Rifkind hits back at critics of grand plan to save Union
THE former Scottish secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, will tonight staunchly defend his plan for a "grand committee" of MPs from English constituencies, to decide on issues affecting only England, as a way of preserving the Union.
He will seek to answer his critics and provide more detail on how he hopes to avoid the need for a "revolution" in the constitution of the United Kingdom.
In a speech to the think-tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, Sir Malcolm will argue that the status quo at Westminster cannot be preserved, ten years after devolution and with the prospect of a hung parliament after the next general election.
His solution is to establish an English grand committee to deal with education and health in England – matters that are devolved to Holyrood for Scotland – but to have all MPs voting on UK matters such as taxation, defence and foreign affairs.
Speaking in advance to The Scotsman, Sir Malcolm said: "It's a question of how do we deal with purely English business that does not affect Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
"At the moment, the House of Commons retains the legal right to overrule the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly. In fact, what has happened over the past ten years is that there is a convention that the UK parliament respects the view of the Scottish Parliament.
"In a comparable way, we can evolve a similar convention that the House of Commons reflects the wishes of the English members. We don't need to have a revolution. We don't need to have an English parliament.
"On entirely English business, the government may not get its way. Some people say the government wouldn't be able to function. That is absolute rubbish. Alex Salmond doesn't have a majority in the Scottish Parliament, but nobody says Scotland is ungovernable.
"You can either have a coalition to cover you through a whole parliament or you can have what we had between 1974 and 1979, which was no coalition, and it meant that the government had to compromise. It's what the president of the United States does all the time."
Critics say this would create two classes of MP and would create problems for Scottish MPs such as Gordon Brown, who would be unable to vote on legislation if it affected only England.
Labour has run into controversy by relying on its Scottish MPs to help push through controversial legislation on foundation hospitals and tuition fees, which do not apply in Scotland.
Sir Malcolm said the Tory leadership was awaiting a report from former chancellor Kenneth Clarke's "democracy taskforce", before deciding whether to adopt a new policy. "They're reserving their position on what is the right thing to do," he said. "I'm hugely flexible about that."
He added: "It's absurd for people to say there is no answer to the West Lothian Question. There are several answers. If Ken Clarke's people come up with something that is neater than mine, then that is fine."
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