David Cameron unveils plans for more North-East powers

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

DAVID Cameron has unveiled proposals to allow English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs to vote alone on policies only impacting their voters, mirroring pledges made on fresh devolution to Scotland.

The Prime Minister said he hoped to win cross-party support for the plans, which he outlined in Downing Street shortly after Scotland rejected independence in an historic referendum.

Mr Cameron pledged the unionist parties would keep promises made to Scotland in the heat of the referendum campaign.

But he added: “In Wales, there are proposals to give the Welsh Government and Assembly more powers and I want Wales to be at the heart of the debate for how to make our United Kingdom work for all our nations.

“In Northern Ireland, we must work to ensure the devolved institutions function effectively.

“But I have long believed a crucial part missing from this national discussion is England. We have heard the voice of Scotland and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard.

“The question of English votes for English laws, the so-called West Lothian Question, requires a decisive answer so just as Scotland will vote separately on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England as well as Wales and Northern Ireland should be able to vote on these issues.

“All this must take place in tandem with and at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland.”

Commons Leader William Hague will draw up the detail of the plans, to be discussed in a Cabinet committee, with the same November deadline as that for the detailed proposals for Scotland.

Mr Cameron added: “It is also important we have wider civic engagement about how to improve governance throughout our United Kingdom, including how to empower our great cities. We will say more about this in the coming days.”

Following his promise - made jointly with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg - of further devolution to the Scottish Parliament in the case of a No vote, Mr Cameron has come under intense pressure from English MPs concerned that their constituents are being sidelined.

Conservative former Cabinet minister Liam Fox said change was “unavoidable” to address the ability of Scottish MPs to vote on devolved issues in Westminster, while Labour’s John Denham called for devolution within England.

Dr Fox said the cross-party vow to give more powers to Holyrood created an “imbalance in our constitutional relationship”.

He told BBC2’s Newsnight: “There are a number of ways that we can address that but I think now it will have to be addressed. Politicians have ducked the question for too long.”

The Scot added: “What we must ensure is that Scottish MPs, who cannot vote on issues like health and education in Scotland, should not be entitled to vote on health and education in constituencies like mine in North Somerset.

“It is profoundly undemocratic and unfair. That needs to be dealt with.”

Mr Denham told the programme: “First you’ve got to have a constitutional convention in England. Secondly, we are going to have change in Westminster. It’s clear that the more powers that go to the Scottish Parliament, the less you can have Scottish MPs voting on the same issues for England. That’s got to change in one way or another.

“Thirdly, though, England is much too centralised. So this isn’t just about reducing the influence of Scottish MPs in Westminster, it’s about getting English decisions out of Westminster.”

The chairman of the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Graham Allen, said: “If we really believe in devolution, the leaders’ ‘vow’ should apply to all nations in the Union, not just Scotland.

“Devolution needs independent local government, income tax assignment and a federal parliament, not an English one.”

And Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole Andrew Percy said: “England must have an English parliament in the event of a No vote. Time for a federal UK.

“We can have an English parliament at Westminster as well as the British seat. England must be heard as much as Scotland.”