The Campaign for an English Parliament has noted that last Wednesday's vote on a third runway at Heathrow Airport was won for the Government by MPs elected outside England. English constituency MPs rejected the third runway by a margin of 20 votes but a phalanx of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs trooped through the lobby to win the day for the Government, overturning, in the process, the democratic will of England.
According to one Labour rebel a “tearful and dewy eyed” Prime Minister had called wavering Labour MPs into his office to tell them that losing this vote would “de-stabilise the Government and de-stabilise the markets”. In the event 52% of English MPs voted against the Government, 48% with the Government. But MPs elected outside England were a different matter altogether, of these MPs only 29% voted against the Government, with a whopping 71% supporting the building of a new £13bn runway on top of the ancient English village of Sipson.
Across the country the general public opposed the third runway by a margin of 13% (YouGov), so English MPs appear to be better reflecting public opinion than non-English MPs who fly in the face of it. So why the disparity? The Constitution Unit at University College London may have the answer. Between May 2005 and June 2007 CU researchers analysed data from almost 500 votes in the House of Commons. It revealed that Scottish Labour backbenchers rebelled in an average of 1.8% of votes, compared to an average of 3.4% for their English counterparts and 1.9% among Welsh MPs.
According to the Constitution Unit the “most significant factor” in explaining this phenomenon is that Scots MPs vote through unpopular Government measures that do not apply north of the Border because they face no external pressure from their constituents or local party.
“It would be wrong to suggest that Scottish electors do not care about the issues surrounding the Heathrow debate”, said Gareth Young, in a message to CEP members, “but we have to recognise that they elect a Minister to the Scottish Parliament to represent them on Transport, Planning and the Environment (planning is a devolved matter); so a Scottish Westminster MP looking to advance his career by voting with the Government can be reasonably sure that his constituents will disregard his voting record on these matters.
“There is the small matter of the Barnett consequentials too, Scotland stands to rake in up to £130 million from this, to spend on whatever they want without the interference of English MPs.
“The presence of non-English MPs in the parliament that governs England not only allows them to foist unpopular measures on England, but also helps to stabilise an unpopular and unwanted government; compromising England's right to pick the government of its choosing, and lessening our chances of kicking out a government that we don’t want.”
Gareth Young CEP: email - email@example.com
CEP Media Unit
Tel: 01260 271139