West Lothian Commission Announced By Clegg, Starts Work In February

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The West Lothian Question Has Been A Bone Of Contention For 35 Years
The West Lothian Question Has Been A Bone Of Contention For 35 Years

The thorny issue of the West Lothian Question - the ability of Scottish MPs being able to vote on laws that only affect England - is to be explored by a commission which will start work next month.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced on Tuesday the names of the dignitaries who'll take on the work of the commission. Most well-known among them is Sir Emyr Jones Parry, former UK Ambassador to the United Nations.

There is no specified deadline by which the commission should report back to Parliament - although it is expected to be in the next Parliamentary session which will start in May 2012 at the earliest.

The phrase “West Lothian Question” was coined 35 years ago by Tam Dalyell, the then Labour MP for West Lothian. The problem has grown over recent years, firstly with the creation of the national parliaments in Scotland and Wales, and then with an increasing transfer of powers from London to Cardiff and Edinburgh.

There is currently no ban on Scottish MPs from voting on laws which only affect England - including many of the government's most controversial areas of reform in health and education. Those matters are now devolved to Holyrood.

A recent poll by the think tank IPPR found that an overwhelming majority of the English wanted Scottish MPs to be banned from voting on such matters. But the IPPR believes the West Lothian question is more difficult to resolve than it first appears.

Nick Pearce, the think-tank's director, says: “English Votes on English Laws raises the prospect of a UK government unable to govern England because it lacks a majority of English MPs.

"This scenario occurred in 1964 and February 1974 when UK Labour governments were formed despite the Conservatives holding a majority of English seats. Under EVOEL such governments would be unable to legislate for English domestic policy.

"It has often been argued that such chaos would create a bigger constitutional anomaly than that generated by West Lothian itself."

The announcement of the West Lothian Question commission comes as the general debate about when and how Scotland should hold a referendum on independence rumbles on. Despite a softening of tone and pledges to meet, it's still not clear who from the Westminster government will be holding talks on the issue later this week. Downing Street believes that Alex Salmond and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore should hold talks first.

However it appears clear that the SNP government would favour direct talks between the PM and Alex Salmond.

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