21 December 2010
Harriett Baldwin uses the Christmas Adjournment debate to raise her concerns about delays in the setting up the commission to investigate the West Lothian question - where MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can vote on issues that only affect England but are devolved in those countries - and also to ask if the Government will support her Private Member's Bill. Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): May I, too, associate myself with the kind remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) in passing on good wishes to everyone at this time of year? I wish to discuss the West Lothian question which, as I am sure all hon. Members appreciate, is the nickname given to the situation post-devolution in which MPs here at Westminster who represent Welsh, Northern Irish or Scottish constituencies may find themselves able to vote on matters that do not affect their own constituents. In West Worcestershire, which I think of as being the heart of the heart of England, this issue is being raised increasingly frequently with me. Recently, I took part in a television debate, where the reporter had been to the border between Shropshire and Powys. Located on the border is a village called Chirk, which is divided. On one side of the town prescriptions are free and on the other side they cost £7.20. The differences do not end there, because the village might also be divided over matters such as university tuition fees and other services where the Welsh Assembly Government might treat their residents differently. Do not get me wrong, I am a big supporter of devolution and the process of localism that we are going through. It represents enormous progress. I am also a big supporter of the Union, but it does not mean that the West Lothian question can be swept under the carpet for ever. The manifesto on which I was elected said:
"Labour have refused to address the so-called 'West Lothian Question': the unfair situation"
of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs voting on matters that do not necessarily affect their constituents. It continued by saying that we
"will introduce new rules so that legislation referring specifically to England, or to England and Wales, cannot be enacted without the consent of MPs representing constituencies of those countries."
I completely acknowledge that during the five days in May, when the coalition's programme for government was put together, the pledge was somewhat changed, and a commission has been called for to look into the question. On 26 October, I was able to ask the Deputy Prime Minister in the Chamber for an update on when the commission might be established, and he replied:
"My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, who has responsibility for constitutional affairs, will lead on that and he will announce our intention to set up a commission on the long-standing knotty problem of the West Lothian question by the end of the year."-[ Official Report, 26 October 2010; Vol. 517, c. 154.]
Last week, however, my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) received a written answer from the same Parliamentary Secretary, to the effect that the Government is
"continuing to give careful consideration to the timing, composition, scope and remit of the commission. Its work will need to take account of our proposals to reform the House of Lords to create a wholly or mainly elected second chamber, the changes being made to the way this House does business and amendments to the devolution regimes, for example in the Scotland Bill presently before the House. We will make an announcement in the new year."-[ Official Report, 15 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 822W.]
So my first question for the Department is: will the Government clarify which part of the new year that is likely to be, and confirm that the new year referred to is, indeed, 2011? I should like to use this opportunity to preview my private Member's Bill. I was lucky enough to be placed seventh in the ballot, and the Bill has its Second Reading on Friday 11 February. It has the innocuous title of the Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill, and from my research into the West Lothian question I have found that the challenge is to get around parliamentary privilege. We are all elected to this place equally, and we can all have an equal say and vote on all issues, and we certainly do not want to have two categories of MP. Many much more distinguished brains than mine have wrestled with that knotty problem. In 2000, Lord Norton of Louth looked into the matter and came up with some proposals; in 2006, my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) had a private Member's Bill on the issue; and Lord Baker of Dorking had a Bill in the Lords in 2005. The current Prime Minister then asked the now Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), to look into the issue. It might be possible to use Standing Orders and Speaker certification to identify which Bills affect which parts of the UK. My private Member's Bill simply calls on draft legislation to identify and outline which parts of the UK it affects. It is a simple piece of preparatory, enabling legislation, and I urge all hon. Members who share an interest in the matter to come to me with their ideas. My second question is: will the Government be able to support my private Member's Bill? | Hansard