MP warns that Scottish votes to close West Sussex hospitals would be "intolerable"
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has said that it would be “intolerable” for a government to close hospitals in West Sussex using the votes of Scottish MPs.
Mr Herbert made his comments during a debate in the House of Commons last Friday (9 March) on a Bill designed to restrict votes on English matters to English MPs.
The Private Members' Bill, introduced by Dorset Conservative MP Robert Walters, was ‘talked out' by Labour MPs without a vote, and stands no chance of making further progress.
The Bill aimed to address the ‘West Lothian' question about Scottish devolution, which asked how English constituencies and MPs would tolerate Scottish MPs having a say over their affairs when they had no say in the same matters in Scotland.
Health matters in Scotland are now decided by the Scottish Parliament, meaning that MPs at Westminster have no say over the issue. MPs in English constituencies have warned of growing resentment on the matter, and many believe that the situation will be exacerbated if Gordon Brown, who represents a Scottish constituency, becomes Prime Minister.
Mr Herbert said that a practical example of the West Lothian question was raised by the three hospitals in West Sussex facing downgrading. In a Commons vote on the NHS last month, 27 Scottish MPs effectively voted for hospital reconfiguration in England.
Mr Herbert said: "Had the Government's majority been lower, the downgrading of local hospitals in England could have been secured only with the votes of Scottish Members of Parliament ... that is an intolerable situation for people in England who feel very strongly that they should have a say over the closure of their hospitals, but have no say over the future of hospitals in Scotland?"
The Conservative Party currently has a ‘Democracy Taskforce', headed by former Chancellor Ken Clarke, which is examining the issue, including the idea of only English MPs being able to vote on matters affecting England.
Commenting after the debate, Nick Herbert said: "It is unacceptable to me, and I suspect to the public, that Scottish MPs can vote to downgrade or close our local hospitals while West Sussex MPs have no say over such matters in Scotland. I do not seek a say over hospitals in Scotland. I just want a fair say for local people."
Mr Herbert added: "I believe in the Union and I want to see it strengthened. I think the current imbalance threatens the Union."
Notes to Editors
1. Nick Herbert's intervention during the debate on the House of Commons (Participation) Bill on Friday 9 March can be seen below.
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): My hon. Friend might be interested in a practical example of the West Lothian question in relation to the situation of English hospitals, which are currently under threat of reconfiguration or downgrading. I have three such hospitals serving my constituents, all of which face proposals for downgrading or closure. Last month, when there was a vote in the House on the issue, 27 hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies in effect voted for those reconfigurations. Had the Government's majority been lower, the downgrading of local hospitals in England could have been secured only with the votes of Scottish Members of Parliament. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is an intolerable situation for people in England who feel very strongly that they should have a say over the closure of their hospitals, but have no say over the future of hospitals in Scotland?
2. The ‘West Lothian question' was posed on 14 November 1977 by Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for the Scottish constituency of West Lothian, during a House of Commons debate over Scottish and Welsh devolution:
"For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate ... at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on British politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?"