Wily Cameron avoids devolution trap

LABOUR MPs, encouraged by the Prime Minister, yesterday set an elephant trap for David Cameron to fall into. They were just waiting for the Tory leader to demand the Government accept his solution to the democratic deficit created by devolution - Scottish MPs voting on English only policies and laws.

By Graham Dines

LABOUR MPs, encouraged by the Prime Minister, yesterday set an elephant trap for David Cameron to fall into. They were just waiting for the Tory leader to demand the Government accept his solution to the democratic deficit created by devolution - Scottish MPs voting on English only policies and laws.

Even before Mr Cameron got to his feet in Questiontime, Tony Blair had said that one class of MP was “an essential part of the constitution” and it was utterly irresponsible to propose any thing else.

The wily Mr Cameron - note his Scottish surname - was not tempted. Instead, he meekly asked some mild mannered questions on Afghanistan and then the delay in compensation to victims of last July's terror attacks on London's transport system.


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It was left to Glasgow Central MP Mohammad Sarwar to stir matters up by seeking a reassurance that a Labour government wound not contemplate making him “a second class MP representing a second class nation.”

No question of that came, the reply. But the Prime Minister left unsaid that he needed the votes of Scottish MPs to pass legislation on England and occasionally Wales as well on such matters as student tuition fees.

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The so-called West Lothian Question is becoming increasingly important in Westminster circles. It was posed some years ago by the former MP Tam Dalyell who said it was unsustainable for him to legislate on matters south of the border when English MPs are barred from voting on policies affecting West Lothian because most had been devolved to the Edinburgh parliament.

There's no danger of a Labour government changing things to be fair on England because it relies on loyalist Scottish Labour MPs. The issue looms large with Gordon Brown, a Scottish MP, poised to take over the keys of Downing Street.

And it could become a major election issue, affecting a number of marginal seats in England, amid signs that the English have at last woken up to the unfairness of devolution.

With John Prescott back in the headlines over meetings and overnight stays with US billionaire Philip Anshutz, who wants to win the licence to build a super casino in Britain, it was not surprising that the Deputy Prime Minister was nowhere to be seen in the Commons chamber.

And when highly experienced Tory backbencher Andrew Robathan tried to raise the subject, he was cut short by the Speaker Michael Martin. Because the Parliamentary Commissioner Sir Philip Mawer is investigating whether the DPM has broken standards and ethics, Mr Speaker would have no discussion of the matter.

The ruling puzzled MPs who think Mr Prescott is fair game when he's down. But perhaps the Speaker was just supporting Mr Cameron's plea when he became Tory leader last December that Punch and Judy politics should be consigned to history.

All in all it was a rather dull Questiontime - a bland 30 minutes on a sweltering but drizzly afternoon with MPs more interested in their upcoming three month summer holiday than raising the roof.

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