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Report backs UK parliament shake-up on English laws

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Laws affecting only England should typically be backed by a majority of English MPs sitting in the British parliament, said a report published Monday that attempts to solve a decades-old conundrum.

The McKay Commission was charged by the government with examining the current set-up, whereby Members of Parliament representing seats in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can vote on matters that affect only England and not their constituents.

The commission's report acknowledged this was seen as "an anomaly which is unfair to people in England".

"Maintaining the status quo is a long-term risk," it said.

The commission proposed that decisions with a "separate and distinct effect" for England should "normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of MPs sitting for constituencies in England".

Prime Minister David Cameron's government said it would give the report "serious consideration" before giving its response.

The perceived imbalance was intensified when devolved assemblies were established in the late 1990s for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland under then-prime minister Tony Blair.

His Labour government relied on the votes of MPs from Scotland to push through legislation on English affairs in the 2000s.

In September next year, Scotland will hold a referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom, bringing the democratic balance into even sharper perspective.

The McKay Commission report said the proportion of English MPs supporting a draft law for England should be published alongside the overall result.

"If a government was seen to have failed to attract the support of a majority of MPs from England for business affecting those interests, it would be likely to sustain severe political damage.

"We expect that governments will prefer compromise to conflict."

But it said the right of the lower house, the House of Commons, as a whole to make the final decision should remain and MPs from outside England should not be disbarred from voting on matters before the house, for fear of creating a second class of lawmaker.

If implemented, the report could have dramatic consequences for future British governments if they were unable to command the support of a majority of English MPs.

Cameron's Conservatives currently have a comfortable majority among English MPs, but do not have a majority of MPs from the wider UK, and so govern nationally in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

Since 1919, only in the short-lived parliaments of 1964-66 and February-October 1974 has the party or coalition forming the UK government not also enjoyed a majority in England.

But now the Conservatives' support is almost exclusively in England, while the opposition Labour Party hold the vast majority of seats in Scotland and Wales.

Constituencies in Scotland and Wales contain considerably fewer voters than their English equivalents. Labour and the Lib Dems teamed up to defeat the Conservatives' attempts to change the constituency boundaries in a parliamentary vote in January.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130325/report-backs-uk-parliament-shake-english-laws