Answers to those questions
After many answers from bloggers, here are Sir Malcolm Rifkind's answers (or at least my paraphrase of his views) to the questions I posed yesterday about his plan to stop Scots MPs voting on purely English matters.
NR's Q: Wouldn't this proposal (if it were in operation now) mean that Gordon Brown had no Commons majority for Labour's key priorities "schoolsnhospitals"?
MR's A: Potentially yes although, as many have pointed out, Labour does currently have a majority of seats in England even though it got fewer votes in England at the last election than the Tories.
A UK government without a workable English majority would, Sir Malcolm argues, have to seek compromises and make deals just as governments faced by hung parliaments have had to do or, indeed, as parties have had to in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
NR's Q: If I am right, would the new English “grand committee” with its Tory majority be able to impose Tory measures on Labour ministers?
MR's A: No because the government and not the new English grand committee would still retain control of the parliamentary timetable; the right to initiate legislation and sole access to the civil service.
NR's Q: If so, wouldn't Labour ministers refuse to implement what was passed or, in practice, seek to bypass MPs and make more and more changes by administrative fiat (more possible than you might think)?
MR's A: Ministers, as now, could simply withdraw amended bills they didn't wish to implement or, of course, seek a compromise amendment.
As well as the danger I pointed to, Sir Malcolm pointed to another - that ministers wrap up English legislation into all British measures to avoid separate votes in the Commons. His proposed solution to this is that the Speaker or an independent committee would determine what should and what should not be considered separate English legislation and, if necessary, order it to be unbundled. He points out that as a Scottish Office minister he was in charge of separate "Right to Buy" legislation for Scotland.
NR's Q: Is Sir Malcolm foreseeing a culture change in British politics whereby a Labour government could only pass those measures for which they could get Tory consent or build a coalition a little as Alex Salmond now has to do at Holyrood?
MR's A: Yes although this is not new since Jim Callaghan had to do this when his majority was not enough to govern alone.
This leads me to ask two more questions, the answers to which will determine your attitude to Sir Malcolm's ideas:
Q: Will English voters be satisfied by the fact that their MPs can block or amend the proposals of a UK government which does not have an English majority or will they, having been given that, go on to demand their own parliament and their own government?
Q: Will Scottish voters feel that this proposal makes it highly unlikely that an MP for a Scottish constituency will ever again become prime minister - since they would never have been able to vote on some of the issues which are dearest to voters’ hearts - and, therefore, increase the appetite for Scottish independence?