The Government is to consider the 'West Lothian Question', or the English Question'. In the 19th century it was probably referred to as the 'Dublin Question'. It refers to MPs representing Welsh constituencies (or Scottish or N Irish constituencies) voting on legislation which applies to English constituencies, while they (together with 'English' MPs) may not vote on the same issue as it applies in Wales. A current example which demonstrates relevance today - I can vote on any legislation relating to organ donation in England, but will not have any say on the same issue in my own constituency. This is a constitutional anomaly. This blog post asks whether any constitutional change can be introduced which reduces the degree of anomaly. At present, I'm not convinced that it can.
The answers to the West Lothian Question, are many and varied, but fall under three general headings ;
1) A federal UK, involving an English Parliament;
2) Two categories of MP ensuring only English MPs are able to vote for English laws:
3) Fewer MPs in parts of the UK with devolved Parliaments, reflecting the lesser responsibilities.
Lets consider these options in turn.
1) Federal UK. There is a certain logic to this. There is much support for an English Parliament - in England. But it would not be like any other federal state that has ever been successful. 84% of the population would live in one of the four 'federal partners'. Inevitable England would so dominate that it would soon cease to be federal in any meaningful sense. And there has been no work done on the balance of power between the UK and English Parliaments, or how they would relate to each other. Constitutional lawyers tell me that such a one-sided federalism has never succeeded anywhere in the world in history.
2) English votes for English laws. To many, including me, this seems the best answer if change there must be. The problem is the complexity, and near-impossibility of deciding what policy areas Welsh MPs should be barred from voting on. For example, English health policy matters impact hugely on my constituency, because the DGHs that serve Montgomeryshire are in Shropshire. And increased specialist care means that perhaps only one or two hospitals in the UK will be able to provide certain treatments. The same cross-border difficulties would apply in every policy area. At least unemployment would fall as civil servants were recruited to manage the system!
3) Fewer MPs representing devolved nations. Much the easiest answer to deliver - but not favoured by me. The voice of Wales should not be lessened when dealing with those issues that remain with the UK Parliament - for example, the decision to go to war. Traditionally, the Welsh 'voice' at Westminster has been more reluctant to intervene militarily on the international plane. The same principle would apply across all policy areas. This is just not acceptable.
So where are we by now. The West Lothian Question is a constitutional anomaly - to which the only obvious answers are the creation of other constitutional anomalies. Its a case of which is the least bad option - not much of a basis for such a major constitutional change. Seems to me that we should think long and hard about whether the West Lothian Question should be asked.