of weapons and advice to the local ground forces and many others besides.
It is easy to see how the west drifts into a more dangerous ground war. The more people we put on the ground to help others fight, the more people we have at risk. If the risks miscarry, do we then send in ground troops to retrieve the situation?
I do not see how you can quarter fight a war successfully. To me there are two choices. Cancel more bombing and leave matters to local forces. Or put in enough force to clear Iraq of ISIL forces. I would do the former. The latter draws you into war in Syria as well, and leaves open the huge question of how would you then settle the politics and governments of these huge areas once you had defeated ISIL? How do you avoid creating a power vacuum which other nasty people fill? How do you get the governments of Iraq and Syria into good democratic shape, capable of governing their whole country in a peaceful way with the consent of all the warring groups? The President does have to think through what he will do if bombing is not enough, and if the forces fighting the war on the ground are unable to win. He also needs a good political strategy to win over hearts and minds in the event that local forces do round up or drive out all ISIL miltary people.