Tory MP seeks answer to West Lothian Question

  • 8 September 2011
  • From the section UK Politics
  • comments

The best way to deal with the West Lothian Question, quipped the former Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine, was not to ask it. Now the government has been forced to ask it - probably thanks to the Conservative backbencher Harriett Baldwin.

Her private member's bill (see previous post) seeks a parliamentary rule change to deal with Tam Dalyell's 1970s constitutional conundrum - first posed during the Callaghan government's abortive attempt to create a Scottish Parliament - about Scottish MPs being able to vote on English matters while devolution prevented English MPs (and indeed Scottish ones) from voting on Scottish matters. And it seems to have goaded the government into action.

The government wanted the bill withdrawn - but its pleas were met with taunts, from Conservative backbenchers, mostly, that the coalition was dragging its feet on its promise in the coalition agreement to set up a commission to ponder an answer to Mr Dalyell's question.

Now ministers have swung into action (in fairness, they have been dealing with quite a few heavy duty constitutional bills) and details of the commission are to be announced in a written statement today.

Crucial questions include who chairs it, the detailed remit and, crucially, the timescale. A lot of Conservatives want action to deal with what they regard as an unfair and asymmetrical constitutional settlement, and would be angered by an obvious attempt to kick the issue into the long grass.

Harriett Baldwin's bill would require clarity over what parts of bills applied to which parts of the UK. It was designed to encourage MPs not to vote on measures that did not concern their patch.

It is due to be debated in the Commons tomorrow, but if she is happy with the remit for the commission, she might withdraw it; if not she may push ahead.

But in a separate development, Labour have now put down a raft of amendments, which may mean they attempt to kill the bill, by using up the available debating time, without allowing it to come to a vote.

I'll update when I know more.

UPDATE: Harriett Baldwin WILL press ahead with her bill. She says the Government needs to give much more detail about its Commission. And the Speaker has only selected four of the Labour amendments for discussion at the Report Stage of her Bill - which will make any attempt to talk out the available debating time rather harder, particularly because the selected amendments are all on quite narrow points.