4 Addressing West Lothian?|
45. Although our inquiry focused on inter-Parliamentary
arrangements, we were interested to hear also about inter-Government
relations, and how the UK Government and the Scottish Executive
communicated. We were told by the Scottish Executive's Minister
for Parliamentary Business that:
"At one level, obviously the Executive speaks
to the British Government on a wide variety of fronts, usually
on the policy front, for example the Minister for Justice is in
close contact with the Home Office over developing policies, and
there are communications at the official and political level.
I have responsibility for the overall programme and if possible
when the Queen's Speech is announced in the UK Parliament I try
to make the Scottish Parliament aware publicly of the likely implications
for ourselves in that."
46. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State said
.there are many channels of communication
between the Government and the Executive. There are department
to department communications, there are communications obviously
involving the Scotland Office and Margaret Curran, whom you have
just spoken to, and there are communications between the Leader
of the House and Margaret Curran also. The primary channels of
communication are obviously department to department because that
is where the subject expertise is on any piece of legislation
that is coming up."
47. The fact that the two Governments do actually
talk to each other was encouraging indeed, but we also asked whether
the Convention would be robust enough to withstand a situation
whereby HM Government and the Scottish Executive were of "a
different political hue".
In response, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State stated:
it is important to say that the Sewel
Convention does not just exist on a nod and a wink. There is a
memorandum of understanding which is a publicly available document.
There are devolution guidance notes which are there and which
are adhered to. There is custom and precedent about how we go
about these things, and we respect that. It is not all done in
some sort of informal way which is a suggestion that is sometimes
made. Ultimately, I think that either Parliament would have to
respect the will of the people in the result of a particular election.
Unless the will of the people was to lurch violently in one direction
or the other, and given that parties which were hitherto opposed
to devolution now accept devolution and want to make it work,
I think that a common understanding of how these things would
work in the best interests of the people of Scotland would quickly
48. The Minister's reply was reassuring, as it showed
devolution to be working. However, in this final section of our
Report, we wish to record our concerns on an issue on which we
are less reassured - the still unresolved "West Lothian Question",
the name coined by the late Enoch Powell in response to questions
posed by Tam Dalyell, the then MP for West Lothian, during a debate
on Scottish devolution in the late 1970's. In essence, the West
Lothian Question asked:
is it acceptable that Scottish MPs cannot affect
the issues of their constituents which have been devolved; and
is it acceptable that Scottish MPs can vote on issues
affecting England (including those which do not affect Scotland),
whilst English MPs have no say on devolved Scottish issues?
49. It is a matter of concern to us that there are
signs that English discontent with the current situation is becoming
apparent. According to a report in The Scotsman, a recent
poll, conducted by ICM for the BBC, indicated that 52 per cent
of people in the UK believed it wrong that a Scottish MP should
become Prime Minister, given that Scotland has its own Parliament.
That figure rises to 55 per cent of people in England and 59 per
cent of people in the South East of England, whereas only 20 per
cent of people in Scotland thought it wrong.
50. In order to address the West Lothian Question,
there are usually four solutions proffered: the dissolution of
the United Kingdom; English devolution; fewer Scottish MPs; or
English votes on English laws. Although we make no recommendations
on how to resolve this question, we considered it worth noting
our concerns, with the hope that the matter will be comprehensively
debated, and resolved, before the situation is reached whereby
it could actually undermine the whole devolution settlement.
46 Q24. Back
See English blow to Brown's PM hopes, The Scotsman, 15
May 2006. Back