Nick Clegg says more Scotland powers must mean changes at Westminster
Rules on Scottish MPs voting on England-only issues should be altered if the no vote wins, says deputy prime minister
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Nick Clegg has stated that there will need to be changes in the way English and Scots MPs vote in parliament if Scotland rejects independence and acquires more devolved powers.
The deputy prime minister said it did not make sense for Scots MPs to have precisely the same say over solely English matters as English MPs if devolution increased.
The deputy prime minister said it did not make sense for Scots MPs to have precisely the same say over solely English matters as English MPs ifdevolution increased.
The issue of English MPs getting a greater say on English legislation – the so-called West Lothian question – will need to be finally settled, he added.
His comments raised the prospect of Scots MPs losing the right to vote on crucial issues such as the budget, potentially creating a confusing situation for a Labour prime minister who has a parliamentary majority based on the support of Scots MPs.
Many Conservative backbenchers disagree about the decision of Westminster leaders to offer Scotland a package of devolution without considering how this will affect the rest of the UK.
The former cabinet minister John Redwood has called for a separate English parliament, while others such as Andrew Percy, MP for Brigg and Goole, would like to see voting rights addressed.
Cameron’s official spokesman has repeatedly refused to comment on the issue, saying it is a matter for party political manifestos.
But Clegg has now set out his position. On the LBC 97.3 radio phone-in, on Wednesday he said there would have to be changes in Westminster when devolution legislation relating to Scotland is brought forward in January.
Despite speaking out on the problem, the Liberal Democrat leader did not go so far as to call for Scots MPs to be banned from voting for some legislation. Instead, he backed the findings of the McKay commission, which suggested 18 months ago that English MPs should get a greater, indicative, say on English issues, without stopping Scots MPs from casting their vote on new laws.
Clegg said: “In the jargon, it’s called the West Lothian question, which has been hanging around for generations. And clearly that needs to settled … I think that when the decision is made in the coming months and legislation is passed to give these new significant powers on welfare, on borrowing, on tax raising powers to Scotland, that should be accompanied by a decision about how the votes are organised in Westminster.
“Because clearly when you have that degree of devolution, saying that … a Scottish MP has precisely the same say over matters in English as an English MP, doesn’t make any sense. That’s why you then decide how you divvy votes in the Commons. There’s been a proposal from [Sir William] McKay, he produced his report a couple of years ago. That’s got some sensible ideas.
“I’ve always felt you decide that at the same time as you take the next big step in devolution It’s not logical … it’s just simply not fair to say, Okay we have more devolved family that makes up the UK but somehow that new devolution settlement isn’t reflected in any way in changes in Westminster. That doesn’t make any sense. You have to make changes in Westminster as well.”
The coalition attempted to deal with the thorny question of a perceived democratic deficit for the English by setting up the McKay commission on the consequences of devolution for the Commons. However, the report, published in early 2013, appears to have been shelved for the last 18 months and the government has not even offered a formal response. Implementation of its proposals now is unlikely to satisfy many Tory, and some Labour, English MPs, who believe it does not go far enough.
McKay, a former clerk of the Commons, who led the inquiry, said he had no idea why the government had been silent on the issue since his report but further Scottish devolution could be an opportunity to revisit his commission’s recommendations.
“The key thing is in the event of a no vote one of the solutions is that the House could undertake to give a greater say for English MPs. It is about getting a balance,” he said.
He suggested a charitable view of the government’s failure to answer the commission might be that the question of Scotland’s independence had proved a much bigger constitutional preoccupation.