Labour Party Conference: Labour MPs call for end to delay on reform of constitution

Tories and  Lib Dems are meeting to talk about devolution of powers today

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The Labour backlash against Ed Miliband’s stance over “English votes for English laws” gathered pace on Monday night after a series of senior party figures called on him to embrace the historic reform.

MPs, including two former cabinet ministers – John Denham and Ben Bradshaw – have challenged him to end what they see as dangerous hesitation in Labour’s position over constitutional reform following the Scottish independence referendum.

The turmoil deepened as it was announced that Tory and Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers would meet tomorrow to begin talks on devolving powers to all four nations in the United Kingdom.

Speaking following talks between David Cameron and senior Conservative MPs at the Prime Minister’s country residence at Chequers, William Hague, the Commons leader, insisted that the Government would honour its pledge during the referendum campaign to hand more controls over policy to Holyrood. He said: “The commitment to Scotland is very clear. That will go ahead whoever wins the next election.”

But he stressed it was “a matter of fairness” that the consequences for the rest of the UK were considered at the same time. Mr Hague said: “We will be open to discussions with the Labour Party and other parties as well.”

He stressed that if the Westminster parties could not reach agreement on the issue, they would have to set out their rival positions at the general election in May. The issue of UK-wide constitutional reform has overshadowed the beginning of the Labour conference in Manchester.

Simon Danczuk, the Rochdale MP, said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” that the Labour leader did not have a set of proposals on English votes for English MPs.

John Denham, left, and Ben Bradshaw have challenged Mr Miliband on Labour’s position on constitutional reform (Getty)

He said: “We should have struck while the iron was hot. I cannot understand why... we did not have a decent offer to put out there.”

Following a private meeting of English MPs, the former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said it was clear that the current system inside the Commons was “unfair” and that, rather than wait, the party should address the issue in Manchester now as part of its conference. Mr Bradshaw said that the Labour Party had to show its public backing for the idea of English votes for English laws regardless of whether or not it agreed with the speed of reform put forward by the PM.

Although Mr Bradshaw and the others at the private meeting, including MPs Steve Reed and Jamie Reid, and Lord Glasman, were critical of “Mr Cameron’s ludicrous suggestion that a 100-year old problem could be dealt with in three months” the group of Labour politicians all agreed that unless the problem was “acknowledged” now, no proper discussion could take place.

John Denham, the former universities minister, also said a way had to be found of allowing England to decide what it wanted. He suggested one way of doing this could be an elected second chamber, making the Lords a democratic equivalent of the Commons rather than its current role as simply an appointed revision chamber.

Ed Balls refused six times yesterday to say whether he believed it was fair for Scottish MPs to vote on English laws. He said: “I think David Cameron is just trying to dupe people with an idea that he has got some easy, quick political fix.”

Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, denounced the Prime Minister’s move as a “clear strategic ploy”. He told The Independent fringe meeting: “We have been looking at this issue for 120 years; the idea it can be solved by a cabinet committee chaired by William Hague in 100 days does not seem serious.”

Harriet Harman, the Deputy Labour leader, said: “We have to recognise there’s an anomaly and look at the different ways we can address that.”