I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to reform the powers and structures of the United Kingdom Parliament and the devolved administrations so as to establish a new constitutional settlement for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to uphold equal democratic rights, historic identities, liberties and freedoms for the people of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and for all British citizens; and for connected purposes.
The result of the Scottish referendum has opened the door to a much-needed debate on England’s constitutional status, but I believe that any new settlement must be in the interests not just of England, but of all the component parts of the United Kingdom and the wider British family. Today, we have a unique and exciting opportunity to be bold and imaginative in the evolution of our British constitution, putting our entire nation on a stronger footing.
The House of Commons is the British Parliament, elected by the British people, and has always included English, Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh MPs, all of whom sit here as equals. Indeed, our constituents elect us to the House as equal Members of Parliament, with the right to speak, vote and participate on all issues, whichever corner of the Kingdom we may represent.
To change that principle by preventing MPs from one part of the Kingdom from speaking or voting on certain issues would, I fear, be a dangerous road to travel. I believe it would change the nature of this House for ever. With MPs no longer sitting here on an equal basis, I fear that the House of Commons might eventually be seen by those representing parts of the Kingdom that are excluded from certain business as no longer being a Parliament that truly represents the interests of the whole British nation and its peoples. My Bill seeks to ensure that for as long as England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales remain part of the United Kingdom, their elected representatives will always be considered as equal in this Chamber. The House of Commons is not an English Parliament and must never become one.
I believe that the decision taken by the people of Scotland to remain within the United Kingdom was the right one, but many would of course have preferred Scotland to become an independent country, and they still do. The former First Minister of Scotland accepted the democratic verdict of the people, and he was right to do so, but it would be wrong to believe this issue has now been settled for good. On the contrary, there remains a constitutional imbalance in how the United Kingdom is governed, and it must now be our duty to devise a new constitutional settlement for all Britons.
My Bill would seek to create a new framework, evolving and enhancing the role of our UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, and the Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies, by creating a British-style federal model of Parliaments and Governments, similar to that which has worked successfully in Australia and Canada—nations with which we already have much in common, not least our constitutional monarchy. The Parliament of the Kingdom would retain overall British responsibilities, for example for defence, the armed forces, foreign affairs, international relations, national security, border control and immigration, management of our British currency, the pound sterling, and other clearly defined areas. A Parliament for England, alongside strengthened Parliaments for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, would provide democratic self-government for all four countries, with autonomy and freedom over their own affairs, and the ability to uphold their own identities, traditions and laws, made by their own MPs in their own Parliaments.
For England I would not propose a separately elected set of English MPs. We do not need additional layers of politicians and vast costs, so English MPs would have a dual role as both British MPs sitting in the House of Commons, and English MPs sitting in the Chamber of an English Parliament. An English Chamber cannot be the one in which we sit today—these green Benches are British and must always remain so. An English Parliament would need its own home. The City of London would be my preference, but whatever the location, it must be one in which the people of England can take pride with their own symbols, English culture and traditions and the St George flag, just as the Scottish take pride in their Parliament, with Scottish symbols, culture, traditions and, of course, the flag of St Andrew—the saltire.
If further devolution in England is sought, it would be a matter for the English Parliament to decide on. It could perhaps be established or based on our traditional counties and great cities, which bring with them historical, social and geographic identities that are cherished by local people and have stood the test of time, rather than large artificial regions.
My Bill would establish a new settlement for the governance of the whole United Kingdom, with four equal countries and a consistent framework for our parliamentary democracy throughout the nation. We must also consider extending those democratic rights equally to the wider British family. Within a new federal structure, there would no longer be any reason not to invite equal representation from all British territories and dependencies. Why not also allow representation from British citizens overseas and armed forces stationed abroad, thus making it fully representative of all Britons?
My Bill is about strengthening the entire scope of our nation and its peoples in every corner of Her Majesty’s Britannic realm. If we are going to do this, let us do it properly and in the overall interests of the entire British family. As an English MP who represents an English constituency, I care deeply about England. Together with many Members from across the House, I believe that the time has come for England to find its voice, but to do so without full consideration of what the consequences might be for the rest of the Kingdom would be divisive and mistaken. My Bill allows for a genuine debate about how we as Britons can work to find a lasting constitutional settlement for our entire nation and all its component parts. With the support of Members from seven different political parties represented in the House of Commons, and from all four countries of which the United Kingdom is comprised, I hope that my Bill will provide a foundation for the next chapter in the evolution of our great British democracy, and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Andrew Rosindell, Mr Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Mr Douglas Carswell, Greg Mulholland, Mr Elfyn Llwyd, Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil, Sir William Cash, Mr John Redwood, Jim Shannon, Martin Vickers, and Mr Graham Brady present the Bill.
Andrew Rosindell accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January, and to be printed (Bill 125).
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)