English parliament would 'wreck UK'

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Tory proposals to stop MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland voting on English matters would lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, the Lord Chancellor says.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton insisted that the move, which he described as tantamount to creating an English parliament, would unbalance the delicate relationship between the four nations that comprise the UK. But he mounted a vigorous defence of the creation of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly seven years ago for strengthening the Union and undermining separatism.

With 83 per cent of the UK's citizens living in England, 80 per cent of MPs representing English constituencies and the majority of the UK's economic power concentrated in England, Lord Falconer also argued that devolution protected the interests of other parts of the country.

He said reserving English votes for English legislation would effectively turn Westminster into an English parliament, sending out the message that the UK "consisted of one large country with second-class satellites". It would leave Westminster "either voting on the back of what the English parliament has already decided or hanging on to its coat tails", while the other partner nations of the UK would be "carried along on England's backdraft".

Lord Falconer, who is Scottish, said: "We would end up at exactly the point we had set out to avoid - unbalancing the relationship between the nations. How, under such circumstances, could the Union survive?"

Speaking at a conference on devolution in London, he said: "To the idea of an English parliament we say - 'not today, not tomorrow, not in any kind of future we can see now'.

"Devolution strengthens the union of the UK. English votes for English issues would wreck it."

Lord Falconer also argued that such a step would create two classes of politician. He said: "MPs are national representatives in a national parliament. There can only be one class of MP in such a body."

The Tories denied last night that their policy would create in effect a separate English parliament. But Oliver Heald, the shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, said: "It is simply not sustainable to have measures imposed on England on the back of the votes of Scottish MPs, when the same measures in Scotland are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. The case for English votes on English laws in the House of Commons is quite clear."

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman, said: "Lord Falconer and the Government are putting their heads in the sand.

"The present constitutional arrangements for making English decisions are unacceptable and need to be changed.

"There may not be massive demand for an entirely separate and new English parliament, but there is growing resentment at England-only issues being decided by politicians from other parts of the UK."

The Scottish National Party accused Lord Falconer of attempting to divert attention from Labour's economic failings north of the border with an "unneeded and anti-democratic tirade against the idea of an English parliament".

Stewart Hosie, the SNP's home affairs spokesman, said: "That he, an unelected peer, can dictate that the people of England cannot have a parliament speaks volumes of this Labour Government's commitment to democracy."

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