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U K News
Conservatives Lay Out English Devolution Plans
From the Wall Street Journal of Tue, 16 Dec 2014 14:07:25 EST

LONDON—Prime Minister David Cameron ’s Conservative Party on Tuesday laid out a range of options for devolving power to England, a promise made in the wake of the Scottish referendum that is proving complex and controversial to deliver.

The morning after Scotland voted against independence in September, Mr. Cameron pledged to transfer more tax and spending powers to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Mr. Cameron was seeking to address demands from within his own party for a greater say by English lawmakers over English matters after he and other party leaders promised to devolve more power to Scotland in the weeks before the referendum to woo voters.

In a sign of the complexities of the task, the Conservatives on Tuesday laid out several possible options of ways to devolve greater power to England. Those included preventing lawmakers representing constituencies outside England from having a say on some English affairs and giving English lawmakers a veto over laws. The proposed changes could significantly reorder how issues such as tax, welfare and public spending are governed in the U.K.

Conservative Party leader William Hague in the House of Commons Tuesday.
Conservative Party leader William Hague in the House of Commons Tuesday. Zuma Press

William Hague, a senior Conservative and former foreign minister, outlining the proposals in parliament Tuesday said they would help address the uneven spread of power across the U.K.

In comparison to the federal governing structure in the U.S., tax and other powers in the U.K. are more centralized in the capital.

“Just as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, so it follows the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have the opportunity to have a bigger say over theirs,” Mr. Hague said.

While the three main political parties at Westminster support decentralization, they are at odds over the mechanics of how to deliver it. It is unlikely the Conservatives currently could secure a majority in the House of Commons to push the proposals through parliament. But the party is seeking to shore up support ahead of a general election in May on an issue that is important to many of its members.

It also puts the main opposition Labour Party in a difficult spot as the party would be underrepresented in an English-only group of lawmakers. Labour, which boycotted the interparty talks led by Mr. Hague, accused the Conservatives of rushing the proposals for political gain and for addressing the issue in a piecemeal fashion. Labour has said it supports an inquiry involving members of the public, civil society and elected representatives to discuss the issues and set out proposals.

Many in the Conservative Party—which would dominate English-only votes given the current parliamentary arithmetic--advocate for greater devolution for English. But there are disagreements within the party on how best to carry out the reforms, and some lawmakers are pushing for English devolution to be delivered as quickly and as fully as Scottish devolution.

During the parliamentary session on Tuesday, some Conservative lawmakers said they supported nothing short of limiting voting on English matters to English lawmakers.

“England expects English votes for English issues…no ifs, no buts, no tricks, give us what we want,” Conservative John Redwood told parliamentary colleagues. In an interview later Tuesday, Mr. Redwood said of the other options, “they’re not good enough.”

The other options outlined Tuesday included giving English lawmakers an effective veto over relevant bills and giving English lawmakers more say over early drafts of bills. Mr. Hague said the Conservative Party would review the options and announce which one the party would support in the New Year.

Write to Jenny Gross at jenny.gross@wsj.com



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