Page last updated at 13:49 GMT, Tuesday, 1 July 2008 14:49 UK

Tories consider MP voting changes

Houses of Parliament
Scottish MPs can vote on all English issues, but not vice versa

Scottish MPs should have fewer powers over legislation which applies only to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a Conservative taskforce has said.

At present Scottish MPs can vote on measures which do not affect Scotland.

Ken Clarke's group says MPs from Wales and Northern Ireland should also lose some powers over English-only measures.

The proposals are not binding on the Conservatives, but shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said they would "introduce greater fairness".

Mr Clarke's committee suggests there should be voting restrictions when MPs look at the "committee stage" of a bill - when most in-depth amendments are discussed.

'Consent'

For matters relating solely to England, only English MPs should vote, while English and Welsh MPs alone should vote on issues only affecting those two countries, it argues.

MPs from all countries could later vote to pass or reject the bill as a whole, the committee adds.

Mr Herbert seemed to agree in principle, saying: "Just as most of Scotland's laws are now passed with the consent of the Scottish people, expressed through their elected representatives, so it is right to require English consent for laws affecting only England - or English and Welsh consent for laws affecting only England and Wales."

The proposals will not necessarily become Conservative policy, although party leader David Cameron himself set up Mr Clarke's Democracy Taskforce to come up with usable ideas.

Mr Clarke said his plan was a "compromise", more workable than simply banning MPs from other countries from voting on England-only laws, and that this would help preserve the Union of England and Scotland.

The ideas comes amid concerns that the Scottish devolution settlement has created two classes of MP.

In Scotland, legislation on issues such as health and education are controlled by the country's own parliament at Holyrood.

But policy for England is decided by the full Westminster parliament, with MPs from all parts of the UK able to vote.

Since some powers were devolved to the Holyrood parliament, there have been calls for just MPs with English constituencies to vote on England-only matters, or even the setting-up of a separate English parliament.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

The issue is often called the West Lothian question, after the former MP for that constituency, Tam Dalyell, who opposed Labour's failed attempt to introduce devolution in the late 1970s.

But supporters of devolution say that to reduce Scottish MPs' powers would create a more unbalanced system, possibly hastening the break-up of the Union.

This is particularly the case, they argue, as Scottish MPs cannot vote on certain issues affecting their own constituents - which are instead dealt with by Holyrood.

Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think most British people want the Westminster parliament.

"But when the Westminster parliament is dealing with purely English things, it shouldn't find the English have things imposed on them by members of Parliament who are elected to represent other parts of the country that are unaffected."

Number of MPs

Mr Clarke gave the 2004 vote to bring in annual student tuition fees of up to 3,000 a year in England as an example.

The government had managed a Commons majority only through its Scottish and Welsh MPs, even though the fees do not apply in the country, he said.

Mr Clarke also said his plans could help save the Union of England and Scotland, adding: "It's no good waiting until the English get resentful."

But for Labour, Justice Secretary Jack Straw said: "David Cameron has shown that he would take risks with the Union.

"Ken Clarke acknowledges today that English Votes for English Laws would lead to a constitutional crisis and destroy the Union, which is why he has recommended that David Cameron should abandon his anti-Union policy."

'Constitutional chaos'

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: "Ken Clarke's proposals are no improvement on previous Tory plans for 'English votes on English issues.

"They still create a situation whereby the government of the day could be unable to implement its own policies. This is a recipe for constitutional chaos."

The Scottish National Party's Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, said: "SNP MPs already refrain from voting on exclusively English, Welsh and Northern Irish matters.

"This self-denying ordinance stands in contrast to Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative members who, to date, have seemed happy to impose their will on the other nations within the UK."

Westminster controls issues such as; defence, foreign affairs, national security, pensions and benefits, most tax, the civil service, drugs policy, firearms, energy and health and safety.

Holyrood has power to pass laws on Scottish issues including the NHS, education, transport, police, fire brigade, social work, housing, tourism, criminal law and courts and prisons.

Mr Clarke's taskforce is also examining other areas of the constitution and standardising the size of constituencies to ensure every MP represents the same number of voters.

That could lead to a reduction in the number of Westminster MPs, but it is thought there are no plans to cut the number of Scottish MPs.


SEE ALSO
'I want to be PM of all the UK'
23 May 08 |  Scotland
Q&A: English-only votes
30 Oct 07 |  UK Politics
Clarke targets 'sofa-style' Blair
27 Mar 07 |  UK Politics

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2016 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific