This is the text of a speech Sir George made in the House of Commons about the voting rights of Scottish MPs:
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown), who made a constructive and measured response to the powerful case made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), whom I compliment on his choice of subject.
As we heard, last month, one vote on foundation hospitals was carried by the votes of Scottish Members. Yesterday, when I spoke on the Traffic Management Bill, which covers only England and Wales, I raised the question of whether it was right for Scottish colleagues to vote on that matter. Later this month the decision on top-up fees might be carried by the votes of Scottish Members, so it is right that my hon. Friend should raise the matter.
Mr. Foulkes : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Sir George Young : I plan to observe the injunction from Sir Nicholas.
It is very appropriate that the debate should take place with you in the Chair, Sir Nicholas. In the last Parliament, the Procedure Committee, which you chair, produced a report on the procedural consequences of devolution, to which I will refer in a moment.
The present constitutional settlement is unfair and unstable. We tend to see it through our own eyes as Members of Parliament; I prefer to see it through the eyes of my constituents. The position is quite simple. Until 1998, my constituents, through their Member of Parliament, could influence policy in Scotland on health and education, and the converse was of course true. After devolution, they lost that ability to influence policy in Scotland.
Mr. Lazarowicz : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Sir George Young : I do not propose to give way because I hope that more Members will get in.
My advice to my constituents is to accept that devolution is a fact and that we should make it work. They are prepared to do so, but there is a consequent inequity. While they can no longer influence whether their Scottish friends have top-up fees or foundation hospitals, their Scottish friends can influence whether such policies happen in England. It is impossible to defend or explain that to my constituents. The problem is compounded by the so-called West Lothian question, whereby Scottish Members can impose top-up fees or foundation hospitals on my constituents but cannot impose those policies on their own constituents. The position is indefensible and inequitable.
What do the Government say in response? In the last Parliament, the Lord Chancellor said that the best thing to do about the West Lothian question was to stop asking it. That was not a proper response for a parliamentarian, let alone a spokesman on constitutional affairs. The Government's next line of defence is regional assemblies, but that is not an adequate response; regional assemblies do not have the same powers as the Scottish Parliament.
The Government then fall back on the indivisibility of the Member of Parliament and the impossibility of any solution that gives some MPs rights that others do not have. We are not all equal; some hon. Members in the Chamber have a right to attend Committees that I, as an English Member, cannot attend. That is where the Procedure Committee's report on the consequences of devolution comes in. It contains a section on legislation, and students of the subject will find support from the Procedure Committee for the argument that, in the light of devolution, different procedures may be necessary for England.
Your Committee, Sir Nicholas, anticipated conflict and wisely suggested procedures for minimising it. It suggested that we change our rules by convention; in other words, not by primary legislation but by convention. If there is support for the proposition that matters that affect England only should be voted on by English MPs only, it should be done by convention rather than by legislation.
Paragraphs 25 and 26 of the report are key, and it is worth reading the relevant section in full:
"The main point of principle to be considered is whether it is appropriate to retain special procedures for bills relating exclusively to one of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom, as currently apply to Bills relating exclusively to Scotland or Wales. On balance, we believe it is. There may soon be governments of different parties in different parts of the United Kingdom; party balances already differ in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."
That is an important section because it concedes the principle, post-devolution, of new procedures for legislation affecting England. Once that point has been conceded, English votes for English Bills is the logical conclusion.
Paragraph 28 argues that representation on Bills dealing with English legislation should be in accordance with party balance in England, not party balance in the House. The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) commented that
"As a Scottish MP, frankly I am not terribly interested in having a say over the English health budget, the way in which health policy is going or education, and all the matters over which responsibility has been devolved to Scotland, I think it right and proper that English MPs should be left to consider the equivalent legislation in England for themselves."
There speaks a Scottish Member of Parliament.
The Procedure Committee, which approved that principle unanimously, included nine Government Members; it also included the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who hopes to catch your eye later, Sir Nicholas. The principle that I am annunciating is not mine; a Committee of the House adopted it. The Committee also dealt with the argument that identifying such Bills would be an impossible burden on the Speaker by dismissing the point in paragraph 27 of the report.
How did the Government respond to the recommendation? They simply asserted in their response that
"If . . . it were possible to identify some Bills as relating exclusively to England, it is not clear what benefit that would have for the House."
The debate is about the West Lothian question. The argument of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire simply disappeared over the Government's head. They did not disagree with the solution; they did not think that there was a problem, which is indefensible. There is support in England for the sort of solution that my hon. Friend has outlined. I recall seeing an opinion poll indicating that there was a majority in Scotland for the proposition that Scottish Members of Parliament should not vote on English domestic legislation.
The proposal that only English and Welsh MPs should vote on Bills covering England and Wales could work within the conventions and traditions of Parliament. It is based on precedents and would be accepted as fair in Scotland as well as in England. It represents common sense. It would deal with the English question and make the Union stronger. The Government are making a serious mistake in their response and it will fall to a different Administration to put right this constitutional error.