Labour may cut number of Scots MPs

Tony Blair is to order a high-powered internal review of the impact of Scottish devolution on English politics and the right of Scottish Westminster MPs to decide political issues south of the border.

The party is expected to establish a commission in the new year to examine possible answers to the so-called "West Lothian" question, which formed the intellectual basis of the most coherent attack on the devolution proposals of the Callaghan government.

The inquiry's remit will reflect the party leadership's determination to press ahead with plans for a Scottish Parliament, with tax-raising powers, early in a Labour administration.

But it will seek to establish whether an answer can be found to the question posed repeatedly in the late 1970s by Tam Dalyell, an anti-devolutionist, and the then MP for West Lothian - whether it was justified for Scottish MPs to vote on English and possibly Welsh legislation which no longer applied in Scotland, because it covered issues to be determined by the Scottish Parliament.

The commission is likely to be headed by a high-ranking Scottish Labour figure with UK-wide shadow responsibilities, like Donald Dewar, the Chief Whip, or Lord Irvine, whom Mr Blair will appoint as Lord Chancellor if he wins the election. It will almost certainly include other senior front- benchers, including George Robertson, the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Ann Taylor, the shadow Leader of the Commons.

The Labour leadership is open-minded on the outcome and Mr Blair has made it clear that he has no intention of backing down on the detailed commitment to a Scottish Parliament - already drawn up with the Liberal Democrats - whatever the conclusions.

But its existence raises the possibility for the first time that the present total of 72 Scottish MPs at Westminster - the large majority of whom are at present Labour - could be reduced to compensate for new powers which will be devolved under Scottish home rule.

So far, even though there are more Labour MPs per head of population in Scotland than in England, Labour has not suggested that the numbers should be reduced. But the Liberal Democrats are already committed to reducing the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster.

John Major is certain to press the arguments raised by the West Lothian question in the run-up to the general election, as he did in the 1992 campaign, when he warned that devolution meant that the "future status and number of Scotland's MPs at Westminster would inevitably be diminished".

The Tories are already preparing to question the potential role of Gordon Brown as Chancellor, sitting for a Scottish seat but fixing tax rates for England and Wales. Such tax rates might not be the final levels for Scotland - at least in theory - because of the Scottish Parliament's right to add or subtract up to 3p in the pound to or from UK tax rates.

The terms of reference of the Labour inquiry are likely to be wide-ranging and could include an examination of whether there is any case for allowing some business for England and Wales to be decided only by English and Welsh MPs. Although Labour is committed to setting up a Welsh assembly, this would have more limited powers than the Scottish Parliament and no right to levy taxes.

The inquiry is less likely to re-open the question of regional government in England as a possible answer to the West Lothian question. While Mr Blair is committed to a regional elected authority for London, the party has made it clear that it will only agree to regional assemblies elsewhere where there is clear public demand tested in a referendum.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Joinery Shop Foreman

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Joinery Shop Foreman is required to join a p...

Recruitment Genius: Bench Joiner

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Bench Joiner is required to join a privately...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Recruitment and Sales People wanted f...

Recruitment Genius: Multi Skilled Engineer - Electrical / Mechanical / Maintenance

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A multi-skilled engineer with a...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada