Tories split over Scots vote reform plans

Some backbenchers want Scottish MPs denied any vote on English matters
The current pensions bill says nothing specific about regulation

Listen to this article


David Cameron is heading for a clash with his own party over his attempts to redraw the British constitution in the wake of the agreement to transfer major powers to the Scottish parliament.

The prime minister will in the next few days unveil his proposals for how to remove powers from Scottish MPs over issues that do not affect their constituents, as he tries to solve one of the longest-running problems in British politics.

Mr Cameron and William Hague, the leader of the Commons, will set out their proposals for so-called “English votes for English laws” by next week, but are likely to walk into a row with their own backbenchers, MPs have told the Financial Times.

The argument centres on how radical the Tory leadership wants to be over its proposals, which Mr Cameron proposed as a way of balancing the extra powers given to Holyrood, including the ability to set the rates and bands of income tax.

Conservative MPs are pushing ministers to endorse a radical plan which would see Scottish MPs denied a vote on any bill that does not apply to Scotland. But Mr Cameron and Mr Hague are wary of backing anything that could undermine the chances of a Scottish MP rising to the top of government in the future.

Mr Hague’s commission, which has been studying the problem since Scottish voters rejected independence, will report before the end of next week, with government aides saying the proposals could come as early as this Thursday.

The report is likely to present a range of options, loosely modelled on plans set out by Lord Norton in 2000, Andrew Tyrie and Ken Clarke in 2008, and Lord McKay in 2013. Ministers will then consult colleagues before deciding which option to pursue, before trying to put it to a Commons vote in early 2015 — though the Liberal Democrats, who do not back the Conservative plans, may prevent it being put forward as a government proposal.

Mr Cameron hinted during a committee hearing last month that he backed the proposals set out by Mr Tyrie and Mr Clarke, which would give English MPs a casting vote over laws that only affect England, but allow Scottish MPs to vote at earlier stages. The two Conservative MPs described this as a way to solve the West Lothian question — which asks why Scottish MPs vote on matters that affect only England but not vice versa — while preserving the union. Mr Cameron told parliament’s Liaison Committee he believed that approach had “a lot of attractions”.

But several Conservatives have told the Financial Times they would reject such a plan, insisting that Scottish MPs should be completely barred from voting on any devolved legislation.

John Redwood, the former cabinet minister, said: “We don’t vote on Scottish laws and they shouldn’t vote on English laws. It is just equality.” Philip Davies, the Tory backbencher, added: “It will be completely unacceptable for Scotland to be deciding everything themselves and then for Scottish MPs to have any say on what happens in the rest of the United Kingdom.”

Brian Binley, chair of the 1922 backbench committee, said: “The English people will be the arbitrators of that. They don’t want another layer of government, they want a straightforward English votes for English laws.” He added that he believed between 50 and 100 Conservative MPs shared his view, though others said they did not take such an “ideologically pure” line.

Another faultline is likely to be the prime minister’s refusal to look again at the Barnett formula for deciding the block grant from Westminster to Scotland. Mr Cameron promised in the final stages of the referendum campaign over Scottish independence that he would keep the formula, which the Institute of Fiscal Studies has called “flawed” for giving too much money to Scotland.

One Tory MP said: “If we are getting asked to put forward more Scottish devolution without anything more on reforming the Barnett formula, I would say no.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.