Put briefly, this question was framed by Tam Dalyell when devolution to Scotland was first seriously mooted in the 1970s. Why, he asked, should Scottish MPs be able to vote on English laws when English MPs do not have the same rights in Scotland? Dalyell saw this as such a flaw in the idea of devolution that it would cause the whole thing to collapse.
The Tories' solution? According to the Scotsman, Howard will propose
that the Speaker should decide what legislation applies only to England - and ensure Scots MPS do not debate or vote on such issues.
There is much to disentangle here.
There is the myth that the establishment of the Scottish Parliament has somehow diminished the powers of the UK Parliament to legislate north of the border. The Scotland Act 1998 (the Act establishing the Scottish Parliament) makes it crystal clear (Section 29(7)) that it:
does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland.
The UK Parliament's powers following devolution remain completely unchanged. The Scottish Parliament is, in legal terms, merely an offshoot of the UK Parliament, able to legislate for Scotland only insofar as the UK Parliament tolerates this. English MPs can pass laws for Scotland to their hearts' content (and frequently do - there have been over 60 Sewel motions, whereby Westminster legislates on devolved issues, since 1998). Their rights remain exactly those they had 10 years ago.
There is a convention that the UK Parliament does not legislate on Scottish affairs, but there is no rule, no legal bar to prevent Westminster from doing whatever it likes in Scotland.
What Howard proposes, by contrast, makes the establishment of the Scottish Parliament appear completely trivial. He wishes specifically to deprive UK MPs of the right to vote on bills that the UK parliament is discussing. This is surely unprecedented in British history.
The consequence of Howard's proposal would effectively be the end of the UK as a governable single state. The formation of a government would be impossible unless one party had an overall majority through all parts of the UK (which doesn't happen that often) - different governments would have to be formed for different issues, the Prime Minister would have to change depending on what topic was under discussion.
Is this what Michael Howard wants? Is the new Tory slogan to be: Vote Conservative and see the end of the UK? Isn't their full name 'Conservative and Unionist'?
I would have some respect for the Tories if what they were proposing was not the opportunistic gloop they have put forward but rather a fully thought-through federal system for the UK. But that would mean tearing up the existing devolution legislation for both Scotland and Wales (which is completely non-federal), even before beginning to address the knotty issue of Northern Ireland. They in all likelihood do not have the stomach for that.
As it is, what we have is a set of proposals that is intellectually inconsistent and impossible to implement.
The Tories are back on form...