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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 October 2007, 16:47 GMT
Tories ponder English-only voting
Sir Malcolm Rifkind

Only MPs representing constituencies in England would be allowed to legislate on English matters, under proposals being considered by the Conservatives.

The plan aims to address a perceived constitutional imbalance caused by Scottish and Welsh devolution.

The blueprint, drawn up by Tory ex-minister Sir Malcolm Rifkind, would involve a "grand committee" voting on areas such as education and health.

The government said such moves would threaten the existence of the UK.

Sir Malcolm told BBC Radio Five Live his plans were the unfinished business of devolution.

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Michael Lincoln, Lincoln

They would allow MPs from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to continue to sit together in the Commons to vote on UK-wide matters such as taxation, foreign policy and defence, he said.

"But when the House of Commons is purely discussing English housing or English health or English transport, then why should that not just be left to the English Members of Parliament to decide upon?

"When these matters are being discussed in Northern Ireland or in Scotland, it's the Scots and the Northern Irish who decide these matters - that's what devolution's all about."

It would be up to the Commons speaker to decide which matters should be referred to the English Grand Committee, which would sit in the House of Commons chamber.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson
Is Sir Malcolm foreseeing a culture change in British politics?
BBC political editor Nick Robinson

A Conservative spokesman confirmed the plan was being considered but said no decision had yet been taken on whether it would be adopted as party policy.

Conservative party chairwoman, Caroline Spelman, told BBC One's The Politics Show that while the proposal had "merit", it required proper consultation.

West Lothian question

Sir Malcolm's idea is being considered by party leader David Cameron's democracy taskforce, led by former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, which is due to report back some time in the next few months.

The taskforce hopes to address the so-called "West Lothian question", raised by the former West Lothian - and later Linlithgow - Labour MP Tam Dalyell.

I think the right solution is to have a Scottish Parliament and an English Parliament
Alex Salmond
Scottish First Minister

Mr Dalyell said devolution would fuel resentment if Scottish MPs continued to vote on matters which affected only England.

Scotland has had its own Parliament, with powers over education, health, the environment, home affairs and to alter income tax, since 1999.

The National Assembly for Wales, which was first elected in the same year, has more limited functions, and the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly was restored in May 2007.

'Threat to Union'

Regional assemblies were set up in England but voters rejected making them elected by the public and they are to be scrapped in 2010.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond told BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show that he backed the idea of English votes for English laws, but that a grand committee did not go far enough.

I think this is a very, very dangerous line of argument that the Conservatives are pushing
Harriet Harman
Labour deputy leader

"I think the right solution is to have a Scottish Parliament and an English Parliament - I believe independent parliaments - and to do the job properly as opposed to having some sort of spatchcocked solution to appeal for votes in middle England."

But Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman told the BBC the government would not support plans that threatened the UK and that what people really wanted was more "regional accountability".

She added: "I think this is a very, very dangerous line of argument that the Conservatives are pushing.

"They used to be the Conservative and Unionist Party and now they are making proposals which wouldn't help strengthen regional accountability in England but would actually, I think, threaten the Union."

Sir Malcolm later denied his proposals threatened the existence of the UK, telling ITV1's Sunday Edition that they "would actually strengthen the Union because there is unfinished business".

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