The West Lothian Question

The West Lothian Question is so called after the MP for West Lothian, Scotland, Tam Dalyell who first questioned the right of MPs elected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to interfere in English affairs.

The question he asked was this:

For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate… at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

The essence of the West Lothian Question is “why should an MP elected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland be allowed to vote on something that only affects England when they can’t even vote on the same thing in their own constituency?”

Tam Dalyell was a clever man, he foresaw the problems with assymetric devolution before it even happened.  When he first posed the West Lothian Question it was during a debate on the first attempt to devolve power in Scotland and Wales in 1977.  On that occasion the attempt failed but in 1997 Scotland and Wales were both given home rule and the West Lothian Question became extremely relevant.

English university students only pay top-up fees because of MPs from Scottish constituencies who voted with their government to impose the fees on England despite it being a devolved matter in Scotland.  A majority of MPs for English constituencies voted against the introduction of top-up fees in English universities but Labour’s Scottish MPs were whipped to vote for them despite it being a matter for the Scottish Parliament in their own constituencies.

Foundation hospitals, which have been widely criticised as overly bureaucratic and inefficient, were imposed on England with the votes of MPs elected in Scotland as with university top-up fees.

MPs for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish constituencies have continued to vote on controversial English laws such as the ban on fox hunting and the smoking ban.