PM: Scottish and English devolution must be linked

David Cameron is seeking to link Scottish devolution with English devolution. Picture: PA
David Cameron is seeking to link Scottish devolution with English devolution. Picture: PA
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DAVID Cameron has insisted his plan to link further Scottish devolution to the process of making sure only English MPs can vote on English laws was necessary to address a “basic unfairness” in the constitution.

He called on Labour leader Ed Miliband to either work together with him or explain to the people of the UK why he would not tackle the “fundamentally unjust” situation which means Scottish MPs can vote on laws which do not apply to their constituents.

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The move came after former prime minister Gordon Brown insisted he would make sure Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg stick to the proposed timetable for setting out future powers for Scotland.

Mr Cameron’s insistence that the new settlement for Holyrood should go hand in hand with efforts to answer the so-called West Lothian question about the rights of Scottish and English MPs at Westminster has been met with wariness from Labour, which has most of Scotland’s 59 seats, although Mr Miliband has insisted the party will ensure that the timetable for further devolution will not slip.

But Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg warned that Mr Cameron’s decision to link the issues could see him forced to renege on his promise to the people of Scotland.

The cross-party consensus forged between the three leaders has shattered following Mr Cameron’s announcement, which came shortly after Scottish voters rejected independence by 55% to 45%.

Mr Cameron insisted the timetable setting out the next stages of the devolution process would be met: “New powers over tax, spending and welfare are on their way to Scotland.

“The timetable is brisk, but achievable: a White Paper by November, and draft legislation published by January.

“It would have to be passed in the next Parliament.”

But writing in the Mail on Sunday he added: “This moment must not just be about securing Scotland’s future in the UK - and celebrating that fact - but settling other questions whose time has come.

“The challenge is to make sure our UK works for all nations.

“Millions of people in the rest of the UK have been listening to these debates, watching this campaign and rightly asking: ‘What will change for us? Why can’t we have the same powers and the same rights as those in Scotland?’

“These are questions the Conservative Party itself has been asking for a long time.

“Why should Scottish MPs be able to vote on what is taught in English schools, to reduce spending on English hospitals, or even vary English or Welsh income taxes, when under the new settlement English or Welsh MPs would have no say in such matters in Scotland?

“It is fundamentally unjust to have the views of the people of England and Wales overridden in this way.”

He added: “If the Scottish Parliament will soon have a range of new powers: powers over income tax rates; to change benefits such as housing benefit; to increase spending, including on the NHS - then there is a crying need to reflect that across the UK.

“When we change our constitution - how we are governed - a new settlement has to be fair and lasting.

“Forcing English people to accept policies on schools, hospitals and taxes for which they have not voted is not fair and such a settlement could not last.”

The fallout from the Scottish referendum result has overshadowed the start of the party conference season and as Labour activists gathered in Manchester Mr Cameron issued a direct challenge to Mr Miliband: “Either resolve this issue with us, or explain to the people of the rest of the UK why they shouldn’t have the same powers as we are rightfully devolving to the people of Scotland - why, for instance, Scottish MPs should be able to vote to vary income tax rates in England, when the Scottish Parliament is going to be setting Scottish income tax rates in Scotland.”

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, said Holyrood should not receive more powers while Scottish MPs can still “shape the destiny” of the NHS, education and justice systems south of the border and force “socialist policies” on England.

“That would be a travesty of democracy, and would be regarded with fury by the English,” he said.

But Mr Clegg, writing in The Sunday Times, insisted there could be “no ifs, no buts” about delivering the extra powers promised to Scotland, and the package “cannot be made contingent on other constitutional reforms”.

He accused the Tories of being more concerned with the threat from Ukip than the vow made to Scotland.

He said: “The Conservatives, in their rush to protect themselves from an attack from the right, are only concerned about English votes on English matters.

“Of course we need a solution to this dilemma but, by appearing to link it to the delivery of further devolution to Scotland, they risk reneging on the commitment made to the Scottish people that, in the event of a No vote, new powers would come what may.

“Worse still, if the Conservatives enter into a Dutch auction with Ukip over ever more extreme solutions to the issue of English votes they could jeopardise the union they purport to defend.

“Surely we haven’t fought to save our union in a vote north of the border, only to see it balkanised in Westminster?”

The Prime Minister has reportedly invited a group of senior Tories to Chequers tomorrow to discuss his plans.

But he faced fresh criticism from within his party over his handling of the referendum, which saw Scottish voters reject independence by 55% to 45%.

Former environment secretary Owen Paterson accused Mr Cameron of “panicky and ill-considered bargaining” over the offer of further powers to Holyrood.

He told The Sunday Times it was “disgraceful” that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland had not been consulted.

Former premier Mr Brown, who has been credited with helping to save the union following his interventions to boost the No campaign, insisted the timetable for setting out the devolution plans would be met.

He said: “The eyes of the world have been upon us and now I think the eyes of the world are upon the leaders of the major parties of the United Kingdom.

“These are men who had been promise makers, and they will not be promise breakers, and I will ensure that that these promises that have been made are upheld.”

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan told Channel 4 News the “anomaly” around the West Lothian question should be looked into but he condemned the way Mr Cameron had used the referendum result to launch his plan to restrict the influence of Scottish MPs.

He said: “What you can’t do is, at 7am, an hour after results come out, pull out of a hat a stitch-up in relation to terms conditional for Scotland to get the powers they have been promised.”

Labour want the Scottish issues to be treated separately from wider reforms, which Mr Miliband wants to be examined in detail by a constitutional convention.

First Minister Alex Salmond, who resigned after his dream of independence was rejected by Scottish voters, said some of those who had voted to remain in the union had been “tricked” by the Westminster leaders over the promise of new powers.