John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I speak for England. For some 18 years English MPs in this United Kingdom Parliament have proposed, encouraged, or come to accept with good grace major transfers of power to Scotland, substantial transfers of power to Wales, and the transfer of other powers to Northern Ireland. Now it is England’s turn.
Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): The right hon. Gentleman says that he speaks for England. We all recall that, in a former existence, he once tried to sing for Wales.
John Redwood: In those glorious days of great singing, we had a unitary country, which meant that anyone could do anything from this great House of Commons in the Government across the whole United Kingdom. We have this problem today because, in our collective wisdoms, we are transferring massive powers to devolved Governments and to all parts of the United Kingdom, but not to England. Now it is England’s turn to have a voice, and England’s turn to have some votes.
I welcome today’s proposals, but I must tell my hon. Friends that they do only half the job. What England is being offered today is the opportunity to have a voice and a vote to stop the rest of the United Kingdom imposing things on England which England does not wish to have and has not voted for. That is very welcome, but we still do not have what the Scots have. We do not have the power to propose something for our country which we wish to have and which may well be backed by a large majority of English voters and by English Members of Parliament, because it could still be voted down by the United Kingdom Parliament. So this is but half the job for England. Nevertheless, I welcome half the job, and I will of course warmly support it.
We are given but two pathetic arguments against the proposal by the massive and angry forces that we see ranged against it today. First, we are told that it will not be possible to define an England issue. Those Members never once thought there was a problem with defining a Scottish issue, and, as we know, issue after issue is defined as a Scottish issue and passes through the Scottish Parliament with very few conflicts and problems.
In your wisdom, Mr Speaker, you will be well guided in this respect, because every piece of legislation that is presented to us will state very clearly whether it applies to the whole of the United Kingdom or just to some parts of the United Kingdom. The decisions on who can vote on the matter under the double-vote system will therefore become very clear, because they will be on the face of the law. How can this House produce a law that does not state whether it is England-only or United Kingdom-wide? The law must make that statement, so it will not be any great problem for the Chair to sort that out.
Then there is the ridiculous argument that this measure will create two different types of MP. The problem, which some of us identified in the late 1990s when devolution was first proposed and implemented, was that it created four different types of MP, and we are living with the results of that today. English MPs have always been at the bottom of the heap. I have to accept that Scottish MPs come here and vote on English health and English schools in my constituency, but I have no right to debate, or vote on, health and education in Scotland. That problem needs to be addressed, and we are suggesting a very mild and moderate way of starting to address it. I hope that the House will give England a hearing.
I find it extraordinary that so few English Labour MPs are present today, and that not one of them is standing up and speaking for England, saying “Let us make some small progress in redressing the balance.”
Several hon. Members rose—
John Redwood: I do not have time to give way, and others wish to speak.
Today is the chance to start to put right some of that injustice to England. Today is the chance to start to rebalance our precious United Kingdom. Today is the chance to deal with lopsided devolution, and to give England something sensible to do. In the week of Trafalgar day, let me end by saying, “England expects every England MP to do his or her duty.”