Trimble on the Barnett Formula
The Lords debated the Barnett Formula yesterday, if you missed it you can watch it here.
The most interesting part of the debate, for me, was Lord Trimble's contribution. For two reasons: He states what I have said for a long time, that due to the Barnett Formula non-English MPs have a constitutional right, or at least a moral obligation, to vote on matters that are described as 'English legislation', and; he suggests strongly that the Barnett Formula is therefore the biggest impediment to solving the West Lothian Question, something that I have also believed for a long time.
The things that are classified as England-only are the ones that trigger consequentials. What is important for the devolved Administrations is whether or not there is a consequential. If it is said to be UK-wide, there is no consequential and no extra money. If it is deemed to be England-only, then there is extra money, so obviously the England-only decisions are matters of huge importance to the devolved Administrations. If anybody runs around with the quaint notion that these England-only decisions should be taken only on English votes, they will find that there are huge uprisings in all the devolved Administrations and a constitutional crisis.
His own party ran around with that notion for years, despite what everybody told them, albeit before Lord Trimble joined the Conservative Party. Why did the Conservative Party not see this for all those years that they advocated English Votes on English Laws?
In conclusion, if we do not have the reforms to Barnett that we are suggesting, and if the Government do not go down the line that we have suggested here, the political pressure to go down other lines will become greater. By other lines, I am thinking partly of Calman. I think that Calman, in concept, is misconceived and is the wrong road to go down-it will be very difficult in practice and very dangerous for the union. I say to the Government that if they want to sustain the union, they should not sit back and do nothing, because then things will drift in the wrong direction.
The Government won't touch Barnett for fear of handing the SNP a Scottish majority at Westminster. It will probably fall to the Tories, already despised in Scotland, to do the dirty work (after a period of reflection).
It is because of the Barnett Formula that the Tories have watered-down their policy of English Votes on English Laws. They cannot prevent non-English MPs from having a decisive say on legislation that will affect the Barnett monies due to their constituents; so under the new Tory plans Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs will continue to vote on English legislation, which would be subject to English Pauses for English Clauses.