Another day, another commission on devolution

You wait a hundred years for one commission on devolution and then several come along (almost) at once.

The latest gathering of the great and the good will look at the so-called West Lothian question, the right of MPs from the rest of the UK to vote on matters affecting England alone.

The setting up of the Welsh Lothian commission was announced in the coalition agreement in 2010, although it won't be called the West Lothian commission but the commission on the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons.

Chaired by Sir William McKay, former clerk to the Commons, the commission is designed to be independent and non-partisan and will look at how the Commons deals with legislation that affects only part of the UK.

It includes members from nations with devolved governments, including Sir Emyr Jones Parry, late of the all-Wales convention which led to the transfer of more law-making powers from Westminster to Cardiff last year.

(In the last 15 years devolution has given us the National Assembly advisory group, the Richard commission and, currently, the Silk commission).

The transfer of powers that followed last year's referendum vote in Wales heightened the anomaly that sees Welsh MPs able to vote on issues such as health and education in England, but English MPs have no say over those issues in Wales.

Pressure to look at the Welsh Lothian question has grown on the Tory benches at Westminster. In opposition, the Conservative Party looked at various solutions, including "English votes for English laws" that would see non-English MPs excluded from England-only legislation.

But what is England-only legislation? The UK Parliament may, for example, legislate on tuition fees at English universities but that issue has an impact on higher education beyond Offa's Dyke and Hadrian's Wall.

That is the sort of dilemma Sir William and his commissioners will have to resolve in a world where many politicians believe there is no answer to the West Lothian question. They have until around May 2013 to prove those politicians wrong.