Francis Maude: Elegant and British solution is the answer

Horsham MP Francis Maude
Horsham MP Francis Maude

Last week I was writing in the last hours of the Scottish independence referendum campaign. I said that I hoped there would be a ‘No’ vote, and that our extraordinary 307 year old United Kingdom would remain together.

As we now know, that is what happened. The vote was decisive, with a gap of over ten per cent between the two sides.

But it was not overwhelming, and you don’t need to be an expert in elections or opinion polling to pick up that there was a real appetite north of the border for a greater degree of self-government. All three UK party leaders have undertaken that we will deliver that.

The details will be worked out over the coming months. Of course with greater powers must come greater responsibility, and so Scots must expect that with those greater powers they will have to take more responsibility for raising the money themselves to fund what Holyrood and its ministers decide. While we have committed to retain the so-called Barnett Formula, it will clearly apply to less and less spending as more powers are devolved to Scotland. So its effect and its cost to English taxpayers will be reduced.

But in parallel with that greater devolution we have to address in a serious way the West Lothian Question, which has been left hanging unresolved since the MP for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell, first raised it in the late 1970s.

In short, this asks why UK MPs from devolved regions should continue to be able to vote on issues which have been devolved to their own parliament or assembly. When the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have full autonomy over the NHS in Scotland and Wales, why should Scottish and Welsh MPs have any say over the NHS in England?

So we’ve said that there now needs to be a definitive answer to this question. There are different approaches. One would be to create a separate English parliament.

I don’t find many enthusiasts for the additional layer of politicians and bureaucracy that this would involve.

Another would be creating regional assemblies, akin to the devolved assemblies. Labour tried this ten years ago in the North-East, the region judged to be keenest, and it was rejected in a referendum by a margin of 4-1.

And I don’t find many who believe that an assembly for the South East Region is the answer to our prayers.

The elegant - and very British - solution is for our Parliament to continue as at present, but with English affairs and English laws to be subject to the will of English MPs alone.

My post bag and inbox tell me that the time has now definitively come for us to act.

We will.