Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Fourth Report

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]

46. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State said that:

"….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]

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".[48] 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 become apparent."[49]

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]

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

47   Q81. Back

48   Q86. Back

49   IbidBack

50   See English blow to Brown's PM hopes, The Scotsman, 15 May 2006. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 19 June 2006