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West Lothian Question

Volume 540: debated on Tuesday 7 February 2012

7. What recent progress he has made on establishing the commission to consider the West Lothian question. (93687)

8. What recent progress he has made on establishing the commission to consider the West Lothian question. (93688)

The establishment of the commission was announced by written ministerial statement on 17 January and the commission is due to report during the next parliamentary Session.

Treasury figures show that every English household pays £420 in tax to subsidise Scottish services, which means that Harlow families from my constituency are sending £16 million a year to Scotland. Is it not time to redress the balance and have English votes for English laws?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to take the opportunity to make his views known to the commission. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has just explained, the commission is of course focused on procedures in this House, as they are affected by the process of devolution. I am not sure whether the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) will be directly relevant to the commission’s central terms of reference.

The recent debate on Scottish independence has shown that, unfortunately, a significant proportion of English people believe that Britain would be better off without Scotland, so may I press the Deputy Prime Minister a little further on English votes for English laws? Does he think that such a change will help to restore English faith in the Union?

That is why I believe that the commission is important; if we can get the balance right in this House, such that the changes brought about by devolution are properly reflected in our procedures here—in how matters are dealt with and votes are cast—that will, I hope, address some of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend’s constituents. It will also allow us all to make the argument that the vast majority of us in the House believe that Scotland is stronger as a strong part of a strong United Kingdom.

Given that all successful constitutional change in this country post war has taken place on the basis of cross-party consensus, does the Deputy Prime Minister not consider it a serious error not to have sought cross-party meetings or discussions in order to obtain agreement on the terms of reference for the inquiry?

Needless to say, once the commission, which is entirely independent of any party and of the Government, produces its report, we will be keen to enter into cross-party discussions. But at the moment we do not know what the commission is recommending, and it is very difficult to have a proper cross-party discussion without knowing what the recommendations will be.

If the English regions can give evidence to the commission, what will be the appropriate body to do so from Yorkshire and Humber, which has a larger population than Scotland, as we no longer have a regional development agency and we have nothing that represents or gives focus to any strategic thinking for our region?

For a start, it would be a good thing if Members of Parliament from Yorkshire and Humber—I am a Yorkshire MP—were to give evidence where we have strong views on how the procedures of this House should be changed to reflect devolution. The commission has been established and its membership has been selected precisely to reflect the expertise we need on how this House works and how its procedures might need to be reformed.