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Northern Ireland MPs fear losing control at Westminster

By Tom Moseley

Northern Ireland could be left with "second class MPs" at Westminster by a new devolution review, it was claimed last night.

A commission has been formed to look at the issue of whether MPs from the devolved administrations should be able to vote on issues that only affect England.

The province's representatives raised concerns about the move, fearing the loss of control over issues like pensions and welfare.

The six-strong panel, which includes Professor Yvonne Galligan of Queen's University Belfast, marks the latest attempt to tackle the so-called "West Lothian Question", named after the constituency of the MP who first coined the phrase.

It is hotly contested at Westminster. Some English MPs believe that issues such as tuition fees, which were hiked in England but frozen by Stormont, should be left to them to decide.

But there are concerns over matters that are technically devolved but mirrored by Stormont, such as pensions and benefits, making a satisfactory solution even harder to find.

Alliance MP Naomi Long said the confusion was an "inevitable consequence" of devolution, saying she could understand why some English MPs wanted to change the system.

But she said that removing Northern Ireland's MPs' influence over issues such as benefits and pensions would be "entirely wrong".

Ian Paisley jnr, DUP MP for North Antrim, said the West Lothian Question was "a nonsense".

He said: "It would be a derogation of Parliamentary sovereignty if the West Lothian Question was allowed to create two Parliaments at Westminster."

Mark Durkan, SDLP member for Foyle, said the issue could be overtaken by events in Scotland, where a vote on independence is set to take place by 2014.

The panel, which also includes Scottish and Welsh representatives, will be chaired by ex-House of Commons Clerk Sir William McKay.

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