The people of England deserve a referendum of their own

An English Parliament

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Those members of Parliament at Westminster who are committed to preserving the United Kingdom have to face a ferociously difficult question. Now that the Scots and Welsh have decided on devolution, how do we deliver a fair deal for England?

William Hague has quite rightly announced than an incoming Conservative government would respect the outcome of the referendums. But Labour's compromise proposals are a constitutional mess. They do not solve the so-called West Lothian question, the problem of Scottish MPs voting on matters that solely affect the English, whilst the English MPs cannot vote on similar matters that solely affect the Scots.

Nobody should doubt that the English feel as passionately about their country as the Scots or the Welsh. The best demonstration of this is the extent to which the English have been willing to make sacrifices in the interests of the Union: for example, on the basis of population, Scotland has 14 more MPs than it would have with the English size of constituencies. In terms of public expenditure, Wales receives one-sixth more money than England, Scotland a fifth more, and Northern Ireland a third more.

There are, of course, reasons for these differences, and the English have accepted them because most people place enormous value on the Union. They recognise the energy that the United Kingdom has gained from the amalgamation of the talents of all parts of the Kingdom.

Which is why Labour's proposals are potentially so disastrous. The Government is meddling with a finely balanced structure which has historically worked to everybody's advantage. It is taking the risk of starting a process that will unravel the tightly woven fabric of our country.

Those Welsh people who want an assembly will resent the stronger Scottish institution. As for the English, Labour's attempt to provide supposed fairness with regional councils is, of course, nonsense. It will not solve the West Lothian question. It will simply create soulless regional bureaucracies, bleak outstations of Brussels.

Nobody could with any serious constitutional sense equate, say, a Yorkshire and Humberside regional council with the Scottish Parliament. The constitutional mess of pottage that we are being offered in exchange for our heritage and history is not going to satisfy anyone.

It is no accident that Labour's proposals fit well with the wishes of the European Commission. In the federalist lexicon, the nation state is seen as the source of many evils, from unemployment to war.

The nation state is the strongest manifestation of the democratic will of the people. It is a moral concept, indissolubly tied to the emotional identity of the people; it is not an administrative convenience to suit Labour's apparent urge to bypass Westminster by every means possible.

The people of England deserve nothing less than equal treatment. And the people of Britain deserve a constitutional settlement that is at least logical. If each of the other nations of the United Kingdom is going to have its own parliament, then England's choice should be no less. If Labour truly believes that this is the proper future for the people of Scotland and Wales, their logic must mean the same for England. This means equal treatment in all respects, not just financial - although we should have funding equality for England, Scotland and Wales.

The people of England deserve a referendum on whether they want a Parliament of their own. In their own words, Labour should trust the people - in this case the people of England. Anything less will lead to disaffection and discontent; to a belief that the English are being treated as second- class citizens in their own land.

The writer is Conservative MP for Boothferry.

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