Should England have a Parliament

Devolution was introduced by the Labour government in 1999, following referendums in Scotland and Wales and the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement in Northern Ireland. There were few demands for devolution in England at the time, so an English Parliament was not seriously considered. Because England houses the overwhelming majority (84%) of the UK’s population, there were also concerns that a devolved English Parliament would remove a lot of powers and responsibilities from the UK parliament, and might weaken the United Kingdom as a political union.   

There has been more interest in proposals to give more powers to English regions than to England as a whole. When devolution was introduced to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the government had planned to set up elected regional assemblies in England. But this idea was abandoned in 2004, when more than three-quarters of voters in the North-East of England opposed the assembly planned for their region. Directly-elected mayors have been introduced in some English ‘city-regions’, starting with London in 2000 and, from 2017, extending to eight other areas, including Greater Manchester and the West Midlands. London also has an elected assembly that is responsible for holding the mayor to account. 

If an English Parliament is elected in the same way as those in Scotland and Wales, with regional lists as well as first past the post individual constituencies, then there would be greater representation of the Conservatives in the North East of England and the Labour Party in the South and smaller parties such as the Greens and UKIP would have representation that more accurately reflects the level of support for them.  Decisions would have to be taken with greater cooperation between parties.

A new English Parliament could be located away from London and thus reduce the prominence that the metropolis has in politics and the media. Although regional government in England may have a similar effect, there has been little support for it as the referendum on a regional assembly for the North-East in 2004 showed. Any ‘regions’ would always be artificial creations.

An English Parliament may be the only way to keep the Union. Westminster has become increasingly seen as an English Parliament in Scotland and Wales. It is more difficult to see a future Prime Minister coming from Scotland or Wales so that the office has become to seem more English in character. 


England is the most prosperous and heavily populated part of the UK, but it's the only one without a devolved body. Under the 1978 Barnett formula for deciding on levels of public spending, England receives less per person than the other parts of the UK. A federal solution would promote greater equality between the different parts of the UK

EVEL makes Scottish MPs second-class representatives at Westminster, weakening the unity of the UK. It doesn't really resolve the West Lothian question.

Devolution has led to policies to meet the differing needs of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish peoples, so why would it not work for England?

There is a strong regional identity in some parts of the UK, for example in Devon and Cornwall. This could be a basis for regional assemblies which might co-ordinate local policies and attract inward investment.


England's size and wealth mean that it would dominate a federal structure. Also how would an English parliament relate to Westminster? For example, a

separate English executive could clash with the UK government over the handling of domestic English issues.

EVEL may have resolved the West Lothian question. It has been used at Westminster to pass a housing bill in 2016. Scottish MPs dislike it but its introduction has not thus far caused the UK to break up.

Opinion polls have suggested support for an English Parliament but this is only when people are asked.  There is limited evidence that there is really a groundswell of opinion in favour of one, in contrast to Scotland before 1997.

The defeat of Blair's proposals in 2004 suggests that there isn't a strong enough sense of identity across the UK to make regional assemblies viable

Existing Devolution in England

Key features

There is no formal devolution in England, however there is an extensive structure of local government institutions, alongside some directly elected mayors and regional police and crime commissioners. These local government authorities have no primary legislative powers, and can only deal with powers delegated to them by central government.

57 unitary councils: single-tier bodies responsible for the full range of local services including education and social care as well as libraries, refuse collection and parks. Most unitary councils are found in large towns and cities, e.g. Portsmouth and Derby, and some small counties such as Rutland.

36 metropolitan boroughs: single-tier bodies that have broadly similar powers to the more recently formed unitary councils but are longer established (being created in 1974). They are found in heavily urbanised areas in the North and Midlands, e.g. the Metropolitan Borough of Barnsley.

 25 county councils: part of a two-tier local authority structure and oversee key services such as education and social services. They are principally found in less heavily urbanised areas, e.g. Suffolk.

188 district, borough or city councils: also part of the two-tier structure and are responsible for providing more localised services such as leisure, planning and refuse collection. Again, they tend to be in less heavily populated parts of the country, e.g. New Forest District Council.

Combined authorities: since 1999 a small number of combined authorities have been set up, which enable a group of two or more councils to collaborate and take collective decisions across council boundaries. By 2020, 10 such bodies had been created, including Greater Manchester and Sheffield City Region.

 32 London boroughs: London has its own setup for local government, comprising 32 boroughs and the Greater London Authority, which comprises 25 elected members and a directly elected mayor. In 2020, this was Sadiq Khan; he was preceded by Boris Johnson. This structure was approved following a referendum in 1998.

City mayors: the government has encouraged directly elected city mayors. The Local Government Act 2000 allowed any local council in England to hold a referendum on the introduction of a directly elected mayor, either by citizen petition or council decision. Since then, councils have been allowed to introduce the system without a referendum. Under the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, ‘Metro Mayors’ were elected for the first time in 2017 to lead several combined authorities (CAs). In May 2018, a metro mayor election was held for the Sheffield City Region CA, followed by North of Tyne (Newcastle and its surrounding area) a year later. By 2020, there were 15 directly elected city mayors and eight metro mayors. For example, former Labour health minister Andy Burnham was elected as Manchester’s mayor in 2017.