With all the fuss regarding solutions to the West Lothian Question – English votes for English matters and Ken Clarke’s English pauses for English clauses – I thought I’d return to a favourite solution proposed by Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
Dubbed the ‘East Lothian Answer’ as Malcolm Rifkind has a home in Inveresk, actually in Midlothian but east of Edinburgh, it proposes an English Grand Committee.
This English Grand Committee will consider English only bills at the Committee stage and propose amendments. Similarly to Ken Clarke’s ‘English pauses for English clauses’ an English majority at the third stage will pass the bill.
So Scottish MPs will not be banned from voting at the final stage, but their votes will simply be ignored! What difference is that to banning a Scottish MPs vote? None! It amounts to the same thing!
The Prime Minister Gordon Brown has already said that banning Scots from voting on English laws at Westminster would damage the Union. Simply ignoring their vote would do the same!
There have been other objections to this plan:-
First of all, will England be appeased by a Grand Committee when Scotland has a Parliament, and Northern Ireland and Wales both have Assemblies?
Second, similarly to ‘English clauses for English pauses’ it demeans the Scots as second-class MPs, and as I suggested with that plan will damage the Union.
Third, as the Liberal Democrat Lord Tyler pointed out if some amendments affected Scotland would another committee be set up. It also makes the speaker’s job that much harder trying to figure out which legisation had an impact on Scotland.
Interestingly, whether Malcolm Rifkind has predicted that the outcome of the East Lothian Question will lead to two-tiers of MPs or not, he certainly is of the persuasion that two-tier MPs would damage the union.
The Telegraph reported Malcolm Rifkind’s agreement with Gordon Brown on the damage caused by Scots not voting on English laws:-
‘It would create two classes of MPs and added, pointedly: “That really would be the first step towards the end of the United Kingdom.”
However, that was as close as Sir Malcolm got, and he went on to claim that Mr Brown’s attitude on the unfairness of the issue was “spineless and indefensible.”‘
Much like the Union itself, then.