Conservatives will make “English votes for English laws” an election issue if Labour refuses to sign up to changes which would bar Scottish MPs from voting on issues which affect only constituencies south of the border, David Cameron has said.
The Prime Minister infuriated Labour with an early-morning announcement following last week’s rejection of independence in the Scottish referendum that moves to devolve new powers to Scotland must be accompanied by reforms at Westminster to resolve the so-called “West Lothian question”.
Labour – which is calling for the swift implementation of promises to Scotland agreed by all three major party leaders in a pre-referendum pledge, followed by a constitutional convention to discuss wider issues – has accused the Prime Minister of “playing fast and loose” with the constitution for party political reasons.
And Mr Cameron, who has tasked William Hague with chairing a Cabinet committee to draw up proposals for “English votes”, made clear that he was ready to treat the issue as something which would offer “a very clear choice” for voters choosing a party at the May 2015 general election.
The Prime Minister told reporters: “I think Labour are making a great mistake in not understanding that if you move to a situation where Scottish MPs are able to vote on even more issues – including potentially tax rates, spending, on welfare issues – the English question needs to be answered and you need to have English votes for English laws.
“In terms of how this will work, as a government we’ve set up this committee we’re examining what can be done and we will publish our proposals.
“But I’m very clear we will keep all promises we made to the Scottish people about further devolution and stick to the timetable that we agreed and set out.
“At the next election if Labour don’t agree English votes for English laws, there will be a very clear choice. If you vote Conservative, you’ll get both – more Scottish devolution and an answer to the English question. We’re quite clear we’ll do both.
“That will be our offer. It’s up to others to say what they want to do but be in no doubt I absolutely keep my promises to the Scottish people about further powers.”
Labour has traditionally won the lion’s share of Scotland’s 59 seats at Westminster.
With powers over tax and spending set to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh under the devolution deal, the removal of Scottish MPs’ right to vote on equivalent issues in Westminster would potentially present a future Labour prime minister with grave difficulties in getting key legislation – including Budget measures – on to the statute book.
By contrast, Mr Cameron said further devolution was not a problem for Conservatives, who had already set out plans in a report by Tory peer Lord Strathclyde.
“I think it’s an important point,” said the Prime Minister. “I’m not sure if everybody noticed – because the Conservative Party’s proposals in the Strathclyde Commission are probably the most far-reaching in terms of devolution, this has never been a problem for me or my party. We were planning for devolution for the Scottish people according to the Strathclyde Commission.
“What we have now is a timetable for getting the other parties to look at these proposals and come up with their own proposals and then the draft clauses will be drawn up in January and we will commit to putting them in place after the next election.”