West Lothian question must be answered now, MPs warn
THE West Lothian Question must be answered before growing English anger over devolution tears apart the current constitutional settlement, MPs will warn the government next week.
A report by the Labour-dominated Scottish affairs committee, seen by The Scotsman, concludes voters in England are increasingly unhappy with the situation. And it says the frustration could ultimately "undermine" the constitutional framework Tony Blair's government created in 1999.
The committee has joined the chorus of voices demanding changes in the relationship between Scottish and UK parliaments. Opinion polls show people in England less and less willing to tolerate a situation where Scotland has its own legislative body but England does not, and where Scots MPs can vote on laws that affect only England but English MPs have no say on Scots laws.
Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, yesterday demanded a rethink of the Barnett formula, which English politicians believe disproportionately benefits Scotland.
Politicians from all parties say English anxieties are being concentrated by the prospect of Gordon Brown, the Chancellor and MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, becoming prime minister. Mr Brown is aware of the disquiet, stressing his commitment to Britain and the England football team. Some even fear the World Cup could intensify pressure on the devolution settlement. First Minister Jack McConnell's refusal to support the England team has aroused widespread criticism from Westminster politicians and London media commentators.
The constitutional anomalies thrown up by Scottish devolution were christened the West Lothian Question after the erstwhile constituency of Tam Dalyell, former Labour MP and veteran opponent of devolution.
"It is a matter of concern that there are signs English discontent with the current situation is becoming apparent," the report states, noting an ICM poll last month which showed 55 per cent of English people think it would be wrong for an MP with a Scottish seat to become Prime Minister, given that Scotland has its own parliament.
Although the MPs make no recommendations on how to resolve the West Lothian question, they are clear something must be done to avoid a full-blown constitutional crisis. "We considered it worth noting our concerns, with the hope the matter will be debated, and resolved, before the situation is reached where it could undermine the whole devolution settlement," the committee concludes.
Of the 11 MPs on the committee, nine have seats in Scotland - the other two are English Tories. In effect, the committee members accept the only way to resolve the constitutional questions facing Britain is for Scottish MPs to accept a reduction in their powers.
The committee identifies four "solutions" to the dilemma facing Britain: the dissolution of the UK; English devolution; fewer Scottish MPs; or English votes on English laws. The last option is being pushed by the Conservatives, who want to bar all Scottish MPs from voting on Westminster legislation that affects only England.
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