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The West Lothian question

Published Wednesday, January 18, 2012

This note explores the concept of the 'West Lothian Question' in the light of the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from 1999.

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This note explores the concept of the ‘West Lothian Question’ in the light of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from 1999. One aspect of the debate about devolution has been the question of the role at Westminster of Members representing constituencies in parts of the United Kingdom to which a measure of self-government in domestic affairs has been granted. Another is the role of such MPs (and those representing English constituencies) in the consideration of matters now devolved to bodies elsewhere in the UK. This aspect of the debate is often referred to as the ‘West Lothian Question’ (so named following a campaign by Tam Dalyell, the Member for West Lothian, against Labour’s attempt to introduce devolution in the 1970s) or, more recently, the ‘English Question’ (the wider issue of how England should be governed post devolution). The question refers to the constitutional anomaly whereby Members representing Scottish constituencies (or Welsh or Northern Irish constituencies) may vote on legislation which extends to England, but neither they nor Members representing English seats can vote on subjects which have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Earlier material on these questions is set out in detail in Research Papers 98/3, The Scotland Bill 1997/98: some constitutional and representational aspects and 07/24, The House of Commons (Participation) Bill.

The Government has announced that it will create a commission to look into the issue in terms of parliamentary business and procedure, but leaving aside finance and the balance of political representation. The intention is for this commission to start work in February 2012, and to report by the end of the next Session in spring 2013.

Commons Briefing papers SN02586

Author: Paul Bowers

Topics: Devolution, Parliament, Scottish Parliament

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