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West Lothian Question

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 28 April 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what impact the result of the Welsh referendum will have on their plans to resolve the West Lothian question.

My Lords, the result of the recent Welsh referendum is a major development for devolution in Wales—one which the Government are committed to supporting and at the same time to making the legislative arrangements work effectively. In particular, the Government will make an announcement, during the course of this year, about their plans for a commission to consider the West Lothian question. It would be for the commission, once established, to consider what factors it considered relevant in its examination of the options.

Yes, my Lords, but devolution has resulted in unfairness which is unhealthy in any democracy. Does my noble friend agree that one of the ways that might solve this knotty problem would be if Members of another place representing constituencies from the devolved authorities voted in this Parliament only on legislation that affected their constituents?

My Lords, it has always been an important principle of another place that all MPs should have equal rights before the House. Any change from that principle will need very careful consideration. But devolution has made a difference, with the removal from Parliament’s daily business of issues relating to devolved authorities. It is right that we should consider what the impact of that should be.

The noble Lord cannot be held responsible, and nor can the Government, for doing nothing yet on the West Lothian question, first raised in 1977 by my dear friend Tam Dalyell, the former MP for West Lothian. Does the noble Lord realise that today he can make history? When we get the Scotland Bill I propose to move an amendment that would affect the funding for Wales and Scotland under something called a formula—which he may have heard of. A distinguished Select Committee of this House recommended that the formula should be changed substantially to one based on need. I hope he will give us an assurance that he will support my amendment when I move it.

My Lords, I caught the noble Lord’s eye as he entered the Chamber because I thought he might have something to say on this. He will know that the Welsh Assembly Government commissioned the Holtham inquiry into funding in Wales. Likewise, there was the Calman inquiry in Scotland. He is right that there are a number of interlocking legislative initiatives which tie in to this proposal—the Scotland Bill is one of them. I will resist the temptation he offers to support his amendment before that Bill arrives in this House.

My Lords, given the almost universal support among candidates at the current Welsh general election, in which obviously I quickly declare an interest, for the implementation of the Holtham commission report, can we have some further indication—albeit that I welcome what has been said on West Lothian—as Holtham, son of Barnett, is perhaps even more urgent for us in terms of financial relationships between the UK Treasury and devolved Wales?

I understand the interest of the noble Lord in this matter and indeed that of many noble Lords. The truth is that we are attendant upon the first priority of this Government which is tackling the budget deficit. Funding for the devolved authorities is a major matter and the Government have listened and agreed to take note of the Holtham commission because it is very useful material on which to base a decision that is comprehensive across all devolved authorities, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, has indicated.

My Lords does my noble friend recognise that there are Members of this House who legitimately claim to speak for other parts of the United Kingdom—Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Does he further recognise that if the Government were to pursue the course proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, there might well be a suggestion that those restrictions on MPs at the other end of the corridor might also apply to Members of this House?

The commission would certainly have to bear that in mind, just as it is likely to want to bear in mind any reformed nature of this House following legislation which might be introduced to that effect.

My Lords, is it not the case that, under the parliamentary boundaries legislation, Wales has suffered the most savage surgery, losing 25 per cent of its parliamentary seats? Was that not in clear breach of an Act of Parliament of 1986 which guaranteed a minimum of 35 seats for Wales and a solemn undertaking given by the right honourable Kenneth Clarke in 1992?

I do not want to go over the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill again, because noble Lords spent a long time on that issue. That legislation makes representation equal across the United Kingdom, which is a fair basis on which to start any consideration of devolution and funding of devolved authorities.