The End for the Current British Cabinet

I was reading the various articles about plans for English Votes for English Laws- excluding MPs from non-English seats from voting on devolved matters when I read of some extreme Tories suggesting that in future no such MP could be Chancellor or PM when a penny dropped.

If there is to be an English legislature via Grand Committee or by a more formal methiod and this leads to an English First Minister and cabinet, the entire structure of the current British Cabinet will need to be rewritten.

This is the current cabinet:

Prime Minister
Leader of the UK Parliament
First Lord of the Treasury
Minister for the Civil Service The Rt Hon. David Cameron MP
Deputy Prime Minister
Lord President of the Council The Rt Hon. Nick Clegg MP
First Secretary of State
Leader of the House of Commons The Rt Hon. William Hague MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer The Rt Hon. George Osborne MP
Secretary of State for the Home Department The Rt Hon. Theresa May MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs The Rt Hon. Philip Hammond MP
Lord Chancellor
Secretary of State for Justice The Rt Hon. Chris Grayling MP
Secretary of State for Defence The Rt Hon. Michael Fallon MP
Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills
President of the Board of Trade The Rt Hon. Vince Cable MP
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions The Rt Hon. Iain Duncan Smith MP
Secretary of State for Health The Rt Hon. Jeremy Hunt MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Minister for Faith The Rt Hon. Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of State for Education
Minister for Women and Equalities The Rt Hon. Nicky Morgan MP
Secretary of State for International Development The Rt Hon. Justine Greening MP
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change The Rt Hon. Ed Davey MP
Secretary of State for Transport The Rt Hon. Patrick McLoughlin MP
Secretary of State for Scotland The Rt Hon. Alistair Carmichael MP
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland The Rt Hon. Theresa Villiers MP
Secretary of State for Wales The Rt Hon. Stephen Crabb MP
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport The Rt Hon. Sajid Javid MP
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs The Rt Hon. Elizabeth Truss MP
Chief Secretary to the Treasury The Rt Hon. Danny Alexander MP

All of the members highlighted in red would lose all or part of their reposnibilities and would need to have counterparts in the English Executive.

EIther these posts would need to be reduced and combined to reflect the limitations on their purview, or specific representation from devolved administrations would need to be introduced, or English Ministers with devolved powers would be sitting in cabinet for the UK, but their devolved counterparts would not.

Maybe the role of the Ministers for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales should be upgraded to senior positions, and rather than being 'responsible for the other nation’s affairs, they should represent their Executives As Minister Delegate from the devolved administrations together with a Minister for England performing the same duties for the English Executive.

The Cabinet would then consist of

Prime Minister
English Secretary
Scottish Secretary
Welsh Secretary
Northern irish Secretary
Home (Rump plus other non-devolved internal issues)
Women and Minorities
International Development
Energy and Climate Change

And an English Executive for each of the arenas reserved to the English legislature.

Interesting times ahead?

Well, you might question the need for separate cabinet secretaries for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland once you have uniform devolution to all those places. The whole point about devolving responsibility to the legislatures and executives of the various parts of the UK is that the UK legislature and executive don’t need to worry about those matters any more, and it seems excessive to devote four UK cabinet posts to affairs that are not the responsibility of the UK cabinet.

I think what there might be a need for, though, is a cabinet secretary whose role was, or included, liaison between the UK government and the devolved governments, and co-ordination between the devolved governments. Once you have, e.g., transport devolved, then obviously transport links which cross borders will require co-operation and co-ordination between devolved governments, and the UK government will have a role to play there. This function could reside in the Cabinet Office, or in the Lord Chancellor’s Department, or in a Department created for the purpose. Or they could adopt a “European Council” model - a council of ministers from both UK and devolved governments, whose composition varies according to the business in hand - transport ministers to discuss transport policy, home affairs/police ministers to discuss anti-terrorism, whatever.

The current plans for “English votes for English laws” are stupid, and only consider one tiny aspect of British democracy: MPs’ votes in the Commons. As I mentioned in the other thread on Scottish Independence, under the current plans Scottish MPs sitting in committee could still have a massive effect on English laws, and Scottish Lords could still send them back to the Commons. Further, how could it possibly be the case that a Scot or Welshman could ever hold the office of Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer again, given the enormous influence over the formation of laws, not even considering voting on them in the Commons, that these two positions hold? It’s a recipe for the rapid destruction of the Union, not a compromise to save it.

Cameron’s ideas sound good on the surface until you stop and think about them. They’re a complete bodge job, a stopgap measure to try to appease English voters without actually doing what needs to be done: devolving power properly away from Westminster and to either England as a whole or to the English regions. But having Westminster politicians vote for English devolution is, I suspect, like having Turkeys vote for Christmas — it will massively reduce the amount of power they’re able to wield.

A Conservative friend of mine has proposed that Scots could continue to run those departments but the subordinate Secretary of State could be English in that scenario, and would take the lead on English matters in Grand Committee.

I disagree strongly.

Let me test your commitment to democracy here, as it is a matter of principle.
If a bill is before the house that deals purely with English matters, do you think it is right that Scottish MP’s get to vote on it. It will never effect them or their constituents…do you think it is right for them to get a vote?

So a very simple question, you can answer it in one word if you chose.

If it’s a matter for the UK parliament, then every member of Parliament should have a vote. There shouldn’t be any second-class members who are excluded from certain votes.

The question is, is it a matter for the UK parliament? If it relates to England only, should it not be devolved to some English representative body?

you mean like SNP or Plaid Cymru MP’s? They already abstain from issues that don’t affect Scotland. Are they wrong to do so?

What is a better representative body than the elected members of Parliament for English constituencies?

But no, in any case that wasn’t my question. It is one that has been put to many politicians over the last few days and it is very, very simple. I’ll repeat it

I’ve been very, very disappointed at the way Labour in particular have ducked this one. Not surprised…they are professional politicians after all.

You seem to be attacking a point that I’m not advocating. As an Englishman, I fully understand the unfairness of Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish voting on “English matters”. What I disagree with is the route that is being pursued to fix this unfairness, which is a bodge-job that does not actually fix the problem at hand. As I pointed out, if you prevent Scottish MPs voting on English matters, you must also prevent Scottish Lords from sending English Bills back to the Commons, Scottish MPs from sitting in committee on English matters, and you must prevent a Scot from ever holding the purse strings of government or being PM, with all the influence that has over government policy. None of this is being advocated, because the solution being put forward seems to have been thought up by somebody down the pub on the back of a beermat. The real fix is English devolution and Westminster butting out of matters devolved to the National bodies.

Further, what seems to be missing in all of this debate is the observation that there are very few purely “English matters” due to how the Scottish block grant is set up. If English MPs vote on cutting the English and Welsh NHS budget, then this directly affects the Scottish block grant too. All of this mess needs untangling, and simply having some weird arrangement with two classes of MP at Westminster betrays a startling lack of imagination and understanding of what the real problem with the British constitution actually is.

What’s a “purely English” matter?

Any changes in levels of funding for English public services will, through the magic of the Barnett formula, affect levels of funding for Scottish public services. So Scottish MPs can justifiably vote on any English legislation that involves funding.

A similar argument could be constructed for anything that involves intra-UK trade or anything (e.g. pension regulation) that could affect English people living in Scotland and thus represented by Scottish MPs.

A great deal of parliamentary time could easily be wasted on challenges and counter-challenges (some sensible, some bullshit) to controversial bills to establish just whether they were “English” or “British”.

No, but they are politically accountable for doing so. There is a big difference between choosing not to cast a vote, and not being allowed to cast a vote.

If they want to establish an English representative body to deal with exclusively English affairs whose members are those Westminster MPs elected to represent English consituencies, they can do that. Such a body would not be the UK parliament, however.

If it’s before the House, then the members of the House get to vote on it. That’s pretty much what “before the House” means, surely?

The question is not whether it is right that members of the House get to vote on Bills before the House. The question is whether it is right that a measure of purely local English interest should be dealt with by the UK parliament. And I think the answer is, if the English are happy to have it dealt with at that level, I see no problem. If they’re not, England can make the same case for devolution as any other part of the UK, and it would be anomalous to refuse it.

So you agree that, if it can be clearly defined as an English only matter, Scottish MP’s should not vote?

There isn’t a process or a proposal as yet that is any more detailed than the general principle. Agree with that first (or not) and then we can move on to the detail of how it is achieved

OK, not really a problem.

In the same way that English MP’s do not sit on committees for Scottish matters?

and? The role of PM and cabinet ministers may certainly need to change quite fundamentally. The whole house may need to change. Would any of those changes be any more complicated than separating off a whole country? (which was on the table until last Friday)
Anyway, do you think that, given the current climate, Any main party would voluntarily choose a chancellor or PM from a Scottish constituency? Do you not think that legitimacy is already damaged? Personally I don’t think the public will worry about the shaping of or commentary on policy by a Scottish Constituency MP as long as they abstain from any vote and allow such English legislation to be tested by a (temporarily) purely English house.

Sure, that can be the end point some years down the road but I think the ship has already sailed on the West Lothian Question. That, along with the state of the economy is going to be the agenda for the next Election. Simplistic it may be but currently only one party is committed to ensuring only English MP’s vote on English matters and that will be heck of a weapon if the murmurings in my neck of the woods are anything to go by. Labour could make this go away by saying " we agree that we must end up with English votes for English matters, we propose a process of constitutional review and reform and until such time as those reforms are in place we will have our Scottish MPs abstain from English only legislation"

Very simple for them to say and do but they won’t because they know they may run into difficulties passing some bills…which calls into question whether they have a mandate to be legislating on such matters in the first place. Maybe they shoudl do better in England if they want to presume to speak for England?

“It rarely happens so it doesn’t matter” is not a great argument against a principle. Certainly not when further devolution for Scotland and others will increase the number of these incidents. Of course if it is so rare then there would be no harm in Labour committing to an informal agreement until the more complicated constitutional matters are sorted out. And in any case there already are two classes of MP’s at Westminster (albeit informally).
Personally I think there is willingness on the Labour side of the fence to complicate this matter to the point where it goes away or appears insurmountable. I understand why they’d want to do this but it is unedifying to watch. I know they rely on their Scottish MP’s for a huge chunk of their majority but as Scotland gets more and more devolved power, the legitimacy of that situation is called into question. Unfortunately for Labour it is a very easily story of injustice for the tories to tell and a simple concept for the English population to grasp, hence the fact that it’ll be a big election issue.

As for the Block Grant, if it is a problem then it can be changed, along with the Barnett Formula et al. (assuming it is still a problem when the additional devolved powers are defined) If it is possible to define a “Scottish” issue then it is equally possible to define what an “English” matter is.

eta - thanks for your replies as well Stanislaus and UDS, I think my own own replies to the points you raise are covered in here…somewhere…maybe!

I assume that when you say “Scot” you mean person representing a Scottish constituency.

My view is that this WILL be settled by fudge- both the Tories and Labour have an interest it getting rid of this problem. Both may lose out by being obstinate- Cameron for appearing to delay the promises made following the referendum, Labour for seeming to be sel serving to maintain a potential Labour government.

I suspect that there will be some sort of Grand Committee (like the old Scottish Grand Committee) that will be responsible jointly with all MPs for English legislation with the understanding that going against its decision would be seen as outside normal protocol. So if it was Labour policy to get rid of the Bedroom Tax/Spare Room subsidy, they would need to negotiate with the Grand Committee over the matter and it would be settled by fudge each time.

No. The status quo is preferable to any situation where only an English man could possibly be the PM or Chancellor. If the proposed “fix” to the problem is some shitty half-arsed measure that will inevitably become entrenched and be presented to the country as a purported fix for the problem, that we are then lumbered with forever more (and this is exactly what will happen — the idea that this is a temporary move before England gets a devolved Parliament is insanely naive), then I’d rather continue having Scots vote on the tiny number of purely English matters.

This whole thing smacks of the adage: “we must do something! this is something, therefore we must do this”. Either fix the problem properly or don’t bother.

It is entirely possible to set out a timeline where we have a stop-gap measure that addresses the current unfairness and still ties all parties in to a process to establish a more permanent change.
The “VOW” was put together fairly quickly and ad-hoc and yet all concerned seem to think that it locks everyone in to process that reaches a certain destination with certain milestones along the way. Absolutely no reason why the English votes problem cannot be dealt with in the same way. I agree that banning Scottish constituency MP’s from voting on English matters is not the final solution but I do think (and public opinion that I come into contact with agrees with me) that it is the bare minimum that should happen first.

The “English only” PM isn’t a problem in my eyes. A simple fix would be that the parties open their leadership election to the party members (one man one vote) and if they are happy for a Scottish Constituency MP to be their leader then why would it be a problem? they’d have their mandate to lead from the whole country right there.

I’ve absolutely no doubt that it is possible to do this, but I believe strongly that any stopgap measure will not be in anyway “stopgap” and will become permanent. As soon as any measure is taken to remove Scottish MPs voting on English matters the impetus for further constitutional change is removed. Westminster will do the bare minimum necessary to solve this problem and go no further, if allowed, and this is exactly why this insane idea should be resisted at all costs.

Yup. If the English decide that they don’t want non-English MPs voting on purely English matters then they want devolution. If they have survived since 1707 without it, I don’t see the screaming urgency for “stopgap measures” that involve imposing disabilities on non-English MPs while they work out the nuts and bolts of their devolution.

If we set about devising measures that Westminster could take to revive and rejuvenate the Scottish independence campaign, turning non-English MPs at Westminster into second-class members with limited voting rights would be one of them. If you don’t want non-English MPs voting on matters of purely English concern then don’t deal with them in the UK parliament. It’s not rocket science.

If the stopgap ends up working to the satisfaction of all parties then of course it should become permanent. How do you think we ended up with our current system anyway?
If the voters are not satisfied with the stopgap then they will make their voice heard. How do you think Scottish voters (with their much smaller numbers) forced devolution and an independence vote in the first place.

Exactly. We’ve just come through a costly and divisive independence referendum, one which the Union side won by the skin of its teeth, thank God, only to see the Union at risk of being ripped apart at the seams by the moon-faced inbred and his gang of effeminate toffs with their incompetent bumbling and scheming, jockeying for party advantage ahead of what is best for the country at large.

What needs to be done to solve the “English question” is plainly obvious to everybody. There’s absolutely no need for stopgap measures. We can survive another few years with Scots voting on the tiny number of purely English matters until a proper constitutional settlement has been reached which sees power devolved to an English assembly, or a series of them.

But what I hear quite clearly is that they want devolution…and…they want reduced Scottish influence on English matters. It isn’t either or. It can be one followed by the other.

you mean just as the SNP and Plaid Cymru members already impose on themselves? If the pro-independence parties are already voluntarily doing precisely this…how would extending it to other constituencies make a stronger case for independence. Would more Labour voters swing to SNP so that they can have their members vote on purely English matters?..because I can see a large flaw in that argument

Exactly, it isn’t rocket science. Put a plan in place to move those decisions out of Westminster and in the meantime have a moratorium on devolved MP’s voting on matters outside of their areas. Perfect is the enemy of better though. The obvious democratic nonsense of MP’s voting on matters that do not affect them can be halted immediately and easily and does not preclude a future system that removes the need for such a stopgap entirely.
I don’t think that a party will be able to campaign for next May without bowing to pressure on this. Imagine if Labour have to say "until we know exactly how this is all going to work then we will continue to allow our Scottish MP’s to vote on English matters. How much of a gift is that to the tories?

How did we end up with the shower of shit sometimes referred to charitably as a “system”, implying some level of design and organisation, where Bishops and unelected Lords sit in our upper house, anybody unfortunate enough to live in a safe seat is practically disenfranchised, half the Commons are “on the take” with little the general public can do to change the system, half the country are so disillusioned they don’t bother voting, and nearly a half of all Scots would rather risk penury than continue with the status quo? Why, I imagine such a system was built up over centuries with a series of “stopgap” measures with little thought or design behind them.