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West Lothian Question

Volume 533: debated on Tuesday 11 October 2011

I refer my hon. Friends to the written ministerial statement I issued on 8 September. We plan to make further details, including the terms of reference and the time scale for the commission, available to the House in the very near future.

Does my hon. Friend accept that many people in England feel that at this time of economic difficulty fairness is more important than ever, and does he further accept that many hold the view that English-only issues should be more in the hands of English MPs and less in the hands of MPs representing devolved parts of the UK?

I very much agree. Many people who live in England express concern about this potential unfairness, which is why we are going to set up the commission to look carefully at how the procedures in this House can ensure that that situation is fairer as we pass legislation. I hope my hon. Friend will welcome that detailed announcement when it is made in due course.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the commission has enough time to report its findings and that Parliament has enough time to consider them before a referendum on Scottish independence, which the Scottish Government indicate will take place in 2014 or 2015?

I am confident that when my hon. Friend sees the terms of reference he will see that there will be time for the commission to examine this matter, make its proposals and enable there to be a full discussion with all the political parties in this House, and then for this House to take a decision on how it wants to move forward.

Does the Minister agree that the English are every bit as good as the French and the Germans, and can surely govern themselves without any help from the Scots? Surely the answer to the West Lothian question is very simple.

There is a very simple answer, and I know what the hon. Gentleman thinks it is. I do not agree with him, most Members of this House do not agree with him and we will do everything we can to make sure that this United Kingdom stays together.

Because we have asymmetrical devolution in the United Kingdom, the application of law, as agreed by this Parliament, is different in different parts of the United Kingdom. Given that complexity, does the Minister believe it is possible to have different MPs voting on different pieces of legislation without creating total legislative confusion?

First, may I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position? We had a number of conversations on these constitutional matters during the progress of the two previous pieces of legislation, and I look forward to more such conversations. As he rightly says, this is a complicated matter—I sometimes have to stress that to colleagues in this House who think it is simple—which is exactly why we have said that the commission will consist of experts who understand how this place works and can balance those complexities while making sure that we end up with a solution that is fairer to England as well as to the other parts of the United Kingdom.