If you were distracted from your reading of the 2010 Conservative manifesto and didn’t get as far as page 84 you are in for a treat now. I confess I didn’t read any of it, simply because at the time I was hoping that Nancy Platts, rather that Charlotte De Vere would get elected in my constituency. As it happens it was Caroline Lucas who won the contest and the rest is history. However I was alerted to page 84 by Steve Bell a local Conservative Party activist. The background to this exchange is that yesterday morning Steve tweeted to say “labour supporters switching to @ because of our stance of English votes on English matters @ # Kemptown” Surely no one really believes that after 52 months of a Conservative Party dominated coalition which is intensely unpopular amongst historic Labour voters, that any Labour supporters will have swung behind the Conservatives simply because they have offered to resolve the West Lothian question. It is easy to imagine some people being angry over the cost and time spent on the referendum and still more powers going to Scotland, and certainly many of us want to see this matter resolved. However as Steve Bell knows, all of the parties have now promised to resolve this issue, even if this is largely because the referendum came so close to being lost by the Westminster parties.
The fact that 52 months into this Government and 5 Queens Speeches later, the commitment hidden away on page 84 of the manifesto has not been included in any of them suggests that the Conservative Party is not as committed to English votes for English people as Steve Bell and David Cameron suggest. It is an element of English devolution that has been missing ever since powers were devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by the Labour Government that came to power in 1997. English devolution and the idea of regional parliaments were proposed by Winston Churchill in 1912. To their credit the coalition did set up a commission to examine the West Lothian Question in the Centenary year of the Churchill speech and the McKay Commission reported its findings just over a year later. However since then we have heard very little on the subject. The most recent comment was from Nick Clegg on the 8th July this year. Steve Brine, MP for Winchester asked him a question under so called topical questions:
Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): As we approach the Scottish referendum, in which the Deputy Prime Minister wants to see a no vote, which polls suggest is likely, will he commit the Government finally to answering the West Lothian question?
The Deputy Prime Minister: “Finally” is the operative word for something that has bedevilled debate in Westminster for more than 100 years. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in January 2012 we set up the McKay commission to consider how the House of Commons should deal with legislation that affects only part of the United Kingdom. The commission’s report—an excellent one—was published in March, and the Government are now considering it in detail. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that if this question were so straightforward to sort out, I suspect someone would have done it a long time ago.
Someone needs to point out to Nick Clegg that deliberation becomes prevarication long before 16 months is up! His speech also fails to make clear which March he was referring to, the MacKay commission reported in March 2013! Any failure to respond quickly to the outcome of Thursdays referendum when the Government and Opposition parties have now had 18 months since the McKay commission and 37 years since Tam Dalyell first coined the phrase of the West Lothian question will not be understood by the electorate. However it is vital that the solution is a good one and something that does not simply consign an English Parliament or English Regional Parliaments (something I and Churchill both favour) to a lifetime of dominance by any one of the current Political Parties. The idea of the West Lothian question being understood as certain MPs being denied the chance to make decisions on key issue, misses the point that many electors in the UK are consistently denied the chance to be represented by an MP of their choice. We need to address the West Lothian Question, but at the same time address equally offensive issues of representation in our modern society.