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Is Labour flirting with English pauses?

Tom Griffin
2 July 2008
Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): As Gareth Young reports below Ken Clarke's Democracy Task Force has come up with a new answer to the West Lothian Question The current devolution settlement contains long-term risks to the Union. The Democracy Task Force recommends to David Cameron a modified version of ‘English Votes for English Laws’, incorporating English-only Committee and Report stages but a vote of all MPs at Second and Third Reading. We believe that this proposal can remove the main source of English grievance at the current devolution settlement without some of the risks to political stability that critics have seen in proposals for a completely English procedure. (Answering the West Lothian Question)

Gareth is none too happy with this "crude technical" solution, but how have others reacted? Shadow Justice Secretary Nick Herbert has not endorsed the detail of the plan, but has pledged that a future Conservative Government would address the West Lothian question as a matter of urgency.

More surprisingly perhaps, Constitutional Affairs Minister Michael Wills has not dismissed the proposal out of hand:

"We will always engage in sensible debate on constitutional proposals with one proviso, that it does not threaten the integrity of the UK," Mr Wills said.

"We have always said that it is important to find ways for the expression of an English voice in our constitutional arrangements.

"A more critical Labour response came from Wrexham MP Ian Lucas:

Modern Britain is an integrated state. Nowhere is this clearer than in public service delivery – areas that are devolved to the nations within the United Kingdom. In health, for example, care for Welsh patients is provided in many cases from English hospitals. Not only is this true of specialist services – Alder Hey children's hospital in Liverpool is just one example; it is true also of secondary medical care.

It is true also in our university sector. Students from Wales and Scotland attend English universities and English students attend universities in Wales and Scotland. This is a strength of being part of the United Kingdom – experiencing the different cultures we share.

Paul Kingsnorth is unimpressed with that argument:

Do no English kids attend Welsh universities? If so, why can't English MPs impose tuition fees on his country? No answer. Instead, we are treated to the claim that "there are no 'English-only' laws in the UK", which is an "integrated state". Really? In that case, there presumably can't be "Welsh-only" and "Scottish-only" laws either. Best get rid of that Welsh assembly, then.

Conservative reaction has been equally mixed. Sir Malcolm Rifkind suggests the Task Force proposal won't solve the problem it is intended to address.

He said that under Mr Clarke's plans controversial laws, such as the fox-hunting ban and the introduction of tuition fees, would still be pushed through by Scots MPs.

The plans would allow all MPs to vote on a bill at second reading, meaning that it could be approved in principle, even if it was unacceptable to a majority of MPs representing English seats.

"Thus the legislation on tuition fees, foundation hospitals or fox-hunting would still have been approved," Sir Malcolm said.
Over at the Spectator Coffee House blog, Fraser Nelson argues that the Tories should stick to their earlier English Votes for English Laws policy, an option that may still be open given Nick Herbert's stance.

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