Argument For Founding a.Parliament to Handle Domestic Business Only ,
W. RYLAND D. ADKINSMay151920
Home Rule for England
Argument For Founding a.Parliament to Handle Domestic Business Only ,
W. RYLAND D. ADKINS
IT is interesting, during the storm over
the settlement of Irish affairs, to turn to a suggestion that something in the way of Home Rule is needed in England. It appears in the Contemporary.
This perhaps is enough to say on the generally accepted need of devolution. If that need is to be met by the creation of subordinate Parliaments, is not the claim of England among the strongest? So far as regards Parliamentary legislation for special localities, Scotland has long come off best. Of the earnestness and reality of a Scotch demand for Home Rule I would speak with respect and sympathy. At the same time, she has managed without Home Rule to get her own way as usual. A case of an important Bill, affecting Scotland only, being altered against the will of Scotch members, would be a portent and, with regard to Committee work on such Bills, to other than Scotch members the Committee would be a bed of thistles not lightly to be ventured on. Ireland, of course, is a special case. But when Irish Members are present they have hitherto taken up their share of Parliamentary time, sometimes even a little more. The separate nationalism of Wales has developed in the Parliamentary sphere in comparatively recent times and is obviously destined to go much further. Even here, on purely Welsh matters, Welsh opinion carries great weight and separate legislation for Wales is becoming more frequent. But with England, there is no amelioration of the fact that measures affecting England only have to take their chance without any special preference in the general ruck of Parliamentary business. And because of England’s size and population, the general remarks about the congestion in the House of Commons apply chiefly to her. Indeed the main problem of devolution, allowing for the exceptional case of Ireland, is a problem of devolution to England. Accordingly, has not the time come, not only for members of the Speaker’s Conference, but for the public generally, to consider whether a subordinate Parliament for England is not a matter of practical politics? _ It is quite true that at present there is no active propaganda for it. That is probably because the public does not recognize how this question is involved in any effective system of devolution. And also because the very size of England hinders such a concentration of polemic on this point as is easy in Scotland and Wales. Nor is the case against Home Rule for the whole of England made stronger when the possible alternatives are considered. If for various reasons any English subordinate Parliament should be no larger than, say, that of Scotland, it would mean the breaking of England into three or four provinces, conceivably, one for England north of Trent, one for London and the Home counties, one for the country south of Thames and Severn, and one for the Midlands, with possibly East Anglia. Such machinery would neither be informed by historic traditions (for -whose pulses now beat at the thought of the Heptarchy?) nor by the tendency of the time. The whole administrative system of the country would be broken up, the provinces would compete against each other for the best men and the lowest salaries, and the consequent struggle of all employed persons to get in each province the best offered elsewhere would be always choking the machine with sand. Rival legislatures passing different laws on the same subject would be confronted with the fact that there were no natural boundaries and that the differences of law between the county on one side of the river and that on the other did not correspond to any differences of natural
Indeed, to many, the size of England may seem the greatest difficulty. ■ More than two-thirds of the members of the House of Commons sit for English constituencies, and a Parliament for English domestic affairs would be far larger and so in some ways more powerful than those for Scotland and Wales. And it is true that in no other country where there are subordinate legislatures is any one of them so preponderant as that of England would be. These are real difficulties and, so far as they go, furnish sound arguments. But in matters of high statesmanship there are always valid arguments against any course. The real question is, do these outweigh the reasons for a Parliament for the whole of England? Constitutional change to be justified and permanent must ' recognize actual facts, and is it not the fact that England, large though it be, is ! one and indivisible for purposes of legisla; tion? It has now had, apart from Welsh 1 absorption of Monmouthshire, the same area for eight hundred years. There have been uniform laws throughout. Compared with other countries, there is great uniformity of custom. The few exceptions such as Gavelkind in Kent, are conspicuous by their very rarity. Types of local authorities are identical throughout the country: there is the same kind of County Council for Lancashire and Rutland. The Corporations of Birmingham and Bideford are identical in form. And the sense of National Unity to which all these things contribute has been strengthened by the conditions of the last century. The enormous number of people employed either in the Civil Service, or by Local Authorities, or by organizations like the railways of wide geographical extent, are drawn indifferently from all parts of the country, and in many cases are liable i to be moved from North to South or East to West as a matter of course. England is the real unit of administration for such people as teachers, Post Office servants, and others.
A similar movement can be noted in the spheres of religion, of sport, and of social habits. In religion, apart from the Roman Catholic Church, which is essentially international in character and organization, religious societies become more national in frame-work. The Church of England ecclesiastically is two provinces, Canterbury and York, independent and : practically co-equal, but this aspect fades ! before the vision of a National Church ¡ Council expressing a National Church. ’ The various Free Churches arising entirely apart from geographical considerations are now organized under National Unions which did not exist of old, and which tend more and more to be for England alone without Wales. It is so also with the amusements of the people; the same football draws crowds at Newcastle and Plymouth; Yorkshire and Hampshire compete for the County Championship in cricket. Disputes as to hunting in a particular district are referred to an Association of Masters, whose authority extends throughout the country and, whether it be the organization of industries, of employers or employed, or of the learned professions, it is the national organization which tends to direct and decide. Even in the basic habit of where to live and where to work we find more and more, both in cases of wealth and of manual labor, that the work is in one place and the home is another, from the extreme case of the manufacturer of the North who has acquired a place in the South to the ordinary instance of the user of workmen’s trains who may sleep as far as thirty miles from the spot where he spends his day. All these various characteristics of the age go to break up the isolation of localities and to emphasize the solidarity of England as England.
condition. Fancy South Derbyshire un der a different Parliament from North Leicestershire, or Berkshire from Oxfordshire, or Hertfordhire from Bedfordshire! There would, of course, be real divergencies in the general character of some of the provinces—the north mainly industrial, that south of Thames and Severn mainly rural—but it may be doubted whether these differences would help the harmonious working of devolution. At present the man who makes his fortune in wool or cotton and buys an estate in Dorset or Devon does at any rate pay his taxes towards funds by which Lancashire and Yorkshire benefit, but if wealth were taken from the North to be spent in the South, and the contribution in taxes were limited only to those matters controlled by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, would not the latent friction between industrial and residential England remain latent no longer?
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