Tuesday, 1 July 2008

on the West Lothian question

I do not envy Kenneth Clarke. Tasked by the pretender to the throne to come up with an answer to the West Lothian question, his answer was always going to be half baked. Crusty on the outside, soft and nougatty on the inside.

The problem is that Parliament is supreme. After the next general election the Conservatives, if in power, could decide to turn their past opposition to devolution into policy and completely abolish the devolved Parliament and Assemblies. If this were to happen and the West Lothian question had been answered, simply by saying English votes on English matters, then a raft of legislation would suddenly become applicable in Scotland and Wales which had only been voted on by English MPs.

Now if such a situation were to arise, one can imagine that the laws in question would be voted on again, a very messy situation.

Secondly, Gordon Brown and four other Cabinet members are from Scotland. How can a Prime Minister or his Cabinet not have a say on his own governments legislation?

Thirdly and perhaps more importantly, at present government legislation on English only matters (education, health etc.), can be passed by Scottish votes, even though these issues will not affect Scotland as the Scottish Parliament has control over these. In 2004 Scottish Labour MPs voted to introduce top up fees for Universities. In Scotland, University education is free for Scottish citizens, a policy introduced by the Scottish Labour party as a result of its coalition with the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament.

Instead we have a compromise. Scottish MP’s will not be allowed to vote on amendments to Bills (at Committee stage). They will only be allowed to vote on the Bill in its entirety at the Second and Third Reading (perhaps to negate problem one above).

My question is, how would the Conservative proposals differ (if at all would they exist) if the majority of Scottish MP’s were Conservative, and the governments legislative plans for top up fees had been blocked as a result of Scottish Conservative MP’s?

EDIT: Malcolm Rifkind, Conservative MP has released a statement calling for the requirement of a double-majority when voting in the House of Commons on English only matters. Legistlation should not only receive a majority of MP's in the House, but also a majority of English MPs.

This idea was also contained in the ill-fated Constitutional Treaty, which called for decisions taken by Qualified Majority Voting in the Council of Ministers having to require a majority of states representing themselves (one state one vote) as well as a majority of states representing their percentage population of the EU (each state voting based on their population, 17% of the EU population equals 17% of the votes).

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