About Levels of Government
What is the West Lothian Question?
The West Lothian Question started in the 1970s.
During the debates on the referendums, which took place in the 1970s, Tam Dalyell stated an important consequence of devolution. Tam Dalyell was the Member of Parliament for the Scottish constituency of West Lothian.
What did the MP for West Lothian say?
It became clear that the Westminster Parliament would no longer deal with issues such as education or health that only affected Scotland or Wales. This was because these matters had been devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. As they were not dealt with at Westminster, MPs, whether from England, Scotland or Wales would not be voting on them.
However, matters affecting health or education in England are not devolved but still decided at Westminster. This meant Scottish and Welsh MPs, not chosen by the English electorate, would be able to vote on them.
The West Lothian question – a constitutional issue 1997-2015
This issue has a party political dimension.
Between 1997 and 2015, Labour had the great majority of MPs in Scotland and more Welsh MPs than the other parties.
This meant that a Labour Government could whip its Scottish and Welsh MPs to vote for legislation affecting England, even when a majority of English MPs were against it.
This happened in 2003. There was a major rebellion of Labour MPs against their Government’s proposals for foundation hospitals. English MPs voted by a majority of 1 against the proposal but Labour Scottish and Welsh MPs saw the legislation through.
The same happened when the Labour Government wanted to raise tuition fees to £3000 a year. This proposal was passed with the help of Scottish Labour MPs even though the Scottish Government had decided against tuition fees in Scotland.
What is an English issue?
From 2001, the Conservative Party proposed ‘English votes for English laws.’ This would mean only English MPs would be able to vote on matters only affecting England.
However, deciding what is an English issue is not always easy. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has a policy of not voting on English issues, but they took part in the 2003 vote on foundation hospitals. Why? Because firstly funding the NHS in England might have had an effect on the overall financial settlement for Scotland. Secondly, because some Scottish people would cross the border to be treated in English hospitals and vice versa.
Having voting only by English MPs on some issues would also be the first time in the history of Parliament that there were two sets of MPs with different rights.
There could also be potential conflict in the future between a Conservative majority of MPs in England and a non-Conservative national government.
The McKay Commission, appointed by the Coalition Government, proposed there should be a vote of English MPs so that their views were known followed by a vote of all MPs.
Another suggested solution, is to have an English Parliament to which English issues are devolved to the same extent that they are in Scotland and Wales. It is not certain if there is political support for this and it has major overall constitutional implications.