West Lothian Question – and the answer is…

The West Lothian Question had been better named the West Lothian Conundrum? So long as its question remain unanswered, even unaddressed. The West Lothian question still waiting for a Westminster answer.

Tam Dalyell

Tam Dalyell

The House of Lords can process a bill through parliament at snails pace – for but one example the current Lords Reform Bill. All bills get three readings and between the second and third readings there is Committee Stage and a Report Stage. And then this same process gets repeated again in the other house! Then there is a Consideration of Amendments before Royal Ascent. And you might think the amount of time on legislation is less about ensuring it is thorough and well-thought out and more about seeing it never makes the light of day.

The aforementioned Lords Reform Bill received its second reading in the Lords on December 3 last year. And what date was set for the Committee Stage? October 21 this year – really! Even Franz Kafka would raise an incredulous eye-brow to that!

And it is hardly like Turkeys voting for Christmas – the changes to appointments of Lords envisioned in it are nothing to the more wholesale changes proposed earlier this year by our Much Unloved Deputy Prime Minister.

Franz Kafka

Kafkaesque trial…

And this stifled progress is as nothing compared with that made by the West Lothian Question.

For those of you who do not know what this question is let alone its answer, it is the situation where in effect Members of Parliament from constituencies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can vote on legislation effecting the constituencies of England but which same legislation has no effect in their own constituencies due to the devolved local powers of these three nations.

The West Lothian Question (and I think the question merits a capitalized Q!) is not a widely known question – much more constitutionally obscure than it ought to be and I am only aware of it myself, as aside from being a bit of a political nerd, am also a West Lothian constituent.

Nevertheless it is not just because of the powers devolved under the last Labour led British Parliaments to the Scottish Holyrood Parliament and Welsh & Northern Irish Assemblies that this question has arisen. It actually first became an issue following the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 – remember it?! – which had the effect of devolving some British powers to local Scottish government.

It is so called because it was raised by a West Lothian Labour Member – and the Ulster Unionist Member responding to his speech by saying ‘We have finally grasped what the Honourable Member for West Lothian is getting at. Let us call it the West Lothian Question’. And this Ulster Unionist Member was? Enoch Powell!

The issue was raised back in 1977, back when God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols was kept off the number one spot in the year of the present Queen’s Jubilee, by the then West Lothian Member Tam Dalyell – there is not even a West Lothian political constituency any more! – having deceased in 1983 to be replaced by Livingston and Linlithgow respectively. And Tam Dalyell himself in this period became Father of the House before retiring from Parliament in 2005. Well 28 years was just too short a time to expect an answer.

Ken Clarke

Ken Clarke

Finally though a commission has been agreed to examine the West Lothian Question. And it was agreed in September of this year – again like a previous post I cannot resist to say ‘I am not making this up’!

Some of this protracted delay might be because some of the solutions would be very significant indeed such as the establishment of an English Parliament and perhaps an over-reaching British Federal Structure.

Or conversely abolishing all the devolved bodies altogether – and the latter is definitely not going to happen!

Last I heard Kenneth Clarke had set up a Democracy Taskforce (!) charged by the Prime Minister in well not exactly solving the West Lothian Question but producing a report on it. The report was completed and proposed a compromise technical solution where Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish MP’s would be involved in the first and second readings of laws pertaining to England but not the third and final reading.

I am not sure whether I think this is a reasonable solution or just another semi-pragmatic fudge.

Perhaps the West Lothian Question will be Question Resolved by the end of this current parliament? Perhaps!