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PM signals plan on 'English votes'

David Cameron has signalled that he will set out a "clear plan" for dealing with the thorny issue of "English votes for English laws" early in the new year.

The Prime Minister told MPs that with the three main UK political parties committed to handing more powers to Scotland, it was essential to push ahead with reform of the system at Westminster to make it "fair" for the rest of the UK.

Giving evidence to the Commons Liaison Committee, he said that the further devolution to Scotland - promised in the final days of the independence referendum campaign - would go ahead as planned, regardless of progress on dealing with the "English question".

At the same time, however, he made clear that he wanted to see the two issues dealt with on a "similar timescale" - which would require proposals for reform of the way MPs vote at Westminster to be published before the general election in May.

"I think decision time is coming pretty soon. If we are going to have something available on a similar timescale to Scottish devolution ... you are going to need proposals for how we answer this before the election, in the early part of next year," he said.

"Every party will have to put in its manifesto what it is going to do, but I am very convinced that I will have a clear plan for how to address this issue that will be done on a similar timetable to what is being done in Scotland."

Mr Cameron originally pledged to come forward with plans for "English votes for English laws" in the aftermath of the referendum vote, amid warnings from Conservatives that it would be unacceptable for Scottish MPs to be able to carrying on voting on legislation which affected only England while English MPs had no say on similar matters in Scotland.

He told the committee that it should be possible to resolve the so-called West Lothian question without establishing a separate English parliament with its own English executive.

"There is a menu out there of options to make the system fair. We have got to make some decisions about what is the right combination. I think that it can be done," he said.

"There is a way of comprehensively answering this question in a way that maintains the integrity of our Parliament, the integrity of our system, and that I think can build popular support.

"Where there is a separate and distinct effect on England, the consent of English MPs should be required. You have got to be able to put that principle into practice. "

Mr Cameron ruled out reform of the Barnett formula which dictates public spending levels in the nations of the UK and is widely seen to favour Scotland.

He said that its importance would diminish over time as more tax raising powers were devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, and that reform would not see significant funds flow back to England.

"I don't think that reform of Barnett is on the horizon," he said. "To English colleagues, don't expect there is some massive pot of gold in Barnett reform. I don't think there is."

Mr Cameron said that he believed that responsibility for the state pension should remain at Westminster, but suggested that control of other elements of the welfare system could be devolved.

"For everyone in our United Kingdom, you know you've got the right of a basic state pension when you retire and you've got the whole of the United Kingdom taxpayers behind you. That is something I wouldn't want to see devolved," he said.

"But I can't get particularly religious about other aspects of welfare - the arguments about things like housing benefit and what have you - there is a strong case for saying you could devolve those things and allow greater local decision-making."

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