Tories want English-only votes

The Conservative party wants to ban Scottish MPs from voting on issues that only affect England.

Ken Clarke, who heads up the Tories’ democracy task force, revealed that he will be pursuing a Commons debate on the issue later this month, adding that it was a central policy for the party.

Since the creation of the Scottish parliament in 1998, English MPs have had no say in health and education policy areas north of the border.

Marginal victories for the government in votes on controversial legislation introducing foundation hospitals and tuition fees have raised the question of whether Scottish MPs should be able to vote on legislation that does not affect their constituents.

The Conservatives’ stance is also seen as an attempt to undermine Kircaldy and Cowdenbeath MP Gordon Brown, who expects to contest the next general election as Labour leader when Tony Blair steps down.

“There is no prospect of backing down on some form of English votes for English questions,” Mr Clarke told the paper.

The former chancellor claimed that the Tory proposals were not an assault upon Mr Brown’s right, as a Scot, to be prime minister, which he dismissed as a risk that could “break up the nation”.

But he pointed out that if English-only Commons votes were introduced it would severely limit his mandate as premier, leaving him unable to vote on issues affecting the vast majority of Britons.

Mr Clarke told the Observer: “If a man landed from Mars and saw the current system, he would not say that democracy was working properly,” and derided devolution under Labour for creating a “constitutional mess”.

Former shadow cabinet member Alan Duncan backed Mr Clarke’s comments, saying that “we have MPs from Scotland essentially telling England what to do when they are doing the opposite in Scotland.”

He added: “I am beginning to think that it is almost impossible now to have a Scottish prime minister because they would be at odds with the basic construction of the British constitution.”

The official government line is that English-only votes would create a two-tier political system. But privately Labour must fear that its majority could be cut on English-only issues, where it has relied on Scottish MPs in the past to win votes.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) said the proposals were evidence that the Conservatives had given up the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections.

SNP constitutional spokesman Peter Wishart said: “Yes the West Lothian question should be answered, but the anti-Scottish Tories won’t be the ones that will provide the answer.”

He added: “This plan can only ever work if the majority of the English MPs at Westminster belong to the same party as that running the UK. With different parties that makes this scheme extremely unworkable.”

The so-called West Lothian question was first raised by former Labour MP for West Lothian Tam Dalyell who asked why a Westminster MP representing a Scottish constituency could vote on health and education matters affecting English seats, but not Scottish ones.

The question has become a shorthand reference for the matter of Scottish MPs voting on English issues.

Last month the Scottish affairs committee called upon the government to take action over increasing “English discontent” over the West Lothian question.