Newspaper article Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Byline: Emyr Jones Parry
TODAY sees the presentation of the report produced by the Commission set up by the UK Government to consider how the House of Commons might consider legislation affecting only part of the UK following devolution.
More than 35 years ago, Tam Dalyell posed the West Lothian Question. He asked why he, as an MP from a Scottish constituency, should be able to vote on issues such as education policy in England when an MP from England would have no reciprocal right to vote on such issues in Scotland following devolution. The underlying issue was not new, going back to debates on Irish Home Rule in the 1880s.
Post devolution, Westminster MPs from outside England continue to be able to vote on issues of concern principally to England. This complaint is turning into acute concern. Critics point to the possibility that Northern Irish, Scottish or Welsh MPs could form part of a UK-wide majority which could outvote a majority of MPs representing England on matters of exclusively or principally English concern. But examples are rare and the issue more theoretical than real. It is not the first subject of discussion in the Bristol pub.
However, the present governing arrangements for England are emerging by default as a residual consequence of devolution, and have changed little with no differentiation between English and UK-wide matters.
So how much of a problem is there? Evidence available to us from reputable surveys suggests a significant level of grievance among the people of England, sparked by the perception that England is materially disadvantaged relative to the other parts of the UK, especially Scotland. There is a consistent message across England that its people do not think it right that Scottish MPs should be allowed to vote in the House of Commons on laws that affect England only. The current institutional arrangements for making laws for England are seen as lacking some form of England-specific legislative process. There is substantial distrust that the UK Government adequately protects English interests. Dalyell's question is perhaps a symptom of deeper concerns.
The Commission considered whether MPs from England should in effect have a veto on legislation applying only to England. We concluded that no MP should be prevented from voting on matters before the UK Parliament. To do so would create different classes of MP and could provoke deadlock between the UK Government and a majority of MPs in England. Instead MPs from all parts of the United Kingdom should have the opportunity to participate in the adoption of all legislation. MPs from England should have new or additional ways to assert their interests on legislation affecting England only with MPs outside England maintaining their right to vote.
Our Commission therefore approached the question from the opposite perspective. Rather than limit the rights of MPs for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to vote on exclusively or principally English issues, we explored ways of giving new additional responsibilities and opportunities to MPs representing England. …