A TORY Government would block Welsh MPs from voting on devolved issues, David Cameron promised last night.
Mr Cameron has floated the idea of “English votes for English issues” in the past, but speaking to the Western Mail yesterday he went further, promising it will be implemented if he wins the next general election.
It would mean restrictions on the voting rights of Welsh and Scottish MPs, and would prove highly contentious. Details of the policy are being agreed by a Tory taskforce headed by former Chancellor Ken Clarke. “[He] is looking at how best it can be delivered, but delivered it will be,” said Mr Cameron.
The Tory leader’s comments came as the new Assembly cabinet was announced, with three Plaid Cymru AMs – Ieuan Wyn Jones, Rhodri Glyn Thomas and Elin Jones – given portfolios.
Welsh Labour, meanwhile, is planning a “summer offensive” against the Conservatives, claiming only Labour is interested in holding the United Kingdom together.
Mr Cameron denied that his proposals would be impractical, despite many Parliamentary Bills having some clauses which apply to different parts of the UK.
“I don’t think it is complicated,” he said. “It’s relatively straightforward to look at a piece of legislation and ask if it only affects English constituencies, or which bits of it only affect English constituencies.
“What Ken Clarke’s taskforce will do is look at the right way to deliver this policy. There are a number of options that have been put forward in the past, and Ken Clarke is looking at how best it can be delivered, but delivered it will be.”
Asked if this amounted to a firm policy commitment, he said, “I’ve made that clear all the way through.” The future of the devolution settlement is developing into a key battleground between the Conservatives and Labour as the next general election approaches.
Welsh Labour, having gone into coalition with Plaid Cymru against the wishes of some of its senior MPs, is to campaign hard over the summer on its unionist credentials. It hopes it can land blows on Mr Cameron while countering the impression it may be “going native” by working with Plaid, a party still associated with Welsh independence by many voters.
Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said he wanted to see “a strong Wales with its own devolved Government” rather than the “dissolution of the UK”.
Yesterday Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, already appointed Deputy First Minister, took over as Economic Development and Transport Minister in the Assembly. Rhodri Glyn Thomas becomes Heritage Minister and Elin Jones takes the Rural Affairs brief. Jocelyn Davies becomes a deputy Minister with responsibility for housing.
Elsewhere in his interview, Mr Cameron said, “I’m a believer in the United Kingdom. I think we’re stronger together than we would be separated and I want to see a strong United Kingdom.
“But we do need to deal with the West Lothian question of English votes for English laws, where MPs don’t have control over health or education or housing in their own constituencies. That needs to be corrected.
“The union has become weaker, undermined, and I believe we can strengthen the union by dealing with this outstanding question.
“Those people who argued that devolution would solve the problems have been proved wrong.”
But he insisted he didn’t want to see Wales or Scotland leave the UK. “I don’t want to be Prime Minister of England I want to be Prime Minister of Great Britain.”
May’s elections left Labour without a majority in the Assembly – resulting in the coalition deal with Plaid Cymru. In Scotland the SNP is now running a majority administration.
But the Conservatives believe that with a Scot, Gordon Brown, in 10 Downing Street there is a major anomaly that they can exploit. Mr Brown has unveiled health and education policies which will not apply in his own constituency, where the Scottish Executive controls the services.
But Mr Hain said, “This dangerous Conservative plan would result in constitutional instability and would give second-class status not just to MPs from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but also to citizens outside England.
“The danger is that Westminster would quickly become for England only and encourage separatism.
“Now that we have a rare Conservative policy commitment, Labour must make this a key dividing line at the next election: between those in favour of preserving the UK and those in favour of its dissolution.
“ In the coming months you will see a concerted effort from the Labour Party to champion the cultural, economic and social benefits of a strong and united Union, and a strong Wales with its own devolved government.”
Mr Cameron also said the Tories would be publishing the results of a series of policy reviews in the run-up to the October party conference, after which a “pre-manifesto” would be published.
On the way he planned to attack Mr Brown, he said, “We will see a pretty strong set of arguments that this is someone who has been in charge for the past 10 years and cannot run away from his record.
“We will be making that argument with vigour.”