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MPs clash over more devolution


William Hague said the English must be listened to over devolution

William Hague said the English must be listened to over devolution

Gordon Brown warned of a "lethal" threat to the constitution

Gordon Brown warned of a "lethal" threat to the constitution


William Hague said the English must be listened to over devolution

MPs have clashed in an angry Commons debate about devolution and a new settlement for England following the independence referendum in Scotland.

Tories lead by Commons Leader William Hague warned the Union could be threatened again if the English are not listened to as part of any new settlement.

But Labour has made clear it will not take part in any "Westminster elite solution" and walked away from a Cabinet committee formed by Prime Minister David Cameron and chaired by Mr Hague.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, whose Liberal Democrat party desire a federal solution, concluded the near six-hour debate by insisting England needed to agree a similar consensus as Scotland, which he noted spent decades agreeing what it wanted.

He also accused the Scottish National Party of "foolish talk" by suggesting there could be another referendum or a unilateral declaration of independence should they win a majority at Holyrood.

Closing the debate, Mr Carmichael recognised the lack of devolution to England needs to be addressed.

But he added: "A key problem in doing so is that there is no consensus in England as to what further devolution might look like. I think if nothing else that much must be clear from today's debate.

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"And I say to our English colleagues, the people of Scotland debated this at length over a period of decades. They now need to do the same. What would English devolution look like?"

Mr Hague, the former foreign secretary, came to the Commons insisting he was open to Labour's idea for a constitutional convention at some point in the future but warning there was a need for immediate answers to the West Lothian Question.

He said: "I know there are MPs who argue that to address this question is to somehow put the United Kingdom itself at risk, but I say to them the United Kingdom is in greater danger if the legitimate arguments and expectations of English decision making, on decisions affecting only England, are not responded to.

"Insensitivity and indifference is the danger to the Union in all nations including in England."

He added: "We are absolutely committed to the timetable set out for further devolution to Scotland, we are committed to providing further powers to Wales, we are committed to meet the special needs of Northern Ireland.

"But let no one think they can ignore the need to confront the needs of England and the rights of England.

"There will be a place and a time for a constitutional convention but not one that is a device to prevent issues being addressed now."

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan warned against accidentally creating a system which broke up the Union and accused Mr Cameron of chasing Ukip votes with a "blatant tactical manoeuvre" by opting to announce his proposals in Downing Street in the hours after the Scottish referendum result.

He told MPs: "The country wants to break the stranglehold of Westminster. They want power shifted away from this place on a grand scale.

"People want to feel they genuinely have a say, they are fed up with feeling powerless."

Mr Khan said "part of the solution" is greater devolution to England, including redistributing £30 billion from Whitehall budgets.

He said it was right to examine greater powers for English MPs on English matters although he added issues already existed where MPs could vote on transport matters outside London but not in the capital.

In the backbench debate which followed, former prime minister Gordon Brown warned implementing proposals to devolve income tax to the Scottish Parliament in full and then depriving Scottish MPs of voting on the Budget would be "absolutely lethal to the constitution".

The Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath said: "You cannot have one United Kingdom if you have two separate classes of MPs."

Liberal Democrat former Scottish secretary Michael Moore warned against creating "Conservative seats for English laws" by excluding other parties from Westminster.

The SNP's Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) said: "We thought, the Scottish people thought, the week we came back after the independence referendum we would have the floor of the House to discuss these issues. We thought we would have exclusive attention when it came to the referendum, the solemn vow, the promise, the guarantee of more and extensive new powers for Scotland.

"I sympathise totally with English members. Of course they should have English votes for English laws. We don't vote on English-only issues... we respect the MPs opposite and they have every right to demand they get exclusive rights to vote on English-only legislation."

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) stressed the importance of addressing the needs of the whole of the UK.

He said: "I know, I think, what my constituents want to see and I know what they don't want to see. They want to see a holistic solution that is fair to the whole of the United Kingdom. They don't want to see a piecemeal, spatchcock solution that is pointed towards Scotland immediately, while not just England but the rest of the UK are kicked into the long grass."

Tory Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) argued the Barnett formula "cements in place an artificial bias in favour of funding in Scotland" and a new system was needed.

Labour's John Denham (Southampton Itchen), who backed English votes on English laws, said: "I'm reminded of Disraeli's observation the English are governed by Parliament, not by logic."

Conservative MP for Christchurch Christopher Chope added: "Many of us, I think, were nervous about the prospect of changing our United Kingdom constitution on a bare majority when even the rules at the local golf club can't be changed without having a two-thirds majority."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: "I have believed for some considerable time the present constitutional settlement for the United Kingdom is unsustainable. That is why I was asked by (Willie Rennie) to be the chair of what came, perhaps a little unfairly, to be called the Campbell commission.

"Throughout that exercise it was clear to me... that federalism was the answer to quite a lot of the issues which were then on our mind and nothing has caused me to alter the view that is still the case."

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