Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

'West Lothian question' panel named

The so-called 'West Lothian question' asks if MPs should be able to vote on Bills that do not affect their constituencies

The members of an expert panel which will look into whether MPs in Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish seats should vote on laws affecting only England has been named by the Government.

Former Clerk of the House of Commons Sir William McKay will chair the six-strong commission examining the so-called "West Lothian question". He will be joined by the outgoing head of the Parliamentary Counsel legal team, Sir Stephen Laws, and one of his predecessors, Sir Geoffrey Bowman.

Devolved areas will be represented by ex-UK Ambassador to the United Nations Sir Emyr Jones Parry, who is chairman of the All Wales Convention, Professor Charlie Jeffery, of the Edinburgh University Academy of Government, and Professor Yvonne Galligan, of Queen's University Belfast.

It will begin work next month and will call experts to give oral or written evidence, with a final report and recommendations due to be completed by the end of the next parliamentary session.

Constitutional Reform Minister Mark Harper said its remit would be confined to how the Commons deals, in the wake of devolution, with legislation that does not affect every part of the UK. It will not consider relative funding or the balance between English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs in the House of Commons, which was covered by legislation earlier last year.

A weekend poll found a 79% majority of residents of England favour a bar on Scottish MPs voting on England-only matters - with 53% saying they were "strongly" of that opinion.

Taking its name from the constituency represented by the MP Tam Dalyell, who first raised the issue in 1977, the West Lothian question has been unanswered since Scotland and Wales were granted devolution 20 years later.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan criticised the lack of any serving or retired MPs on the commission and complained that Labour was not consulted.

"We are opposed to creating a simple hierarchy of members of Parliament based simply on what parts of the UK they represent," he said. "Each MP has a duty not only to their own constituents but also to the UK as a whole."

Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards said the Commission's terms of reference ruled out the best solution - a separate English Parliament as well as an Assembly for Cornwall and changes to the funding system to remove the financial effect on Wales of Commons votes. "The reality is that a Parliament where more than 80% represent one country is always going to be skewed in one direction, with or without Scottish independence," he said.

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