Wed Jul 5th, 2006 at 10:19:54 AM EST
This is beginning to become a major constitutional problem for the United Kingdom since the creation of the Scottish and (to a lesser extent) the Welsh assembly.
Jerome asked for a diary. Fortunately, this article was in the Independent today and conveniently explains the issue. http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article1159315.ece
So here are some highlights.
What is the problem?
Since the Scottish Assembly started up in May 1999, the Scots have had control of their own health, education, agriculture and justice systems. Other matters, like foreign affairs, continue to run from Westminster. Scottish MPs continue to sit in the House of Commons and can vote on any legislation there, whether it applies to Scotland or not.
In November 2003, the Government narrowly won a Commons vote on whether to introduce Foundation Hospitals in England. If the vote had been restricted to English MPs, whose voters were the only ones likely to be affected by the legislation, it would have been defeated. In fact, the legislation was rescued by 44 Scottish Labour MPs who backed the Government.
Even more controversially, in January 2004, a Bill allowing English and Welsh universities to charge variable tuition fees, which did not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland, scraped through the Commons by only five votes, the narrowest majority in the history of Tony Blair's government .
The only Scottish Tory MP, Peter Duncan, refused on principle to vote, because the issue did not affect Scotland. Almost all the other Scottish MPs - who numbered a total of 72 at that time - came out to vote, dividing 46-21 in the Government's favour, thus saving a very contentious piece of legislation. Why - people ask - should Scottish MPs be wielding a decisive vote on legislation that does not apply to the people they represent?
So that's the issue in a nutshell. So why now ?
Why are we talking about this now?
In their election manifesto, last year, the Tories promised to make sure that "English laws are decided by English votes". It was thought that this policy might be quietly shelved after David Cameron established a Democracy Task Force, headed by the former Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, to revisit issues like this. But at the weekend, Mr Clarke told a Sunday newspaper that there was no question of the Tories backing out of their commitment to the English. This was backed up by a hint from Mr Cameron's official spokesman that the Conservative leader is in favour of the idea.
The Conservative grievance is not just that individual pieces of "English" legislation get through on the strength of Scottish votes. Some Tories claim that they "won" last year's general election in England, because 8.1 million people in England voted Conservative, while 8 million voted Labour, although Labour won an outright majority of English seats. They say that there is a growing sense of resentment among the English at having their lives run by Scots.
The last point is drivel, but there is a point to be made that contentious legislation that affects england alone sometimes survives only due to the votes of Scottish MPs, as highlighted above. Nevertheless it allows a pop at Scottish MP, Gordon Brown. As here;-
One shadow minister, Alan Duncan, suggested at the weekend that devolution makes it politically impossible for a Scot to be Prime Minister. This is a good way of getting at the Tories' number one target, Gordon Brown, and at Menzies Campbell.
Where does West Lothian come in?
When the Labour government tried unsuccessfully to introduce devolution in Scotland in the 1970s, one of their most dogged opponents was the Scottish Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who continually brought up the anomaly that Scottish MPs would be able to vote on issues like health where they affected England, but English MPs would not be allowed to vote on health issues as they affected Scotland. Dalyell was, at that time, MP for West Lothian. Hence the "West Lothian question".
So there are serious issues here, the Conservatives are an English party, Labour is a British one.
ACcording to the Indy, home rule for England wouild eventually mean the following:-
- Public services that affect 85 per cent of the population could be controlled by the leader of the opposition.
- The UK is not made of four equal parts, but one big country with three small partners.
- Home rule for England would mean the disintegration of the United Kingdom.
I am not sure even the Tories want the last, and I doubt very much whether the Queen would. But unless they stop this, it will become inevitable