(304) WEST LOTHIAN QUESTION AGAIN
As Tam Dalyell, the person who first asked the ‘West Lothian question’ in the 1970s, announced on 13 January 2004 his impending retirement as MP for West Lothian, so his question – why should Scottish MPs have a say on purely England & Wales matters at Westminster when their English counterparts had no say in devolved Scottish matters? – was returning (see previously No 231) to hover over issues about the Westminster Parliament and the United Kingdom in the post-devolution era. It appeared likely that the votes of Scottish MPs would be crucial in ensuring the onward progress of the Government’s Higher Education Bill, which will inter alia introduce so called ‘top up’ tuition fees at English & Welsh universities – a measure which Scottish Ministers are currently declining to adopt for Scottish universities, and which has also been opposed by the Scottish Parliament’s Enterprise Committee in a report published on 18 December 2003 (although the Committee noted that the English provision would have an adverse effect on Scotland’s universities through a resultant imbalance of resources). The Higher Education Bill, which has received strong personal support from the Prime Minister, will be first debated at Westminster on 27 January 2004, the day before the publication of the report of the Hutton inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the apparent suicide in July 2003 of the MoD weapons scientist Dr David Kelly. The only Scottish Conservative MP, Peter Duncan, has already announced that he will not vote on the Bill; his example appears unlikely to be followed by many other Scots amongst the Labour, LibDem or SNP MPs.