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Cameron wants vote on English home rule

BY Rachel | 22 March, 2014 | no comments

David Cameron will tell MPs that he wants to hold a vote on English home rule before the next election, cornering Ed Miliband as the leaders stave off accusations of backtracking over devolution.

The prime minister will honour his pledge to give greater powers to Scotland regardless of whether he reaches a deal on “English votes for English laws”, Downing Street said last night.

There is growing anger north of the border at the suggestion that the three main Westminster parties will fail to deliver the fast-tracked handover of powers promised before last Thursday’s referendum. Alex Salmond upped the rhetoric yesterday, saying that the “shameless” leaders had “tricked” Scots into voting “no” before reneging on their promises.

Mr Cameron will today gather senior Tory MPs at Chequers, his private residence in Buckinghamshire, to commit his party to supporting extra powers for Holyrood even if there is no matching settlement for England. However, to see off a backbench rebellion, he will also offer the opportunity for a Commons vote on banning Scottish MPs from voting on English-only matters — a move blocked by Mr Miliband.

On Friday the prime minister appeared to make the ban a condition of handing more powers to Scotland when he said that the two should happen “in tandem and at the same pace”. The former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon said that Mr Cameron had behaved in a “pretty disgraceful” way by linking the issue of the Scottish powers to English reform.

In response, Downing Street insisted that the two processes would run in parallel, and that the timetable for the Scottish reform package did not depend on reaching agreement over English votes for English laws. A No 10 source said: “That will happen, come what may, no ifs, no buts. It is not conditional on anything.”

Senior Conservative sources insisted that Mr Cameron and Michael Gove, the chief whip — who said that progress on Scotland would be “impossible” without movement in England — were simply stating the political reality.

Alistair Darling, who led the Better Together campaign, said: “The agreement reached by the three parties, as far as I’m concerned, is non-negotiable. It was promised, it has got to be delivered.”

With Mr Cameron and Ed Miliband struggling to contain the fallout from the referendum, the prime minister will today tell MPs that he hopes to put proposals to limit Scots MPs’ voting powers to a Commons vote within months, according to a senior figure.

The Tories hope to win Lib Dem support for a vote that would leave Labour dangerously exposed. Mr Miliband yesterday dismissed as a “political trick” Mr Cameron’s call for cross-party support, describing it as “back of the envelope, fag packet” tinkering with the constitution. At present Labour has 40 of Scotland’s 59 MPs, all of whom can vote on issues that affect only England even though the opposite is barred. Polling that looks forward to next year’s election suggests that Mr Miliband would need the votes of Scottish MPs to command an overall majority and that limiting their voting powers could hobble his ability to govern.

He committed yesterday only to study plans to allow English MPs “greater scrutiny” of English-only legislation, well short of the demand that only MPs representing English constituencies could vote. The threat of a Commons vote will heap pressure on him from Labour figures who fear a backlash from English voters.

The prime minister pledged to deliver on his promise of more powers for Holyrood, adding: “I think people right across the UK will say: ‘David Cameron made a promise, he didn’t make a conditional promise, he made a clear promise and he will be kept to that.’ ”

Mr Salmond hit out at party leaders yesterday. “I am not surprised that they are cavilling and reneging on their commitments — I am only surprised at the speed with which they are doing it,” he said. “They seem to be totally shameless in these matters.”

He also appeared to criticise older generations of Scots for holding back the young. “You have a situation where the majority of a country up to the age of 55 is already voting for independence… I think the writing’s on the wall for Westminster.

“I think Scots of my generation and above should really be looking at themselves in the mirror and wondering if we by majority, as a result of our decision, have actually impeded progress for the next generation which is something, no generation should do.”