This year is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, which is the legal basis of our constitutional law and the most significant historical milestone in the battle for the universal franchise and democracy as we know it today.
Last year’s referendum in Scotland has breathed new life into the debate over how we are governed and who makes the decisions that affect our everyday lives.
I’m pleased that people in Scotland voted against breaking up our United Kingdom, on a huge turnout and by a bigger majority than the polls were predicting. However, the referendum campaign highlighted the democratic imbalance that has been largely ignored between England and the rest of the country. Even before the referendum, there were moves to transfer further powers to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.
As somebody who, for many years, has worked for more decisions to be taken at a local level, I have no problems with this. However, it cannot be done fairly without addressing the enormous elephant in the room – the lack of similar provisions for England.
Why should a Scottish MP be able to make decisions about our health services or education in Peterborough when responsibility for hospitals and schools in their own constituency has been transferred to the Scottish Parliament? Just this week, we had the spectacle of the leader of the Scottish Labour Party promising extra funding for public services in Scotland using English taxpayers money! A straightforward electoral bribe?
One way of dealing with this would be to set up an English Parliament but the terrible turnout in the elections to choose Police and Crime Commissioners and the huge vote against elected mayors across the UK, shows how little support there is for more layers of government with more professional politicians.
There is a simple and fair solution: matters that only affect England should be voted on by English MPs only.
Where those issues would be decided by the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or Northern Ireland Assembly then Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs should not be able to vote in the House of Commons.
There are some people who are arguing – largely through the interests of their own political party – that this risks creating two classes of MP. My answer is that we already have two classes of MP: those who can vote on matters like health, housing, environment and economic development affecting their own constituencies, and those who can only vote on those issues when they affect other people’s constituents, because decisions about their own constituencies are made in Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast.
That has to change and that is why I will be backing plans for English Votes on English Laws. It’s not about political advantage, it’s not about nationalism; it’s about fairness for English taxpayers and it’s about time.
-- Peterborough’s MP writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph