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Standing Orders (Public Business)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:33 pm on 22nd October 2015.

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee 1:33 pm, 22nd October 2015

Thank you for the early warning, Mr Deputy Speaker.

It is my privilege to follow the Father of the House, who, in his now customary fashion, stilled this House with his wisdom. I think we should listen carefully to what he said and take on board the points he made. The only response I would make is this: he said that before this measure we were all equal, but I am afraid that that is not the case. The West Lothian question was originally coined in the 1970s, but it has been with us since the moment the devolution settlements were enacted in Wales and Scotland. The fact that it has been ignored, ignored and ignored, and amplified by further and further devolution to Scotland and Wales, and now to Northern Ireland, is the reason we are now having this debate: we have this one unresolved issue before us.

The principle of English votes for English laws is clearly right. As I hear the objections of those who supported the settlements in Scotland and Wales that they are now going to be excluded from the consideration of matters in England that affect their constituents, I recall that that is exactly the same argument that we made against the establishment of Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, because those things are now decided in those jurisdictions whether or not they have any effect on my constituents. We have an unequal House already, and the question is how to address that.

This debate follows the Prime Minister’s statement following the referendum. Since then, we have learned that doing this in this way is fantastically complicated. I draw the House’s attention to proposed Standing Order 83J(8)(b), which says that the Speaker

“shall disregard any provision inserted by the House of Lords which, in the Speaker’s opinion, has the sole objective of ensuring that Standing Order”— blah, blah, blah. In other words, the Speaker is meant to adjudicate on what he thinks was behind the intention of an amendment passed by the House of Lords. We are in danger of putting the Speaker in an impossible position. I do not dismiss the risks of judicial review in these circumstances because we are inviting such controversy through these arrangements. However, Chris Bryant cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that this is a massive constitutional change and then read out a whole lot of statistics and say it will make no difference at all. He is in rather a difficult position.

We need to move on from this kind of debate to a different kind of discussion. We need far more dialogue and discussion, both in this Chamber and outside it, involving all the parties, Unionist and nationalist. We need it in public and in private, we need it in all parts of the United Kingdom, and we need to involve all four Parliaments and Assemblies. We need to choose language that seeks to build common ground, avoids divisive terms, does not prejudge outcomes, and makes each part of the United Kingdom feel valued, feel heard and feel understood. I fear that this debate is not going to do that.

The Constitutional Committee is launching an inquiry into the future of the United Kingdom.