Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The English Question Still Unanswered

Ken Clarke's Democracy Taskforce group, looking at the vexed 'West Lothian Question', comes with a stark health warning: "We underestimated the resentment the Scots were feeling. We do not want to wait until English resentment builds up and we have a crisis."

The question is a simple one. Should Scottish MPs vote on English matters at Westminster - when Westminster MPs cannot do the same at Holyrood? 

But Clarke's report raises just more questions than answers.  The answers go to the very heart of our democratic legacy and have been highlighted  by the Orange Party  here

One solution put forward by the Taskforce is that Scottish MPs should not vote on amendments to England-only bills.

In his report, Clarke is proposing banning Scottish MPs from voting at the committee stage of bills relating to England.

However, they would still be allowed to vote at the earlier second reading stage and the third reading stage, when the bill as a whole either passes through the commons or fails.

What has to be made clear is exactly what are 'English-only matters' at Westminster? And would that not be better served by an English Parliament sitting alongside the UK Parliament at Westminster? 

But the real problem is over the representation to the parliaments and assemblies which have evolved piecemeal over time. 

The present system has been described by Labour MP, Frank Field, as "one of the festering sores in English politics", with English voters becoming increasingly resentful of the present system that allows a range of "fiscal discriminations". 

But the New Labour government is being, not surprisingly,  rather quiet on this vexed issue. The Scottish Labour Party is in disarray and Brown is under increasing pressure to reduce the Scottish grip in the cabinet.

The 'West Lothian' question, will never go away. Sooner or later it will fall on the government of the day to have to grasp the nettle and sort out the 'English Question'. 

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