Easy To Decide Which Bills Are “English”

06 Jul 2006

This letter from Tom Miers was published in The Herald on 6th July

There may be sound arguments against the notion that Scots MPs should not vote on English Bills, but Iain MacWhirter’s objections are surely way off the mark (A road that leads only to the break-up of Britain – The Herald 5th July). They are contradicted by the well established practice of devolution as it stands today.

He says it would be hard for the Speaker to judge which bills are ‘English’ – but we already have a workable method of judging which are ‘Scottish’ (and therefore dealt with by Holyrood). The same principles could be simply applied.

He argues that much ‘English’ legislation actually affects Scotland too, so Scots MPs should have a say on it. But if this is the case, presumably equivalent ‘Scottish’ legislation must affect England - should English MPs should again have a say over it?

It is true that after a close General Election, a party might have a majority UK-wide but not in England. In this case Ministers from another party that could command a majority of English votes would presumably be appointed to conduct policy on health, education etc. Since this already happens in a Scottish context, with one party holding the purse strings and another conducting policy, it is hard to see where MacWhirter’s objection comes from.

The confusion may arise from the fact that Scotland has a separate parliament with its own members and building. But the principles of devolution could equally have been implemented using existing Westminster members, in the way that is being suggested for England. It’s not the building and the members that make devolution, but what the members can do.

I’ve no idea whether the Tories’ motivation in this is as cynical as he supposes, though to say that they benefited from the West Lothian question in the past when it hadn’t arisen (except briefly in an Irish context) is clearly a nonsense.

He may well be right that it will play into the hands of the SNP. But to argue that it’s unworkable when similar mechanisms are already functioning perfectly well is surely absurd.