Hague Offers "English Votes" Talks

22 September 2014, 19:18

William Hague has held out the prospect of talks with Labour on reform of the way MPs at Westminster vote in the wake of the Scottish referendum.

The Leader of the Commons said that ministers were ready to open discussions with the other parties on the issue of ``English votes for English laws''.

David Cameron infuriated Labour with the announcement following the referendum result on Friday that moves to devolve new powers to Scotland had to be accompanied by measures to curb the right of Scottish MPs to vote on issues affecting only England.

Speaking following talks between David Cameron and senior Conservative MPs at the Prime Minister's country residence at Chequers, Mr Hague said ministers were willing to hold talks on the issue with Labour.

"We will be open to discussions - of course we will be - with the Labour Party and other parties as well," he said.

However he stressed that the issue had to be dealt with and that if the Westminster parties - including the Liberal Democrats - could not reach agreement they would have to set out their rival positions at the general election in May.

"This issue of fairness for England - as well as for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - I think is one that cannot now be avoided. That is now something we have to face up to," he said.

"It has been discussed for a very long time. The time has now come to make some decisions about this."

Mr Cameron has said reform at the Commons should be carried out "in tandem" with the further devolution to Holyrood promised by the leaders of the three main Westminster parties in the final days of the referendum campaign.

Labour leader Ed Miliband - whose chances of being able to form a Commons majority after the next general election are likely to depend on the votes of Scottish MPs - responded by calling for constitutional convention to consider wider issues of reform.

Senior Labour figures - gathered for the party's annual conference in Manchester - have struggled to say whether or not they backed the principle of "English votes for English laws".

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls accused the Prime Minister "playing fast and loose" with the constitution for party political reasons.

"I do think this is possibly the most un-prime ministerial thing I've seen David Cameron do in the last few years,'' he said.

"I think he should have more responsibility to think about the public interest rather than the political interest. It's what he does on Europe, he's doing the same on the constitution and I'm just not going to play that game."

Mr Hague, who will chair the first meeting of a new Cabinet committee set up to deal with the issue on Wednesday, underlined a commitment by Downing Street at the weekend that the promised devolution to Scotland would go ahead even if there was no agreement on change at Westminster.

"The commitment to Scotland is very clear, that will go ahead whoever wins the next general election," he said.

"If other parties make it impossible to deal with this issue in tandem, then of course it will be an issue at the general election in May and the people of the country will decide.

"But it's then very important for all political parties to decide where they stand on this, including the Labour Party."