Devolution: minister suggests "patch it and make do"

How do you solve a constitutional conundrum? The answer is usually to set up a commission of the great and the good.

So we have had the Richard, Holtham, Silk, Calman and Williams commissions, not to mention the Jones Parry all-Wales convention, some of which have led to more constitutional change than others.

Missing from that list was the McKay commission, set up two years ago to consider the impact of devolution on the House of Commons. - otherwise known as the West Lothian question.

The commission reported last March and suggested Welsh MPs could see their roles limited under plans to give English MPs more say on laws for England. Its report said English-only laws should normally need backing by a majority of MPs who represent English constituencies.

We're still waiting to find out what the UK government plans to do with the report but this afternoon members of the House of Lords did their best to try to answer that question.

Government spokesman Lord Wallace of Saltaire (a Liberal Democrat) announced wearily: "My Lords, this is not a new question." Veterans of the 1886 Home Rule Bill will remember the debate about whether Irish MPs should retain voting rights at Westminster.

Lord Wallace said the report was being given "the serious consideration it deserves". (So no change before next year's general election then).

Former Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley told him:"Whatever the outcome of the referendum in Scotland, there is indeed a pressing need for a more coherent, balanced and transparent settlement that is fair both to England as well as the devolved nations.

"Will you give a commitment that the government will move forward rapidly once the outcome of the Scottish referendum is known to get changes made that resolve these difficulties?"

Lord Wallace: "We are still discussing the extent of devolution with the Welsh government."

Labour's Lord Foulkes said the West Lothian question was better described as "the English democratic deficit" and said it could be resolved by having more devolution within England leading to a federal or quasi-federal Britain.

Cross-bench peer Lord Elystan Morgan entered the debate: "There are many other constitutional conundrums that cry out for resolution, one of them in particular being in relation to the Barnett formula under which the Welsh people are deprived unjustly of about £300m per annum

"Is there not an overwhelming case however, looking at it in the wider context, for the setting up of a royal commission to look comprehensively into the relationship of this house to the commons and the commons to this house and Westminster to the devolved parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?"

Lord Wallace noted a committee of MPs had recommended a constitutional convention to examine UK-wide issues, but said he used to study the British constitution: "On the whole we preferred to patch it and make do and then put a bit more in there rather than to go through an attempt at a complete full redesign."