Belfast Telegraph

Devolution will be in the air as roadshow hits town

By Tom Moseley

It won't be quite as spectacular as Titanic Belfast, or the MTV Awards, but the devolution roadshow, which rolls into Belfast next month, is worthy of attention.

At stake is the right of MPs from Northern Ireland (and Scotland and Wales) to vote on issues that don't affect their constituencies because of devolution.

A public meeting of the McKay Commission has been pencilled in for the middle of June, following similar sessions in London and Edinburgh.

If, as some English MPs want, Ulster's MPs were barred from these debates, it would reduce their activities at Westminster.

The commission, led by former Commons Clerk Sir William McKay, will report back before the next Queen's Speech.

While interested parties from Northern Ireland will get the chance to have their say at the public session in Belfast, the political parties have already made their feelings clear.

They point out the difficulty of identifying truly 'England-only' legislation, because there are often funding implications for the devolved administrations.

Other measures, like the controversial changes to welfare, are technically devolved, but expected to be mirrored here.

The DUP believes that, given the importance of the Union, the only acceptable view would be to maintain the status quo.

The Houses of Parliament and monarchy are "crucial unifying institutions of our state"; creating a dual-role for Parliament would "fundamentally undermine this".

The SDLP said it had no desire to influence laws that only affect England. But it added: "A crude system of qualified and disqualified voting members within a democratically elected parliament could widen, rather than narrow, any perceived democratic deficit."

The Alliance Party, represented in the Commons by East Belfast MP Naomi Long, said there would be a risk of creating "two classes of MPs" if Northern Ireland members were barred from voting on some matters.

However, the Conservatives said it was "not fair" for votes from Scottish or Northern Irish MPs to decide legislation affecting England on matters that are devolved.

The Liberal Democrats said there was no "easy, neat" solution to the problem, calling for more devolution within smaller parts of the United Kingdom.

Another former Commons Clerk, Sir Roger Sands, said the current system allowed devolved nations to "have their cake and eat it", suggesting countries that had devolved powers should send fewer MPs to Westminster.

We'll hear plenty more of this in Belfast next month.

In the meantime, spare a thought for Sir William McKay and his team, who have to come up with a solution to please everyone.

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