DAVID CAMERON has unveiled proposals to allow English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs to vote alone on policies only impacting their voters, mirroring pledges made on fresh devolution to Scotland.
The Prime Minister said he hoped to win cross-party support for the plans, which he outlined in Downing Street shortly after Scotland rejected independence in an historic referendum.
Mr Cameron pledged the unionist parties would keep promises made to Scotland in the heat of the referendum campaign.
But he added: “In Wales, there are proposals to give the Welsh Government and Assembly more powers and I want Wales to be at the heart of the debate for how to make our United Kingdom work for all our nations.
“In Northern Ireland, we must work to ensure the devolved institutions function effectively.
“But I have long believed a crucial part missing from this national discussion is England. We have heard the voice of Scotland and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard.
“The question of English votes for English laws, the so-called West Lothian Question, requires a decisive answer so just as Scotland will vote separately on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England as well as Wales and Northern Ireland should be able to vote on these issues.
“All this must take place in tandem with and at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland.”
Commons Leader and Richmond MP William Hague will draw up the detail of the plans, to be discussed in a Cabinet committee, with the same November deadline as that for the detailed proposals for Scotland.
Mr Cameron added: “It is also important we have wider civic engagement about how to improve governance throughout our United Kingdom, including how to empower our great cities. We will say more about this in the coming days.”
Following his promise - made jointly with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg - of further devolution to the Scottish Parliament in the case of a No vote, Mr Cameron has come under intense pressure from English MPs concerned that their constituents are being sidelined with many advocating the creation of an English Parliament.
Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole Andrew Percy said: “England must have an English parliament in the event of a No vote. Time for a federal UK.
“We can have an English parliament at Westminster as well as the British seat. England must be heard as much as Scotland.”
But there was also scepticism in the region about whether an English Parliament would deliver true power to regions such as Yorkshire.
Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan tweeted: “Don’t think people in North would feel it was devolution if English Parliament moved power from one committee in SW1 to another.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband said he would “look at” any proposals brought forward by the Prime Minister.
“We certainly want to have greater devolution in England. We have already got proposals but we want to go further,” he said.
“I think what is really important is that any change that takes place is led by people, not by politicians in Westminster, and grasps the scale of change that we need.
“That is the process that we want to embark upon.”
He added: “We will look at any proposals the Prime Minister comes forward with ... I don’t think people would tolerate proposals done behind closed doors in Westminster.”
Conservative former Cabinet minister Liam Fox said change was “unavoidable” to address the ability of Scottish MPs to vote on devolved issues in Westminster, while Labour’s John Denham called for devolution within England.
Dr Fox said the cross-party vow to give more powers to Holyrood created an “imbalance in our constitutional relationship”.
He told BBC2’s Newsnight: “There are a number of ways that we can address that but I think now it will have to be addressed. Politicians have ducked the question for too long.”
The Scot added: “What we must ensure is that Scottish MPs, who cannot vote on issues like health and education in Scotland, should not be entitled to vote on health and education in constituencies like mine in North Somerset.
“It is profoundly undemocratic and unfair. That needs to be dealt with.”
Mr Denham told the programme: “First you’ve got to have a constitutional convention in England. Secondly, we are going to have change in Westminster. It’s clear that the more powers that go to the Scottish Parliament, the less you can have Scottish MPs voting on the same issues for England. That’s got to change in one way or another.
“Thirdly, though, England is much too centralised. So this isn’t just about reducing the influence of Scottish MPs in Westminster, it’s about getting English decisions out of Westminster.”
The chairman of the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Graham Allen, said: “If we really believe in devolution, the leaders’ ‘vow’ should apply to all nations in the Union, not just Scotland.
“Devolution needs independent local government, income tax assignment and a federal parliament, not an English one.”
Regional newspapers in northern England united to launch a campaign for greater powers to tackle an “uneven playing field” in the UK.
In a display of unity, northern titles including The Journal, Chronicle, Northern Echo, Gazette and Manchester Evening News carried the same front-page message calling for the North to be given “far more control over its own affairs”.
Shadow minister Douglas Alexander told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Mr Cameron’s announcement struck him, in some ways, as a “fairly knee-jerk reaction which ... may well have been driven more by politics than by a considered judgement of the needs of the constitution”.
Mr Hague said the parties would have to open negotiations on how the English MPs could be given a greater say over English affairs at Westminster.
He said that if they were unable to reach agreement, they would have to settle the matter at the general election.
“With further devolution to Scotland it becomes inconceivable to allow Scottish members to vote on everything that is happening in England when English members cannot vote on so much that is happening in Scotland,” he told BBC News.
“We have to discuss this with the other parties. If there is no consensus, then it is something which at the general election the parties will have to stake out their positions on.”
Mr Alexander told BBC One’s independence analysis programme: “The reason we are able to set out that timetable (on Scottish devolution), a command paper is being produced within a month, is because the three parties in Scotland have come together over years, indeed recent months, to put together fairly complementary but substantial proposals.
“The idea that William Hague establishing a Cabinet sub-committee is either an adequate answer to the depth of grievance people feel, not just here in Scotland but across the UK, about how we are governed, in whose interests we are governed, I think is wholly inadequate.
“Secondly, he doesn’t have the bricks and mortar to start the process of that building whereas in Scotland the reason that vow could be given is because all three parties have done a huge amount of detailed work.”
Ukip leader Nigel Farage told Sky News: “The English are 86% by population of this Union. They’ve been left out of all of this for the last 18 years. We still have a situation where Scottish MPs can vote in the House of Commons on English-only issues. I think what most English people want is a fair settlement.
“Mr Cameron this morning, as a last-minute measure yet again, has decided to put William Hague in charge of a committee to try to cobble together a solution.
“We had better get a constitutional convention set up PDQ (pretty damn quick), so we can get the best constitutional brains in this country working on it. I don’t think William Hague and a committee can work this out. I think we need a proper, open debate.”
Asked how English MPs could be given the ability to vote on English affairs without undermining the House of Commons, Mr Farage said: “My suggestion would be that we do it within that building, that we have days when Scottish, Irish and Welsh MPs are not in the chamber and not voting, so we have an English parliament and we do it within the Palace of Westminster. I think that - rather than going to Shrewsbury and building a new building - is the right way to do it.”
On whether Parliament should be recalled next week, Mr Hague told BBC Radio 4: “It would be very disruptive of party conferences to recall Parliament but of course we are open to the views of Members of Parliament about this.”
He said the beginning of the work did not require Parliament to be sitting, adding there would be time in the coming months for it to be debated extensively.