Bid to settle West Lothian question

Andrew Woodcock
Monday 10 October 2011 15:56

A Commission of independent experts is to be set up to settle the so-called "West Lothian question" over whether Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs should be barred from voting on laws which only affect England, the Government confirmed today.

The non-partisan commission will focus on parliamentary procedures at Westminster, and will not consider the funding of the different parts of the United Kingdom, said constitutional reform minister Mark Harper in a statement to MPs.

It will also not be asked to look at the balance between English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs in the House of Commons, which was covered by legislation earlier this year.

Formal proposals for the commission's work and its terms of reference will be announced shortly after Parliament returns from its party conference recess in October, said Mr Harper in his written statement.

The so-called West Lothian Question - named after the constituency whose MP, Tam Dalyell, first raised the issue in 1977 - has led to growing calls for "English votes for English laws" since Scotland and Wales were granted devolution in 1997.

English MPs are not allowed to vote on many matters which are now devolved to other UK assemblies and there has been a long-running debate on whether the same should apply the other way round.

Mr Harper said that the commission will be made up of a small group of non-partisan experts with constitutional, legal and parliamentary expertise.

Their primary task will be to examine how the Westminster Parliament can "deal most effectively with business that affects England wholly or primarily, when at the same time similar matters in some or all of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are lawfully and democratically the responsibility of the separate parliament or assemblies", he said.

Ministers will consult with Commons Speaker John Bercow and other parliamentary authorities before the launch of the commission, he said. The political parties will be given "a full opportunity to have their say" following the completion of the commission's work.

Plaid Cymru constitutional spokesman Elfyn Llwyd said Westminster had tried to act as both an English and a UK Parliament.

"England deserves to have its own administration to deal with issues which affect England only," said Mr Llwyd.

"This would then ensure that there is a clear distinction between what is a matter for England and what is a matter for other countries too. The lines are too blurred as they are.

"I and Plaid Cymru hope to be fully involved in this process to ensure fair play for everyone."

Conservative MP Harriett Baldwin has tabled a private member's bill, to be debated in the Commons tomorrow, to require each piece of legislation drafted by Government to identify which geographical area it affects and what its financial impact is on the different parts of the UK.

Mrs Baldwin said: "This simple piece of legislation will clarify the impact of every bill passing through Parliament and it is a small step on the way towards solving the so-called West Lothian Question.

"I am a passionate unionist but I feel this is an issue that needs resolving before the next election. We can't have a situation where a future Government relies on a majority of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish votes to change controversial legislation like tuition fees for England.

"Although the Coalition Agreement calls for the establishment of the West Lothian commission, it has taken my bill to get movement on this."

Shadow lord chancellor Sadiq Khan said: "It's important that the work of the Commission on the West Lothian question focuses on what is in the best interests of our nation's constitution.

"The Government's changes to the constitution have to date been characterised by narrow, selfish, partisan interests about the survival of the coalition.

"Therefore, I hope that on this issue the Government will seek to work with all the major parties on the membership and the terms of reference for the Commission."


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