The Scottish dimension upsets Labour MPs

PLANS to introduce foundation hospitals in England were approved in the Commons this week by a majority of 35 – with 40 Scottish Labour MPs voting for the proposal even though the legislation does not apply north of the border.

PLANS to introduce foundation hospitals in England were approved in the Commons this week by a majority of 35 – with 40 Scottish Labour MPs voting for the proposal even though the legislation does not apply north of the border.

It was the first practical test of the West Lothian question – why should its MP be allowed to vote on English hospitals when the MP for West Suffolk is not allowed to vote on Scottish hospitals, which are a devolved responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.

Labour left-winger Alice Mahon, who represents Halifax, is furious at the votes by Scottish MPs. "They've given the Government its majority." And criticising the appointment as Health Secretary of Scottish MP Dr John Reid, she snapped: "He's not going to have one of these divisive hospitals. Yet he and his colleagues are going to give the people of Halifax one."

There is seething resentment in the parliamentary Labour MP at what is seen as a democratic deficit. But as Aberdeen South's MP Anne Begg unashamedly points out: "We are elected to the British parliament and all MPs have the right to vote on any business before Parliament."

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Not according to Chris White, Liberal Democrat Group Leader on the East of England Regional Assembly. "We cann go on with the current constitutional arrangements under which English law on matters ranging from the health service to fox hunting is being decided by people who do not have to bear the consequences of their decisions."

He backs an elected regional assembly. I don't – I would rather see an English parliament, where MPs vote on English matters, leaving Westminster to become a federal parliament responsible for UK wide revenue raising, foreign affairs, and defence. And I suspect most people in England would prefer this system rather than John Prescott's plan for eight English regional parliaments.

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THE Hunting Bill this week cleared the Commons and goes to the Lords, where it will be mauled and rejected. MPs will vote once again to ban the sport, the Government will invoke the Parliament Act, and the legislation will become law in November 2004.

Whatever your views are – and my opposition to and detestation of hare coursing, stag hunting, and fox chasing are well known – there is a moral argument for the state compensating those who will lose their livelihoods if a ban is introduced.

I have often compared hunting with coal mining – it is the politics of double standards for the Conservatives to bemoan the effect on rural life if hunting is outlawed when they had no compunction in decimating coalfield communities in the 1980s and 1990s.

But at least the Tory government compensated the miners and tried to find alternative employment for those affected. This government is unprepared to give any cash to the hunting fraternity, an iniquitous state of affairs which may be challenged in European courts.

LEGISLATION to preserve non-print publications for posterity and banish the threat of a "cultural dark age"' has cleared the Commons.

The Legal Deposit Libraries Bill, piloted by Labour's Chris Mole (Ipswich) with cross party support, now goes to the Lords. It aims to ensure key material published on the internet, CD-Roms and other non-print means is kept by the British Library and five other legal deposit libraries, giving them the same status as newspapers and magazines.

SUPPORTERS and opponents of the Government's regional agenda will be entitled to £600,000 of public money to fight a referendum campaign, Phil Hope, junior minister in the Office of the Deputy Prime, told Tory shadow cabinet minister David Davis.

The Electoral Commission would make the money available, with the guarantee that the cash would go to designated organisations "on each side or none."

Aid will not stop there. "Each designated organisation will also be entitled to receive other assistance – mailing of a referendum address free to every household or elector, the use of public rooms free of charge for holding public meetings, and referendum campaign broadcasts."

BURY St Edmunds Tory David Ruffley says the Government has reneged on its pledge to reduce arson in schools. "There has been a 33% increase since 1997 and in the last year there has been an increase of over 100%. The Government had pledged to reduce arson by 30%."

Mr Ruffley added: "I fear the Government is not taking the problem of school vandalism seriously at all. Last month vandals caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to Stowmarket Middle School. Something must be done to sort out this increasingly serious problem."

YOUNG adults with autistic spectrum disorders should have no barriers put in their way when seeking education and training, Education Secretary Charles Clarke told West Suffolk MP Richard Spring.

"The special educational needs action programme will address obstacles that may be preventing young people with continuing education beyond the age of 16," said Mr Clarke, in a written parliamentary reply.

"The Learning and Skills Council, when carrying out its functions, must have regard to the needs of people with learning difficulties, including those with autism, in part by enabling the provision of appropriate facilities for their education and training."

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