Government inquiry into English votes at Westminster

Palace of Westminster from the River Thames The commission's focus will be on who votes on England-only bills in the Commons

The UK government has announced a commission that will investigate the role of Welsh MPs in English-only affairs at Westminster.

It will try to resolve a long-running debate about whether Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh MPs should vote on legislation that only affects England.

English MPs are not able to vote on many matters that are devolved to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.

Commission members will be "independent, non-partisan experts".

Start Quote

I think it's a question that needs to be answered in time for the next general election.”

End Quote Harriett Baldwin West Worcestershire MP

Tackling the so-called West Lothian problem was part of the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, but it has taken the UK government more than a year to announce details of the promised commission.

Ministers said the inquiry will not look at financing for the devolved administrations, which is being dealt with separately.

Further details, including formal proposals and terms of reference, are expected next month.

The question was first posed in the 1970s when Labour MP Tam Dalyell, whose constituency at the time was West Lothian, wondered how long English MPs would tolerate members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland influencing English politics while they had no say in matters outside England.

The question has frequently been raised since devolution in 1999 when powers were given to the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies and to the Scottish Parliament.

'Unbalanced'

Speaking on BBC Radio Wales, Pontypridd MP Owen Smith said the anomaly was not new - Liberal prime minister William Gladstone tried to grapple with it at the end of the 19th century.

The question explained

Tam Dalyell

The so-called West Lothian Question was named after the constituency whose MP, Tam Dalyell, first raised the problem in 1977 of MPs influencing legislation which did not affect their electorate.

Mr Smith said: "We've had effectively an asymmetrical, an unbalanced constitution because we've got an unwritten constitution, and because we've got four nations and regions - England being 80% of the population and 80% of the revenues - we've had it for a long time and we've lived with it."

He said the question needed addressing, but warned against creating an "English parliament" that denies a say to Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs on matters that could affect constituents who lived in England part of the time.

Conservative backbencher Harriett Baldwin has tabled a bill that would require legislation to contain a clear statement of how it affects England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - including knock-on financial implications.

The MP for West Worcestershire told BBC Radio Wales: "I think it's a question that needs to be answered in time for the next general election.

"The situation at the moment - I would call it an English constitutional issue - is that with more and more power devolved to Wales, to Scotland, to Northern Ireland you have more and more legislation coming to Westminster which really only affects England."

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