Remember the McKay Commission? That was the commission established by the Coalition to look into “the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons” – aka, the West Lothian Question. It reported last year; recommending, as I reported at the time, a number of ways to make the legislative process fairer for England. But that report has now been relegated to the Government’s web archives. Kinda says all you need to know.
As far as I can tell, the Tory leadership has shelved the question of England and its position in a devolved United Kingdom. No, worse than that, they have tried to suppress it. As James Forsyth revealed in a recent Spectator column:
“When the Tory MP Harriet Baldwin tried to push it through a private members’ bill and various parliamentary interventions, it was made known that if she wished to advance in her career, she should drop the matter.”
Which is neither pleasant nor particularly wise. Of course, with Scotland’s referendum approaching, it’s probably not the best time for ministers to start talking about, say, excluding Scottish MPs from English votes. But if they don’t properly consider this matter in advance of the referendum, then they could come unstuck after it. Whatever the result, there’s going to be a lot more talk about which powers accrue where.
The reason I mention this is a report – summarised in today’s Financial Times, although I think it was published a week or two ago – by the Commons’ communities and local government committee. This report calls for greater devolution of fiscal powers to English regions, to mirror the devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales. It’s the sort of thing that I find appealing, on the whole. But it’s worth noting that, when it comes to localism, there’s often a chasmic divide between proposal and practice. Many local authorities aren’t cut out for the extra responsibility.
Besides, devolution to the regions still leaves some powers at the centre. And so we return to the West Lothian Question. Who gets to exercise those powers? Will Scottish MPs still be able to vote on English laws?
UKIP have an answer: an English Parliament. This is something that I’m not yet convinced by – as Britain is already pretty “over-governed”, to use Liam Fox’s phrase from earlier this week – but at least it’s something. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a little something from Labour, too. Ed Miliband has shown a general reluctance to talk about England and Englishness, but the same can’t said of some of his colleagues, such as Jon Cruddas and John Denham. And it’s Cruddas who’s in charge of Labour’s policy review.
All that, even though the Tory leadership promised to address the West Lothian Question – and more – and in their last manifesto. Here at ConHome, we’ll keep on making the case, as we have before and before and before.