'English votes for English laws' plan by Tories

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Indy Politics

Plans to ban Scottish MPs from voting on laws for England will be published by the Conservative Party today.

David Cameron is expected to endorse proposals by Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor, who wants votes in Parliament that only affect England to be restricted to MPs representing English constituencies.

The blueprint, by a democracy task force chaired by Mr Clarke, is the Tories' response to the "English question" arising from the creation of the Scottish Parliament, which means English MPs cannot vote on matters such as health and education devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Tory sources say the party has not decided which issues would only be determined by English MPs. However, they could mirror the devolved powers handed to the Scottish Parliament on health, education and prisons. Most other issues are regarded as "reserved powers" because they have UK-wide implications and are still decided at Westminster. One potential flaw in the Tory plan is that it could lead to disputes over how to define an "English only" Bill. Scottish MPs could argue that laws would have "a knock-on effect" north of the border and claim full voting rights.

Wales is unlikely to be affected because the Welsh Assembly enjoys fewer powers than its "big brother" in Edinburgh. But the issue could arise in future if more functions were transferred to the Cardiff assembly.

The "English votes for English laws" plan will provoke Labour claims that the Tories are creating a two-tier parliament at Westminster with Scottish MPs becoming second-class citizens.

Mr Clarke will reject such criticism. He will propose that Scottish MPs would be able to vote on Bills at their second and third reading stages, while restricting votes to MPs with English seats when the fine detail of laws is debated during the committee stage. He will propose an understanding that Scottish MPs would not overturn amendments agreed by English MPs at the third reading.

Mr Cameron wants to rebalance the British constitution after devolution in Scotland. But he is sensitive to the charge that changes could put the union between England and Scotland at risk and has therefore rejected the idea of proposing an English parliament or "grand committee" of MPs to handle all stages of laws affecting only England. That idea has been proposed by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, another former Tory cabinet minister.

Labour will accuse the Tories of playing into the hands of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which controls the Scottish Parliament after ousting Labour from power last year and sees "English votes for English laws" as a stepping stone to its goal of Scottish independence.

But Labour's attempt to attack the Tory plan may be hampered by turmoil in the Labour Party in Scotland after the resignation at the weekend of Wendy Alexander, its leader in the Scottish Parliament, after she was criticised over a campaign donation from a Jersey businessman not entitled to vote in UK elections.

Mr Clarke also wants a review of the Barnett formula which guarantees Scotland's share of UK public spending, basing it on population rather than need. It has been criticised as too generous by some English MPs now the Scottish executive enjoys the power to spend money on policies such as cutting prescription charges and university fees.

Ms Alexander was said by ministers to have quit because her family "had had enough". The race is on to succeed her. The possible candidates include the deputy leader, Cathy Jamieson, and the MSPs Margaret Curran, Iain Gray and Andy Kerr

The SNP said it was "not worried" about who succeeded her. John Swinney, of the SNP, said Labour was in turmoil and its rival factions were "fighting like ferrets in a sack".

* The Government will face fresh accusations from a former Scotland Yard chief today that it is failing to protect the security of Britain’s borders. In a report commissioned by Mr Cameron, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington will say ministers lack a clear border strategy.