UK Politics

Hague says English devolution to be 'election issue'

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Media captionWilliam Hague: "It's a matter of fairness to all the nations and to all the people of the United Kingdom"

William Hague has said the case for English devolution "cannot be avoided" any longer and suggested it may become an issue at next year's election.

Speaking after a meeting of Tory MPs at Chequers, Mr Hague said there had been talk about "fairness" for England for years and the time had come for action.

He said he would chair a new government committee to look at the options and encouraged Labour to join the debate.

He also said commitments of further devolution for Scotland were binding.

The leader of the House of Commons was speaking to journalists after a meeting of senior Tories at Chequers about plans to limit the Commons voting rights of Scottish MPs.


The prime minister, who was hosting the gathering, has said a pledge to give Scotland more powers should go hand in hand with changing the role of Scottish politicians at Westminster.

The three main parties pledged more devolution during the campaign to encourage Scots to reject independence, which they ultimately did by 55% to 45% last Thursday.

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Image caption Chequers is the prime minister's grace and favour country retreat

Downing Street has insisted more powers will be handed to Holyrood regardless of whether there is an agreement over so-called "English votes for English laws".

Mr Hague reiterated this, saying the "commitments to Scotland would be honoured".

But he said the issue of the role of Scottish MPs at Westminster should be considered at "the same time" as part of efforts to make the political system "more responsive" to voters across the UK.

While he wanted a cross-party consensus on the issue, he threw down the gauntlet to Labour, which has said that the issue cannot be rushed and should be delayed until after the general election.

"If other parties make it impossible to deal with it in tandem, then it will be an issue at the general election in May and the people will decide," he said.

English Parliament

Former Cabinet minister Andrew Lansley, who attended Monday's meeting, told the BBC there was a consensus that English MPs should have a decisive say on matters affecting England only.

But he said there was "little appetite" for a separate English Parliament, due to all the additional bureaucracy and cost it would entail.

Among those who attended the summit, according to the ConservativeHome website, were John Redwood, who wants to see an English parliament, and Bernard Jenkin who has called for the UK to move to a federal system.

What has been promised to Scotland?

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have pledged "extensive" new powers over tax, welfare and spending to the Scottish Parliament although their three parties differ over how much control Holyrood would have over income tax rates and other economic levers.

The leaders have agreed to abide by the principle that the UK exists to "ensure opportunity and security for all by sharing our resources equitably".

They have also insisted that the Barnett formula, the method used to determine the distribution of public spending around the UK per head of the population, will stay in place and that the final say on funding for the NHS will lie with the Scottish government.

Another attendee, Stockton South MP James Wharton, said it had to be recognised that "change in one place has a knock-on effect on others" and a fair arrangement was needed for all the English regions, as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"We don't just need English votes for English laws," he told BBC News. "Whatever happens in Scotland has to have a quid pro quo so that the north of England does not lose out."

Labour, which has 41 Scottish MPs, has said it is open to the idea of "greater scrutiny" by English MPs but has accused the prime minister of seeking to rail-road through the changes.

'English card'

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said he wanted fairness for England but there was no "simple solution" to the current situation, pointing to the fact that most of the tax and spending decisions he would have to take if he was in the Treasury affected the whole of the UK.

"I think David Cameron is just trying to dupe people with the idea that he has got some easy, quick political fix," he told BBC Radio 4's Today. "You can't play political games with our constitution...

"The danger is that the Conservatives are now going to completely destabilise the fairness, accountability and stability of the union by suddenly trying to play an English nationalist card."

And Liberal Democrat cabinet minister Danny Alexander, who is among the party's 11 Scottish MPs, said internal Conservative debates had distracted from the cross-party commitment on devolution.

"It has always been the case that the Scottish process must be independent of any other political discussions and must be dealt with according to the timetable we set out," he told the Guardian.

Labour, meanwhile, is to reach out to those of its supporters who voted to leave the UK. Shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran told delegates at their conference in Manchester that leading figures from the party will visit the 10 parts of Scotland with the highest "Yes" vote.

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