Govt defeats West Lothian question bill

By Alex Stevenson

An MP's bid to secure clarification on which laws affect different parts of the UK has been defeated by the government.

Conservative backbencher Harriett Baldwin's private member's bill sought to force all future legislation to state which parts of the UK it applied to.

The legislation (territorial extent) bill had reached report stage in the Commons before being defeated by 40 votes to 24, effectively ending its chances of becoming law.

It follows last week's announcement of a commission on the West Lothian question yesterday, which will examine how to solve one of the longest-running constitutional problems facing the Commons.

"The issues are, indeed, complex," constitutional affairs minister Mark Harper told MPs, as government whips manoeuvred to defeat the bill.

"There is a limited range of solutions, and they are well known, but we must make sure that we have thought through the consequences, particularly pertaining to how this House operates.

"That is why the government will set up a commission to look into these issues."

Ms Baldwin claimed her legislation had put pressure on the government to set up the commission. The Tory manifesto had included a commitment to examine the specific issue, but the pledge was watered down in the coalition's programme for government.

"As a representative of an English constituency, I think that an increasingly large amount of the legislation that comes before the House affects England only and that if the House continues not to tackle this issue, it will increasingly become an issue that our constituents find extremely distressing," she told MPs.

Speaking yesterday, the West Worcestershire MP added: "I am a passionate unionist but I feel this is an issue that needs resolving before the next election.

"We can't have a situation where a future government relies on a majority of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish votes to change controversial legislation like tuition fees for England.

"Although the coalition agreement calls for the establishment of the West Lothian commission, it has taken my bill to get movement on this."