November 21, 2003

West Lothian Revisited

Most people who follow politics to any degree in thie country will be familiar with the West Lothian question. It refers to a conundrum first posed in Parliament by Tam Dalyell (pronounced like "Dail" in a two-syllable Texas drawl) as to why Scottish MPs at Westminster can vote on purely English matters, but English MPs canoot vote on the same matters that have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. (To satisfy the intensely curious, it is called the West Lothian question because Dalyell asked why a member for West Lothian [such as Mr Dalyell] can vote at Westminster on affairs relevant to West Bromwich, while the member for West Bromwich must be silent on anything happening in West Lothian.)

On Tuesday night it was very clear why the Government have done nothing to rectify this serious inequality. They needed to the Scottish Labour votes to push through one of their pieces of legislation. With a party majority of 161, the Government were only able to muster a majority vote of 17. The legislation concerned the Government's plan to establish foundation hospitals which are not managed directly by the Department of Health and have some measure of local autonomy.

The problem is that the Department of Health, though a part of the government of the United Kingdom, clearly states as the first sentence on its website, "Our aim is to improve the health and well-being of people in England." That is because it has no control over health in Scotland or Wales. What hasn't been noticed by the news media is that the Government also needed the vote of the Welsh Labour MPs. Without both the Scots and the Welsh votes, Tony B couldn't have pushed through his agenda for the English health service.

It is interesting to note that of the two members representing constituencies in West Lothian, Mr Dalyell abstained, but Robin Cook voted with the Government.

Posted by david at November 21, 2003 01:02 AM | TrackBack