THE Tories have put English votes for English laws (EVEL) at the heart of the election campaign next year as Leader of the House William Hague laid out three options to stop Scottish MPs voting on English-only matters in Westminster.
Mr Hague presented a command paper to the House of Commons, the stage before formally putting forward legislation, with options which would ensure that an English majority would be needed for laws or reforms which only affect England on issues such as justice, education and health.
The proposals are: an English majority at all stages with a ban on Scottish MPs voting; requiring an English majority at amending stages; or requiring an English majority at the committee stage. All the options would give English MPs a veto of English-only legislation.
Mr Hague declined to say which was his preferred option but made it clear that he wants a vote on the issue before the election in May next year.
The effect could see Scottish MPs prevented from voting on English schools, health or on income tax once it is fully devolved to Scotland.
Mr Hague said that the command paper was the fulfilment of the promise made by Prime Minister David Cameron after the No vote in the Scottish independence referendum when the three pro-UK party leaders signed up to “significant” more powers to Holyrood.
Mr Cameron said that English votes for English laws needed to happen “in tandem” with the new powers for Scotland which have been since agreed by the commission chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin.
Mr Hague’s statement also included proposals to decentralise power in England to its regions but the Lib Dems said that they want English votes on English laws in Westminster to be accompanied by a change in the voting system to proportional representation.
The Lib Dems want “devolution on demand” for English regions, while the Tories want more local referendums and mayors.
But turning to the so-called West Lothian question – where Scottish MPs can vote on English-only issues – Mr Hague said: “Fairness for all the UK now requires this to be decided decisively.”
He noted that Labour had “declined” to put forward a proposal for English votes on English laws.
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“It seems that only on matters concerning England [are] the opposition hostile to cross-party talks.”
Labour have condemned the proposals as a “stitch up” which could prevent them from having a majority on English issues.
They point out that, since 2001, only eight bills did not affect Scotland.
Labour’s constitutional spokesman, Sadiq Khan, said the English votes were a result of “the Prime Minister’s 7am jitters” on the morning after the referendum.
He said that Labour would produce an English devolution act in its first Queen’s speech after the election if they win power.
He said: “We need a democratic senate of the nations and regions replacing the House of Lords.”
And he agreed that proposals needed to be considered over how to deal with English-only legislation and promised to study the command paper.
But he added: “Nothing we should do should jeopardise the Union. Uniting our country is more important than uniting the Tory party.”
He reiterated Labour’s demand for a UK constitutional convention to deal with the whole package.
The SNP, who do not vote on English-only matters, claimed that the Tories were using EVEL to prevent Scots from voting on the Budget.
SNP MP Pete Wishart said: “It has been clear from the start that David Cameron and the Tories were seeking to gain party political advantage – now the cat is out of the bag that the Tory plan is just a fig-leaf for another barely disguised attack on Scotland.”
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