Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

English MPs 'decide English laws'

The McKay Commission was launched last year to consider the so-called West Lothian Question

Legislation that only affects England should normally need backing from a majority of English MPs, a Government report has said.

The McKay Commission was launched last year to consider the so-called West Lothian Question - the ability of politicians from Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland to vote in the Commons on issues that do not impact on their constituents.

Controversy over the issue has been rumbling since Irish home rule in the 19th century, but intensified with Labour's devolution agenda. In 2004 support from Scottish and Welsh MPs was the only reason the Government managed to push through the introduction of university top-up fees in England.

The commission concluded that the current situation is "unsustainable", and changes are needed. It has proposed the principle that Commons decisions with a "separate and distinct effect" for England should "normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of MPs sitting for constituencies in England". The same would go for decisions that only affected England and Wales.

The report said the principle should be enshrined in a resolution of the House, and suggested a range of procedural changes to entrench the approach. Specific parliamentary time could be allocated to debating plans for England, and MPs given an opportunity to vote on motions endorsing or rejecting them. Committees for scrutinising bills could also be weighted to represent the party balance in England.

However, the commission dismissed as "flawed and impractical" a more drastic change of requiring England-only legislation to get a majority of English MPs as well as an overall majority. Instead of such a "double lock", it has floated a "double count" where the proportion of English MPs supporting a Bill would be published alongside the overall result.

"In the double-count, the determining majority would be that in the overall vote, as has always been the case," the report said. "But if a government was seen to have failed to attract the support of a majority of MPs from England (or England and Wales) for business affecting those interests, it would be likely to sustain severe political damage."

Commission chairman Sir William McKay said: "The more law-making in the UK has moved away from Westminster and towards the devolved legislatures, the more Westminster law-making has inevitably come to focus on England (or England-and-Wales). But the processes for making law at Westminster have not significantly changed.

"Surveys have shown that people in England are unhappy about the existing arrangements, and support change. There is a feeling that England is at a disadvantage, and that it's not right that MPs representing the devolved nations should be able to vote on matters affecting England. The status quo clearly cannot be sustained. Our proposals retain the right of a UK-wide majority to make the final decisions where they believe UK interests or those of a part of the UK other than England should prevail. We expect that governments will prefer compromise to conflict."

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "The Government is very grateful to Sir William McKay and his colleagues for their work. This is a very important issue, which is why the Government asked this expert commission to look into it. We will give the report very serious consideration before we respond substantively."

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