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Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The "ENGLISH Question" ousts the "West Lothian Question"!

Sir William McKay KCB has chaired the snappily named 'Commission on the Consequences of Devolution for the House of Commons' which has just reported.

One of the potentially most significant legacies of this report is that it has officially rebadged the "West Lothian Question" or "WLQ". Henceforth the WLQ is to be known as the "English Question"!

This is an important restatement and also offers a significant widening of the official recognition of our core party issue - the future of our English Nation and of England! As such, this aspect of Sir William's report should be welcomed by all English Nationalists. No more will we be met with official claims such as John Prescott's "There is no such nationality as English"!

Sir William had this to say:-

"PART 1 - Identifying the issue

 25. This inquiry has a clear and specific focus: to examine how the House of Commons "can deal most effectively with business that affects England wholly or primarily, when at the same time similar matters" are the responsibility of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

26. Following approval in referendums in September 1997 (in Scotland and Wales) and in April 1998 (in Northern Ireland), Acts of Parliament establishing the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly were passed in 1998, with all three institutions in full operation following inaugural elections by the end of 1999 (though the operation
of the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended on a number of occasions in the period 2000-07).

27. Acts of Parliament amending the initial devolution Acts have subsequently been passed for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and debates on the further development of devolution continue. While the particular set of powers and institutional form of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales vary substantially, each now has wide-ranging legislative and executive responsibilities

28. While the UK Parliament retains the authority, in principle, to make laws on any issue, whether devolved or not, there is a common understanding (in UK constitutional terms a convention) recognised in a Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and the devolved governments that "the UK Parliament would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters except with the agreement of the devolved legislature".

29. No equivalent devolution arrangements to those in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have been established in England, either for England as a whole or for any of its component parts, though in Greater London and in other cities reforms have established new institutions of city government.

30. The question before the Commission is whether, and if so how, to adapt or augment procedures of the House of Commons for making laws that have effect mainly or wholly in England, now that there are distinct legislative procedures for devolved matters, based on distinct representative processes, in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.We understand this question to cover the procedures of the House of Commons for both primary and secondary legislation.

The West Lothian Question

31. One aspect of this question that is often discussed is the "West Lothian Question". This is named after the interventions of the then MP for West Lothian in central Scotland, Tam Dalyell, in the devolution debates of the late 1970s, though the same issue was raised in the Irish Home Rule debates of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mr Dalyell pointed, as did earlier opponents of Irish Home Rule, to the situation that could arise following devolution whereby MPs from outside England could help determine laws that apply in England, while MPs from England would have no reciprocal influence on laws outside England in policy fields for which the devolved institutions would now be responsible. For some observers this is an anomaly that is unfair to the voters of England and requires remedial action to give MPs from England a fuller, or even decisive, role in making laws for England in policy fields that are devolved outside England (this is often described as "English votes for English laws").

32. The West Lothian Question is a consequence of the introduction of "asymmetrical" devolution arrangements that extend to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but not to England. The issues it raises are a constant presence in post-devolution UK politics as MPs from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales routinely vote on legislation that wholly or mainly affects England alone. But the political resonance of the West Lothian Question is at its greatest when it is possible for the majority opinion among MPs from England on a piece of England-specific legislation to be overruled by a majority of all UK MPs, including those from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

33. It is clear from evidence put to the Commission that instances when a majority of MPs from England is in fact overruled by the UK-wide majority are extremely rare.

Since the First World War, the party or coalition forming the UK Government has almost always had a majority in England, as well as in the UK as a whole. Only in the short-lived parliaments of 1964-66 and February-October 1974 was the party with a majority of MPs from England (the Conservatives) in opposition.

34. Another situation in which the majority of MPs from England can be overruled is when a government with a majority of MPs both from England and across the UK as a whole suffers a parliamentary rebellion among its MPs from England. In such circumstances it may be that only a minority of MPs from England votes for a particular measure, but the government nonetheless maintains its overall majority by ensuring sufficient support from its MPs from outside England. Again, such instances are extremely rare.
It is difficult to find examples beyond the frequently cited votes on the introduction of foundation hospitals in England (in 2003) and the introduction of university top-up fees in England (in 2004), when a substantial number of Labour MPs from England rebelled against the party whip, but Labour MPs from Scotland and Wales ensured that the Labour Government's proposals maintained majority support in Parliament.

35. A further scenario in which the majority in England could be overruled is where a party with a clear majority in England does not have a majority in the UK but forms a minority government. In that situation, the opposition could frustrate the UK Government's legislative intentions for England by mobilising the votes of members from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. No government has so far been formed on this basis.

36. These scenarios in which a majority in England could be overruled are, in other
words, rare or hypothetical. Should proposals to reduce the number, and equalise the size, of House of Commons constituencies come to fruition, the effect would be to decrease the number of constituencies outside England relative to those in England. This would diminish the likelihood of a majority in England being overruled by a UK-wide majority yet further. Any decision on these proposals is now not expected until after the next UK election in 2015.

37. Against this background, we do not see the West Lothian Question, if understood narrowly as the (actual or potential) overruling of the majority of MPs from England by the combination of a minority from England plus MPs from outside England, as the central question facing the Commission. Rather, we have considered the West Lothian Question in its broader sense - that of non-English MPs voting on English laws, whatever the majority relationships in the House of Commons. We see that as one illustration of a wider set of concerns about the balance and stability of the UK's territorial constitution which might be described compositely as an "English Question".


  1. This is very good news, especially since I assume that Sir William is a Scotsman. By the way, I am sure that John Prescott, apart from being an idiot and despite his pretending to be a bluff no-nonsense Yorkshireman is actually Welsh but somebody could correct me on that one.

    Have just read that Geert Wilders' Freedom Party in the Netherlands is now the most popular. One thing that has insensed the Dutch who are paying towards the Cyprus bail-out, is that, I think, 32 major investors had prior knowledge of the "haircut" to be applied to their savings and got their money out. One was the son-in-law of the president who transferred his assets to a bank in London. Nice to know our rotten bankers are still profiting from corruption.

  2. John Prescott is a Welshman who emigrated to England and settled for a time in Rotherham,Yorkshire, and was widely known as "the Prat from Prestatyn."