Politics-Constitution: Hague demands Scottish and Welsh MPs lose vote

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WILLIAM HAGUE was yesterday accused of playing a dangerous nationalist card at a "crass, stupid and insensitive" moment after he called for Scottish and Welsh MPs to be stripped of their right to vote at Westminster.

The Tory leader stopped short of supporting rightwing- ers for an English Parliament, although he did not rule it out. Sources at Westminster indicated his speech to the right wing think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, was a lashed-together compromise reached after months of argument to avoid a split in the Tory high command.

Michael Ancram, the chairman of the Conservative Party, said he was "glad" Mr Hague was not calling for an English Parliament which would lead to a rise in English nationalism in the aftermath of Scottish and Welsh devolution.

Mr Hague said: "Although I understand the force of the argument for an English Parliament, I am as yet unpersuad- ed." He acknowledged an English Parliament could become a focus for English Nationalism, but he proposed English MPs should have an exclusive say over English laws and English spending. That would also reduce the Government majority on English issues by cutting out the votes of Scottish and Welsh MPs. The Tories have none.

"There would be hard bargaining between the Government and the English MPs and the Government would have to choose between doing nothing and doing what England would accept," Mr Hague said.

Mr Ancram said: "If we go down this road we will avoid the nationalist problems which we believe would arise."

Mr Hague had held back calling for an English Parliament at last year's annual party conference when demands from rightwingers in the party and on its fringes were rising.

Margaret Beckett, the Leader of the House, said: "He is playing an extremely dangerous and stupid game. He does these things which in the short term he thinks are going to be an advantage for a couple of days but in the long term are going to cause considerable problems for his party and his country," she told journalists at Westminster.

She said the Tories had blocked moves for a cross-party Parliamentary committee of the English regions. "There could not be a more crass, stupid or insensitive time to make this speech than the middle of Northern Ireland negotiations. Is this the time to say to David Trimble, `You are only going to have a limited role here'?"