West Lothian or West Minster Question?
The McKay Commission has reported today (25 March 2013 Report of the Commission on the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons) on how to try to unravel the “West Lothian” Question.
This relates to the impact of MPs for areas in devolved administrations having an impact on English affairs, when English MPs have no vote on devolved matters.
Sir William McKay proposes a number of procedural measures that fall short of giving English MPs a veto on English matters. He discards a number of solutions:
- Abolishing devolution is not on the political agenda.
- Maintaining the status quo is a long-term risk.
- Strengthening local government in England does not tackle the governance of England.
- Federalism, both England-wide with an English parliament or with English regions, has compelling objections.
- Electoral reform, including proportional representation and reduction in the number of MPs returned for seats outside England, is not realistic and fails to tackle the underlying issue.
(Paragraph 8, Executive Summary Report)
Discarded solution (4) would seem to put English voters in a similar position to Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish voters. The objections that he lists are:
- Regional Devolution is a non starter: he cites the North East of England’s rejection of John Prescott’s “super council” as evidence
- Devolution to an English Parliament would create an unbalanced federal structure
- A supreme court to arbitrate delineation of competences would be a radical departure for the UK
- Creation of a new English Parliament (representing 50 million) would be an excessive response to the West Lothian Question and the voters would probably not support “more politicians”.
(Paraphrased from paragraphs 69-71 of the main report) – my italics
So he seems to duck the “Westminster Question” and leaves English voters at a disadvantage. However he sees this as theoretical, saying:
… it raises the possibility that a majority opinion among MPs from England on such laws could be outvoted by a UK-wide majority of all UK MPs. But it is extremely rare for this to happen. Since 1919, only in the short-lived parliaments of 1964–66 and February–October 1974 has the party or coalition forming the UK Government not also enjoyed a majority in England.
Paragraph 4 of the Executive Summary Report
I am not sure how safe it is to project the past onto the future. Can we envisage a Lab-Lib coalition across the UK with a Con-UKIP majority in England? The McKay Commission’s procedural recommendations then raise the spectre of a UK Government imposing on England something that a majority of English Residents do not want (tuition fees anyone?).
Not addressing the possibility that the English majority might not be aligned with the UK majority is to ignore a very real problem. I don’t think the English Democrats will actually be able to rouse the English to demand a referendum on a new constitutional settlement for England, but one of the main parties may wake up to the electoral potential of such a proposal – and might be wise to do so before UKIP sees the bandwagon.