8 Sep 2011 : Column 27WS

8 Sep 2011 : Column 27WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 8 September 2011

Deputy Prime Minister

Commission on the “West Lothian” Question

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): The coalition programme for government set out our commitment to

“establish a commission to consider the ‘West Lothian question’”.

I can now give the House more details on how that commission is to proceed.

The Government are clear that the commission’s primary task should be to examine how this House and Parliament as a whole can deal most effectively with business that affects England wholly or primarily, when at the same time similar matters in some or all of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are lawfully and democratically the responsibility of the separate Parliament or Assemblies. The commission will not examine financing, which is being dealt with separately through various processes led by Treasury Ministers, nor does it need to look at the balance of parliamentary representation, given that Parliament addressed historic imbalances in representation between the constituent nations of the United Kingdom in legislation earlier this year.

Given the commission’s focus on parliamentary business and procedure, the Government believe that the commission should be comprised of a small group of independent, non-partisan experts with constitutional, legal and parliamentary expertise. We will also wish to consult with Mr Speaker and other parliamentary authorities on how the commission can best address this. We will also ensure that there is a full opportunity for the parties to have their say following the completion of the commission’s work.

We will bring forward formal proposals, including the terms of reference for the commission, after the conclusion of this short process of consultation and further deliberation. I expect that this will be in the weeks after the House returns in October.

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UK Bill of Rights

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): The Government established an independent commission to investigate the creation of a UK Bill of Rights in March 2011, fulfilling a commitment made in our programme for government. The commission has been asked to explore a range of issues surrounding human rights law in the UK and also to provide interim advice on reform of the European Court of Human Rights ahead of our chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which begins in November 2011 and runs for six months.

I am today placing in the Library of the House copies of two letters received from Sir Leigh Lewis, the chair of the commission on a Bill of Rights, which have been sent jointly to the Deputy Prime Minister and myself. The first letter contains the interim advice which the commission was asked to provide to the Government on reform of the European Court of Human Rights, in advance of the UK’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe. The second letter sets out a number of issues on which the commission has not yet reached conclusions, and which it intends to continue to consider as part of its work programme.

The Government welcome the commission’s interim advice on the reform of the European Court of Human Rights. Our top priority when we take over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will be to deliver and build upon the ongoing reform process. It must focus on the most important cases and have proper regard to the judgment of national Parliaments and courts. It must operate more effectively and efficiently as a proper safeguard against human rights abuses. Our plans will be informed by the commission’s advice. The commission will continue to explore the case for a UK Bill of Rights, and we look forward to receiving its final report by the end of next year.