ENGLAND could be “held to ransom” by Scottish MPs because Labour will not back moves to give English MPs a “decisive say” over issues that only apply south of the Border, William Hague has said.
The Leader of the Commons made the claim yesterday as he unveiled Conservative proposals for constitutional reform after next May’s general election.
Under the Tory “English votes for English laws” plans, Scottish MPs will be blocked from voting on income tax in the Budget, along with other areas that only affect England including health and education. Unveiling his party’s new policy, Mr Hague, the senior Tory said that if his party wins the election, it will bring in measures to prevent Scottish MPs from being able to “impose” their will on English-only matters.
However one senior Tory accused Mr Hague of introducing a “separatist measure” and former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown condemned the proposals as a “dangerous and potentially ruinous course”.
Mr Hague said that with more powers being devolved to Scotland, reform was inevitable but the prospect of a Labour/SNP deal after 2015 made English votes for English laws necessary.
In a speech at Westminster, Mr Hague said: “It is abundantly clear that the Labour Party will not do so, and it is clear why: because they want to keep open the possibility of being propped up by Scottish Nationalists in government while betraying the voters of England.
“So if English votes for English laws is not implemented, there is the real prospect of England being held to ransom by the demands of the SNP or Scottish Labour MPs.
“It will not be English MPs deciding what happens to schools and hospitals in England, but Ed Miliband and Alex Salmond, acting out of their own political self-interest rather than what is best for England and the United Kingdom.” Mr Hague said that without fundamental reform “the way in which English laws are made will become steadily less democratic and accountable”.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
Tory backbencher John Barron described it as a “separatist measure” but Mr Hague also risked not going far enough for English Tories proposing English votes for English laws, known as Evel.
But others were angered that Scottish MPs were not barred at all stages of the legislation.
Former Welsh secretary John Redwood said: “If you had a lot of Nationalist MPs, for example, who wanted something for Scotland then presumably they would all gang up and try to block an English proposal until we cave in.”
But Mr Brown warned that Mr Hague’s proposals could lead to the break-up of the UK.
Mr Brown, who will today take part in a debate in the House of Commons on Evel, said: “Just when we needed a unifying period of reconciliation, the Conservatives have summarily repudiated the recommendations on Evel by the Smith Commission that they appointed only four months ago.”
In a bid to offer a different solution, Labour shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said: “Labour will take forward the McKay proposal of an English or English and Welsh only committee stage.
He said: “Done in the right way, we believe this is a sensible reform. Labour’s people-led Constitutional Convention will consider this as part of a wider package of reforms after May’s general election.”
The Liberal Democrats have said that Evel needs to be accompanied by the introduction of proportional representation for Westminster.
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said: “What we don’t want is Tory votes for English laws.”
SNP depute leader Stewart Hosie described the Tory proposals as “shambolic and confused.” He said : “Paradoxically William Hague has actually made the case today for full fiscal devolution – where Scotland takes full responsibility for growing the economy.”
Mundell: I won’t seek to hold up new devolved benefits
There is no guarantee a future UK government could not hold up Holyrood decision-making indefinitely under Scotland’s new devolution settlement, according to a Scotland Office minister.
UK ministers have repeatedly denied SNP accusations that they have written a right of “veto” into the draft devolution law to prevent Holyrood making benefit changes that Westminster finds unacceptable.
The implementation date of any Scottish benefit must be agreed with the UK government, fuelling SNP accusations that Westminster could use this to hold up unpalatable benefits for years.
David Mundell, Scotland’s only Conservative MP and junior minister in the Scotland Office, told Holyrood’s welfare reform committee that he would personally make sure an agreement on benefits does not take years.
But he said he “can’t guarantee” he will be around after the general election.
He said it would “not be feasible in terms of the political reality” for any future government to hold up Scottish benefits amid the inevitable outcry it would provoke from MSPs.
But he would not commit to redrafting the law to remove the SNP’s supposed “implication” of veto, saying the clauses “are out for discussion and consideration” and open to “feedback”.
SNP MSP Kevin Stewart said: “Could you give us some clarity on how long a consultation between the two governments could go on for?”
Mr Mundell said: “Over my period in the Scotland Office I found that sometimes these matters can be resolved in hours and sometimes they take considerably longer.
“But I am making it clear that there is goodwill on our part in terms of bringing these objectives about.”
Mr Stewart said: “Can you confirm to the committee that it would not be a matter of many years for one of these consultations to be dragged over?”
Mr Mundell said: “If it’s anything to do with me, which I can’t guarantee, it would not be a matter of years.”
Mr Stewart said: “Could you confirm that one of these consultations cannot go on indefinitely, which is effectively a veto?”
Mr Mundell said: “Nobody wants to see that happening.”