Ministry of Justice
According to the Telegraph, one in ten schools in England is failing to indoctrinate in its pupils a sense of 'Britishness' in accordance with Government policy:
Citizenship become a compulsory subject in 2002 to teach children about national identity and break down the barriers between different faiths and cultures.
In a report, Ofsted said “encouraging progress” had been made towards establishing the subject as part of the curriculum.
But in some schools teachers seemed to struggle to confront sensitive subjects such as nationality, ethnicity, and allegiance.
“Occasionally, teachers did not go much further than considering stereotypes of Britishness such as ‘What brings us together as a nation?’,” said Ofsted.
There are no figures yet available on what percentage of Scottish and Welsh schools are failing to teach Britishness and the values that bring us together as a nation. This disturbing news comes on the back of stories that the Government's Britishness Roadshow is such a flop that they're having to pay people to attend.
The Conservatives say ten members of the public turned up to the first event in Leicester in December 2007, which cost £37,000 and was hosted by Jack Straw. They say that after that embarrassment, his Ministry of Justice restricted attendance at Governance of Britain events to people selected, and even paid, by the ministry.
Chris Vine has received another reply from the Ministry of Justice on the West Lothian Question. Previously Chris had suggested that using the Barnett Formula as justification for Scottish MPs voting on English issues was a make weight argument, because he believed the government would still want Scottish MPs to vote on English matters 'even if the Barnett formula were to be replaced by a system of assigned revenues with needs based top-up'.
The Ministry of Justice did not deny it:
The argument that the Barnett consequentials of 'English only' legislation may effect other constituent nations of the United Kingdom and so ought to be voted on by all Members of Parliament is not a make-weight. Funding is provided by general taxation, drawn from the across the United Kingdom. It is a matter of both general, and specific importance. Both in relation to the principles upon which it is spent, and the specific instance or policy which it is being spent to further. That the expenditure of public money should have effect in one area as a direct consequence of expenditure in another (in this case Scotland and England) is, in a Union Parliament reason enough to enable all Members to vote on that expenditure. But the core principle at stake is simply that all Members of Parliament are equal on the floor of the House, and have and ought to have equal voting rights.
Chris concludes, I think correctly, that the MoJ 'have planted their standard on a mound of sand' by advocating a system of bad governance whereby Scottish MPs may 'take decisions on detailed education or health matters in England, not on the merits of the decisions for those subject to them, but on the ground that they may result indirectly in too much or too little expenditure in Scotland'.
This revelation would appear to be more of a justification of Ken Clarke's solution (where the detail of the bill is decided by English MPs) than the Very Simple Solution advocated by Chris.
I have a Very Simple Solution (TM), which is to borrow from the precedent of the House of Lords, namely to confer the power to delay legislation for a session.
I think an arrangement could be devised that if at third reading a particular Bill or separate part of a Bill were not to receive the approval of the majority of members for the countries to which the laws are to apply, then it could only be passed by enactment of the same Bill or part in the following session. That would allow the government to govern, whilst also respecting the position of those in England or Wales and their representatives. This approach may possibly also need to be applied to the Commons Consideration of Lords Amendments stage of Bills originating in the Commons, by taking a further "in principle" vote at that stage, but that is a matter of finesse.
It's been my view for a while that the Barnett Formula is the only real justification for Scottish MPs voting on English matters. Not a moral justification, but a constitutional justification because spending in England determines Scotland's block grant. The West Lothian Question and Barnett Formula are intricately tied. It's essential for Gordon Brown to resist calls for financial federalism because the logical extension of such a move is political federalism. If the devolved administrations fund their devolved portfolios from taxes raised directly then a proportion of the money available to the Treasury to be spent in England becomes manifestly English, and should logically be the responsibility of English MPs.
Equally, part of, say, Scotland's funding becomes manifestly Scottish, which theoretically diminishes Westminster's sovereign right to dictate how it is spent
Essentially the Barnett Formula is a centralising formula that binds Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to England's spending plans (or rather Westminster's), so preventing policy divergence by dint of the fact that the financial apron strings have not been cut. Devolution should have been on the basis that the devolved administrations can deviate from the centre, but only if they are prepared to pay for it through tax hikes. This would have been a basis for better more responsible devolved government, it would have represented real devolution. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
I have a post on Our Kingdom in response to the Government's answer to my Say England petition.
After writing that piece for Our Kingdom I received an email notification informing me that my Freedom of Information request had been answered. This what they told me:
I can confirm that in responding to this e-petition, information was obtained from the Ministry of Justice. A response has been posted on the website.
It really makes one wonder what information could possibly have been proferred by the MoJ in order for them to post such an inadequate and insulting reply. How these people sleep at night, knowing that they are employed to obfuscate and deceive on questions put to them by the taxpayers that pay their wages, is beyond me.
See also: Say England Cop-out
The Ministry of Justice have replied to my FOI request:
Thank you for your e-mail dated 15 October 2008, in which you made the following FOI request:
Please provide information on whether the Ministry of Justice (and formerly the Dept. Constitutional Affairs) has performed any research or consultation exercises to ascertain the level of public support for an English parliament, or some form of English votes or English Grand Committee.
The Ministry of Justice has not performed any research or consultation exercises to ascertain the level of public support for an English Parliament, or some form of English votes or English Grand Committee.
So where's the justice?
Gordon Brown backtracks and evades.
Dear Ministry of Justice,
In March 1992, in a speech on Constitutional Change and the Future of Britain to Charter88, Gordon Brown stated that the West Lothian Question was not a genuine problem "because the Scottish parliament is the precursor for one in Wales and regional devolution throughout Britain".
Now that regional assemblies are being scrapped, what is the Government's solution to the West Lothian Question?
In the same speech Gordon Brown also stated that a transition from the "ancient and indefensible Crown sovereignty to a modern popular sovereignty" was "long overdue". The Scottish Claim of Right, to which Gordon Brown was a signatory, helped establish a popular sovereignty in Scotland that has resulted in the Scottish Parliament.
What plans does the Government have for completing the transition from Crown sovereignty to popular sovereignty in England?
Thanking you in advance for your response,
The Government's response.
Thank you for your email dated 9 October 2008 to the Ministry of Justice, referring to the Charter88 Sovereignty lecture given by Gordon Brown in March 1992 titled ‘Constitutional Change and the Future of Britain’. Your email has been passed to the Constitutional Settlement Division as the lead division on devolution matters.
You have asked what the Government’s solution is to the West Lothian Question. As previously stated in my letters dated 13 October 2008 and 11 April 2008, as indicated by the Prime Minister on 3 July 2008, the Government does not accept the proposal for English votes for English laws. To do so would be to create two distinct classes of MPs – those who could vote on all matters before the House, and those whose voting rights would be curtailed by virtue of constituency location. MPs play a representative role in considering legislation, considering the welfare of the UK as a whole, rather than narrow geographic interests, and it is right that all MPs continue to have equal voting rights on all matters before the UK Parliament.
You have commented on the Scottish Claim of Right. The Claim of Right, signed by members of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, stated that Scotland was constitutionally entitled to determine the best framework of government to suit its people and advocated that Scotland should have its own legislative body within the framework of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister continues to support the devolution settlement in Scotland. The Government believes devolution is the right form of governance for the United Kingdom; it delivers for all the people of the United Kingdom, providing the right balance of responsibility, accountability and representation.
You have asked what plans the Government has for completing the transition from Crown sovereignty to popular sovereignty in England. The Government supports the monarchy and the continuation of the Crown. It has existed longer than Parliament itself, and the Government believes it is a vital element in our constitution, personifying both national and commonwealth unity. There are no plans to change the constitutional position of the monarchy.
The Green Paper The Governance of Britain outlined the government’s plans for the renewal of our constitution. The Governance of Britain website http://governance.justice.gov.uk/ provides regular updates on the programme. The Governance of Britain agenda aims to address some of the issues on relationship between central and local government and Parliament’s ability to hold government to account. The agenda includes reviewing the prerogatives that the executive currently exercises on behalf of the monarch, placing a number of prerogative powers onto a more formal footing and conferring power on Parliament to determine how they are exercised in future. It also includes producing a concordant between central and local government, which was published in December 2007.
I hope this addresses your concerns.
It's easy to rail against the unfairness of it all when you're in the opposition, but once you have your feet under the table....
The Ministry of Justice have replied to my letter to Michael Wills:
Thank you for your email dated 9th September 2008 to Michael Wills MP. Your email has been passed to the Constitutional Settlement Division as the lead division on devolution matters. I note that you have raised similar concerns in previous emails addressed to Helen Goodman MP dated 21 February 2008 and to the Ministry of Justice on 28 March 2008. I apologise for the delay for this letter.
Your first concern is on the voting rights of non-English MPs in Westminster. The Government is against discrimination of any kind and would not consider the introduction of any legislation intended to prevent any British citizen from becoming a member of the UK Parliament solely on the basis of where they were born. More specifically, you referred to Gordon Brown being an MP for a constituency in Scotland. Under our electoral system the public does not elect a Prime Minister. Voters elect a single political party representative within a specified constituency. Gordon Brown, the member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, has been elected to represent his constituents and therefore legitimately holds a seat in the UK Parliament. Gordon Brown is also leader of the Labour Party. As leader of the party with the majority of seats in the House of Commons, Gordon Brown is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
As previously stated in my letter dated 11 April 2008, as indicated by the Prime Minister on 3 july 2008, the Government does not accept the proposal for English votes for English laws. To do so would be to create two distinct classes of MPs - those who could vote on all matters before the House, and those whose voting rights would be curtailed by virtue of constituency location. MPs play a representative role in considering legislation, considering the welfare of the UK as a whole, rather than narrow geographic interests, and it is right that all MPs continue to have equal voting rights on all matters before the UK Parliament.
Your second concern is on the British identity. The Governance of Britain Green Paper published last year set out the Government's commitment to lead an inclusive debate to develop a Statement of Values to help identify what binds us together as a nation.
A nation with a clear, shared view of itself, of its basic values and beliefs, and the behaviour that those within society can expect from each other, will be better prepared to face up to the challenges of the modern world' be they the impacts of globalisation, different working patterns, an increasing mobile population, or the challenges of climate change.
However, a Statement of Values will not take root unless it is brought forward by the British people themselves. Starting in the autumn of 2008, therefore, the Government will begin an inclusive process of discussion and deliberation across the country, involving roundtable events and online engagement. Central to this will be a Citizens' Summit - a broadly representative group of around 500 people from across the UK - who will be asked to deliberate and decide the framework for the Statement of Values and make recommendations on its issues. If you wish to know more about our work then please visit our website - http://governance.justice.gov.uk
Your third concern is policy divergence between Scotland and England. The responsibility for UK fiscal policy, macroeconomic policy and public expenditure remains with the Treasury. The tax system in the UK operates at a national level, and spending is not linked to the area in which the tax revenue was raised. Instead, revenues are pooled centrally and allocated to UK Government departments according to the Government's judgement of relative needs and priorities. In this aspect, benefits are apparent and diverse across the United Kingdom. The Devolved Assemblies and Parliament are of course funded by the Barnett Formula which has provided a stable and transparent means of funding for the last 30 years. The Prime Minister has acknowledged that the fiscal accountability of the Scottish Parliament may need to be looked at and this is specifically included in the remit of the commission on Scottish devolution.
Your final point relates to establishing an English parliament. The Government does not believe that it is necessary to create a separate English Parliament. English MPs currently total over 85% of Members of Parliament and they represent over 85% of the population of the UK therefore England is already the dominant partner and English interests are fully represented. The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly of Wales and Northern Irish Assembly deal with local issues (devolved) and matters of national importance (reserved) which affect all parts of the UK continue to be dealt with at Westminster. The UK Parliament considers legislation that has a real world impact on people right across the UK and the majority of Bills the Government plans to take forward in the next parliamentary session at Westminster will extend to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Furthermore, an English Parliament would not be much smaller than the existing Westminster Parliament. Such a Parliament would dominate policy decisions and it would be likely to become bureaucratic and difficult to pass legislation, particularly if there were a different party in Government at Westminster, than that of the suggested Parliament.
I hope this addresses your concerns.
The "Ministry of Justice" in reply to my recent email:
Thank you for your email of 14 August to the Ministry of Justice regarding the polling evidence concerning the introduction of regional ministers. I have been asked to reply on behalf of the Government Office Network as the part of Government responsible for supporting Regional Ministers.
Government has not conducted and is not aware of any polling concerning the introduction of Regional Ministers. The Prime Minister appointed a Minister for each of the nine English regions in June last year in order to strengthen the regions' sense of strategic direction and links with central Government. The Governance of Britain Green Paper, published in July 2007, elaborated on this role, suggesting Regional Ministers' key functions were to (i) act as an advocate and representative of central Government in the regions, ensuring that Government policy takes account of the differing needs of the nine English regions; and (ii) promote national policies regionally, making central government more visible in the regions and helping to raise its profile and generate awareness of the political system.
Having now been in post for one year, Regional Ministers' responsibilities have developed further and are now focussed around the following three roles:
- Regional Leaders: working with members, officials and colleagues from all sectors to get beneath the headlines and into the detail of the problems facing the region – and to look for the solutions;
- Government Champions: taking part in key regional events to promote national policies and using these events also to explore how the region can draw on its experience to offer solutions back to Whitehall departments; and
- Regional Champions: working with colleagues within Whitehall to champion the needs of the region and to ensure that the region’s voice is heard – and to promote the region’s successes.
Regional Ministers also take the lead in Parliamentary debates focused on issued particular to their region. As stated in our response to the Modernisation Committee's report into regional accountability, however, Government believes that this role should be expanded and that Regional Ministers should take questions in Parliament on their activities to fulfill the roles outlined above. We expect these proposals to be debated in the autumn, with the resulting arrangements likely to be implemented by the end of the year.
I hope this helps provide futher information for the introduction of Regional Ministers and the work they undertake.
What a load of utter shite. These people are now completely detached from reality. If there was any demand for regionalism then maybe we might have call for Regional Leaders, Government Champions and Regional Champions, but there isn't, and there never was.
WE DON'T WANT THEM OR YOUR PATHETIC GOBBLEDYGOOK
Government has not conducted and is not aware of any polling concerning the introduction of Regional Ministers. The Prime Minister appointed a Minister for each of the nine English regions in June last year in order to strengthen the regions' sense of strategic direction and links with central Government.
Gordon Brown and the Ministry of Justice are seemingly oblivious to what the public want. But it's not just the ignorance that rankles, it's the fact that they are now so completely out-of-touch and bereft of ideas that they apparently don't even give a shit anymore. Rudderless and adrift on a sea of incompetence and indicisiveness would be a polite way of describing this government. Why introduce these ministers when no one wants them; and where are we going with this, is it part of some grander plan or just the final death throes of New Labour's failed devolution experiment?
Further to my article on Our Kingdom, in which I say that the West Lothian Question and Barnett Formula are intricately tied, I bring you this letter from the Ministry of Justice to back up my case.
Thank you for your email to the Ministry of Justice dated 28 March 2008. Your email has been forwarded to the Constitutional Settlement Division as the lead area on devolution matters.
Your email refers to the Ipsos Mori poll which displays figures of the public’s view of Scottish MPs being involved in English matters. You note that 46% of the population who took part in this poll were dissatisfied with Scottish MPs voting on English issues.
A fundamental principle of our UK constitution is that all MPs have equal rights in Parliament, whether they represent English, Scottish or Welsh constituencies. As indicated by the Prime Minister on 03 July 2007 [House of Commons Hansard, 03 July, col. 818] the Government does not accept the proposal for English votes for English laws. To do so would be to create two distinct classes of MPs – those who could vote on all matters before the House, and those whose voting rights would be curtailed by virtue of constituency location. MPs play a representative role in considering legislation, considering the welfare of the UK as a whole, rather than narrow geographic interests, and it is right that all MPs continue to have equal voting rights on all matters before the UK Parliament.
The Government is of the view that even matters which may appear confined to England may have an impact on the United Kingdom as a whole. For instance, the funding settlement with the nations and regions of the United Kingdom, means that what is decided on public funding in England affects Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These are national issues for the United Kingdom and should be debated at the national Parliament by all MPs representing the United Kingdom, not by subsets depending on the location of their constituency.
I hope this addresses your concerns.
Dear Miss Samplay,
You are correct to draw my attention to the fact that funding in England determines the levels of funding in the other nations of the UK. On this basis non-English constituency MPs have every right to vote on English matters because of the knock-on effect that it has for their own constituents.
However, the Barnett Formula is widely discredited and should not be used as your raison d'être for Scottish MPs continuing to vote on matters that are of no concern to their constituents; matters on which Scottish MPs are unelected and not directly accountable to any voter be they English or Scottish (Scottish voters elect Ministers to the Scottish Parliament to represent them in areas such as Education, Transport and Health).
The Barnett Formula does not mitigate the West Lothian Question. The public want an answer to the West Lothian Question AND they want the Barnett Formula reformed or scrapped, so please don't demean yourself by citing one injustice in defence of the other.
And I should remind you that the votes, and influence, of Scottish MPs and ministers help to determine England's finances when they are not directly accountable to anyone in England.
The original letter was as follows:
Dear ‘Ministry of Justice’,
Are you aware of the new MORI research that finds that Scottish MPs voting on English matters is the most annoying constitutional problem of the constitutional debacle we laughingly refer to as the United Kingdom?
"The public … are most likely to be dissatisfied with Scottish MPs being able to vote on English issues (46% are dissatisfied with this)."
What does the Government, or the MoJ, intend to do about this to help restore public confidence in politicians and democracy?
The Ministry of Justice has commissioned the pollsters MORI to conduct a survey into Britishness. The results will be published on the 25th of March to coincide with a speech on the Politics of National Identity by Michael Wills, Minister of State, Ministry of Justice.
Michael will be making a contribution to the current debate about Britishness by placing the Government’s constitutional renewal programme in the context of an emerging politics of identity. At the seminar Michael will discuss new poll findings published on the day, based on research undertaken by MORI for the Ministry of Justice, about the sense of belonging in Britain.
It was Michael Wills who once said 'The so-called "English question" is one which does not exist until the Conservative Party asks it, an issue which is not a problem until they try to whip it into one.' so I think we know what to expect.
The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Questions exist, hence devolution; and so too does the British Question, hence the poll and the Government's fixation with Britishness. But the English Question? Nah, that's just a figment of the Tories' imagination. Obvious innit.