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'English votes for English laws' plans unveiled

media captionWilliam Hague said the issue of fairness could not be avoided

Commons Leader William Hague has said legislation affecting just England should only be passed "with the consent of the majority" of English MPs.

He announced four options for "English votes for English laws" in Parliament, including giving English MPs enhanced scrutiny and a veto over new laws.

He said new arrangements for England were a "fundamental issue of fairness".

But Labour said the plans, which follow the pledge of new powers for Scotland, were a "backroom stitch-up".

Plaid Cymru said the principles involved were "reasonable" but it would be "unjust" if Welsh MPs were unable to vote on laws which affected funding for Wales under the existing Barnett formula.

The options announced by Mr Hague in a Commons statement include three Conservative proposals and one Lib Dem suggestion. They are:

  • Barring Scottish and Northern Irish MPs from any role in English and Welsh bills and limiting England-only bills to English MPs
  • Allowing only English MPs, or English and Welsh MPs, to consider relevant bills during their committee and report stages, where amendments are tabled and agreed, before allowing all MPs to vote on the final bill
  • Allowing only English MPs, or English and Welsh MPs, to consider relevant bills at committee stage and giving them a effective veto in a separate vote before their third reading
  • A separate Lib Dem plan to establish a grand committee of English MPs, with the right to veto legislation applying only England, with its members based on the share of the vote.

Many Conservatives argue that it is unfair that Scottish MPs should currently help decide how things such as schools and the health service are run in England when English MPs have no such say over how they are run in Scotland.

"Devolution to other parts of the United Kingdom has created the situation in which MPs representing constituencies outside England may vote on legislation which does not affect their constituents while English MPs are not able to influence these policies in other nations where they are devolved," Mr Hague said.

The Commons leader said the proposals built on the recommendations of last year's McKay Commission, which supported the principle that Commons decisions with a "separate and distinct effect" for England should "normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of MPs sitting for constituencies in England".

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image captionFunding for the NHS in Scotland is currently dependent on decisions made in Westminster

Analysis by UK editor Mark Easton

It all sounds so straightforward - only English MPs should vote on matters that affect only England. But defining an English law is far from easy.

For a start, any law that involves government departments spending extra money in England, or which reduces the amount of money spent in England, will have a knock-on impact on how much money other parts of the United Kingdom receive under the Barnett formula - the system for allocating Treasury funds to devolved administrations.

How much Scotland receives for, say, health spending is dependent upon how much is spent on health in England. The precise amount is worked out on the basis of the populations of each nation as a proportion of the total UK population.

One can see, then, why Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish MPs will argue that any law involving additional or reduced departmental expenditure in England affects the whole of the UK. Cuts to public spending in England will have a direct effect on money available for spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This principle would also apply to legislation relating to England and Wales only.

Mr Hague added: "Just as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, it follows that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland will have an opportunity to have a bigger say over theirs."

The government's document acknowledges that determining which new laws may apply to England only or England and Wales only might be "technically complex and subject to political debate".

It suggests the Speaker of the House of Commons could be asked to rule on the territorial extent of bills or that the whole of the Commons may be required to vote.

'Speaking for England'

Labour said the plans were "more in the interest of the Conservative Party than the country", arguing a wide-ranging Constitutional Convention was needed next year to give the public a "loud voice".

image captionConservative MP John Redwood has led calls for an English Parliament

"We do need to consider the way English MPs, or English and Welsh MPs, can have a greater say over legislation that affects only England or England and Wales but what we must not do, only months after the Scottish people voted to keep our kingdom united, is allow our country to be divided by the back door," said its justice spokesman Sadiq Khan.

The opposition boycotted talks led by Mr Hague, putting forward its own proposals last week. These would create a committee of English MPs to scrutinise bills that would not apply elsewhere in the UK.

And Conservative backbencher John Redwood said only an English Parliament would suffice. "England expects English votes for English issues and we expect simplicity and justice now," he told MPs.

The chair of the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Labour MP Graham Allen, said the proposals were a "missed opportunity".

"England will remain under Whitehall control with a little different window dressing in a rubber-stamp Parliament," he said. "Government sees Parliament's role as delivering for Whitehall not championing devolution to the localities of England."

'Tory trouble'

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to bring in changes if he is in power after the next election, saying this should be linked to the transfer of more powers to Holyrood following September's independence referendum.

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image captionThe main Westminster parties pledged more powers for Scotland ahead of the independence referendum

A commission on Scottish devolution set up by Mr Cameron after the referendum no vote has recommended that the Scottish Parliament should be able to set its own income tax rates, with all of the cash earned staying north of the border.

It also said a share of VAT should be assigned to Holyrood and Air Passenger Duty fully devolved.

But Professor John Curtice, from the University of Strathclyde, said he did not believe there would be agreement on the English question before the general election.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today: "Although David Cameron started this particular ball rolling, and for a while at least it was a ball that did indeed cause the Labour Party considerable embarrassment, I think we are going to discover today that actually now he has got trouble on his own side of the House of Commons."

Related Topics

  • Scottish independence
  • Lord Hague
  • UK devolution
  • David Cameron

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