English-only reform ‘sensible’, say Labour figures

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will set out plans for 'English votes for English laws' early in the new year. Picture: Getty

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will set out plans for 'English votes for English laws' early in the new year. Picture: Getty

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A PROPOSAL to give English MPs a greater role in overseeing laws that only apply south of the Border could be a “sensible reform”, Labour politicians in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet have said.

Hilary Benn and Sadiq Khan said it was possible to “strengthen England’s voice” at Westminster by creating an English-only committee stage for bills that will not affect other parts of the UK.

Shadow Secretary of State for Justice Sadiq Khan. Picture: PA

Shadow Secretary of State for Justice Sadiq Khan. Picture: PA

Prime Minister David Cameron said he will set out plans for “English votes for English laws” early in the new year – a controversial move he announced the day after the ­independence referendum in ­September.

The plan would see Scottish MPs banned from Commons votes that only affect England for issues devolved to Holyrood, such as health and schools.

Labour has opposed the idea of only allowing English MPs to vote on matters that only affect England, claiming it would create two classes of MPs. The party boycotted cross-party talks on the issue led by Commons leader William Hague, which Mr Miliband labelled a “stitch-up”. Instead, Labour wants more devolution within England.

However, shadow communities and local government secretary Mr Benn and shadow justice secretary Mr Khan suggested a compromise and signalled Labour could back proposals for legislation affecting only England being debated and voted on in committee by MPs with seats in that country.

The plan was one of the options suggested by former Commons clerk Sir William McKay in his report commissioned by the UK government.

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The promise of more powers for Holyrood led the Prime Minister to launch a fresh push to find an answer to the so-called West Lothian question – the issue of whether MPs from the devolved nations should be allowed to vote on issues which do not affect their constituents.

Mr Benn and Mr Khan, said yesterday: “One of the questions we need to answer is how parliament should now go about its work, given that power is increasingly being pushed out from Westminster to the nations, and city and county ­regions of the UK.

“We want to replace the House of Lords with a senate of the nations and regions because this would help bind together the constituent parts of the UK and improve democratic ­legitimacy.

“And, as Ed Miliband has made clear, we also need to enable English MPs to have greater scrutiny over legislation that only affects England, given the powers that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly now have.”

Mr Benn and Mr Khan added: “Last year the government commission led by Sir William McKay looked at this very issue. Their report included the option of a change in the way legislation is dealt with at Westminster – a committee stage made up of only English MPs who would scrutinise and amend legislation that applies only to England.”

“We should look at Sir William’s approach of an English (or an English and Welsh) committee stage because it is right that English MPs have a key role in considering such legislation.”

Labour has called for a detailed constitutional convention to address the way the country is governed, and the two shadow cabinet ministers criticised Mr Cameron’s “hasty proposals” for a faster change.

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