The West Lothian Question
A major complication of the way that Devolution works is what is known as the West Lothian Question. Despite the Sewell Convention meaning that English MPs do not make laws that will affect Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the same cannot be said about Scottish MPs on English matters. This is because England does not have its own Parliament and all English matters are legislated for in Westminster. This consequently meant that MPs from devolved areas could vote on issues that will not affect their own constituents but will affect constituencies in England. This has become known as the West Lothian Question, named Tam Dalyell the MP for West Lothian raised it in 1977 when Devolution was being considered. This has become a big focus in British Politics, particularly after the promise of ‘Devo-Max’ to Scotland during the Scottish Referendum campaign. It has led to an emphasis on the ‘The English Question’. David Cameron’s Conservative Government claimed to have solved this by adding an additional Committee Stage to the legislative process. This stage is called the Grand Committee stage. In this Committee Stage, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs would not be able to have the ultimate say on matters only effecting England:
However, although progress has been made, this has not completely solved the ‘English Question’. The final version of a bill will still be voted on by all MPs. This means that MPs of areas that have devolved powers can still vote on legislative changes that will not directly affect their own constituents. Equally, denoting what was an ‘English Only’ matter was not easy. The Barnett Formula means that devolved areas receive differing funding dependent on how much the UK Government spends. Therefore, devolved MPs have a vested interest in most issues voted on in Parliament. In addition, the issue as to whether it is an ‘English Only’ matter is solely that of the Speaker of the House of Commons
Post-2015 Examples of the West Lothian Question
9th March 2016 – The Conservative Government proposed to relax Sunday Trading Rules in England and Wales. The Government’s motion was defeated by 317 to 286 votes. Had 59 SNP MPs not voted against the change, the government would have won by 21 votes. The SNP did this despite the issue not directly affecting Scotland.
14th March 2018 - 8 DUP MPs voted with the Conservative Government to remove thousands of Free School Meals in England. Their decision would not impact their constituents in Northern Ireland, as this is a devolved issue.
The Removal of English Votes for English Laws In April 2020 English Votes for English Law (EVEL) was suspended during COVID-19. However, in July 2021 the House of Commons approved the abolition of EVEL entirely. As such, it was accepted that this was a constitutional reform that had simply not worked.