When in a debate on Scottish and Welsh devolution in 1977 Labour MP Tam Dayell, MP for the Scottish constituency of West Lothian, repeatedly raised the question of how it could be right for Scottish and Welsh MPs to vote on law affecting England if the power to make those decisions had been devolved to a Scottish Parliament and Welsh Synod, Enoch Powell coined the phrase ‘the West Lothian Question’.
This question has gone unanswered since, despite the devolution of powers to the very Scottish and Welsh governments of which Tam Dayell spoke. The recent decision of the Scottish people to remain a part of our United Kingdom, albeit with home rule rather than just devolution of some powers, the West Lothian Question becomes all the more poignant and pressing.
In 2011 the Government of the United Kingdom set up a commission to consider the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons, chaired by former Clerk of the House of Commons Sir William McKay. The report of the commission was published in 2013, and proposed various procedural changes, including that legislation which affects only England should require the support of a majority of MPs representing English constituencies.
This solution, whilst minimizing the constitutional changes necessary to answer the West Lothian Question, does not however address the wider question of the very different economic performance and life chance offers available in the very varied regions of England. It also fails to ask the simple question of what happens if you have a different party (or coalition) elected to manage the Federal Great Britain to that which is elected to manage England.
Of Labour’s 258 MP’s 41 are based in Scotland, as opposed to 1 for the Conservatives. This means that even if Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP were able to come together to form a coalition at the national level, the Conservatives could still hold a majority of seats in England. A parliament with English votes for English matters would not in any way deal with the fact that its funding would be controlled by a coaltion of different MP’s. It could cause major friction.
What’s more, with the varied economies of Englands regions, would the reality of such rule really be any different for regions outside the south east than it is now? That is very unlikely.
We need then to look at a different solution, a radical solution that’s time has come. It is time to consider home rule for the English Regions. This need not mean an additional tier of government though, as abolition of the Counties and further devolution of resources to the towns and unitary boroughs would mean that we returned to two tiers of local Government.
By then giving these Regional Super-counties the power to draw powers down from Westminster as they felt competent to exercise them we would enable them to move towards Home Rule at their own pace.