MP adds support to devolution

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Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris has backed calls from Tory backbenchers for the devolution of power in England following the vote on Scottish independence.

David Cameron has been seeking to placate rebels within the Conservative party who are threatening to scupper his promise to hand more powers to the Scottish Parliament unless he reduces the voting rights of Scottish MPs at Westminster on matters only affecting England.

Backbenchers have also been put out by an 11th hour pledge by all three Westminster party leaders to uphold the Barnett Formula, a mechanism used by the Treasury to allocate public spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as England and its regions.

Mr Heaton-Harris told the Daventry Express the Barnett Formula was a key point of contention for him and had to be resolved.

He said: “The three Party leaders might have a settled view on this, but I believe the Barnett formula is unfair to the English and very unfair to my constituents. I think there will be a very vociferous debate on this in the Houses of Parliament when the time comes.”

The Government defends the Barnett Formula saying it reflects that some areas of the UK have specific challenges, extra costs and needs when it comes to geography and population.

However, critics point out the scheme was only ever meant to be temporary, and that it is based solely on 
population and not levels of need.

Mr Heaton-Harris said the Scottish referendum had changed the way people both sides of the border think about democracy, and that his constituents were showing an active interest in the ramifications of the vote and the likelihood of the Scottish Parliament getting more powers.

He said: “If we give power to the local population they will be more likely to be interested in voting in the Westminster election.”

But questions remain over the shape devolution for England could take. In a referendum held in 2004, voters in the North East rejected Labour’s proposed devolved regional assembly.

Mr Heaton-Harris said bodies like regional assemblies are not on the table.

He said: “I think the units of government need to be smaller than that if you want to devolve power down.

“Instead more powers should be delegated to existing county authorities like Northamptonshire County Council.” He added that in the long term councils could have the power to set rates of VAT:

“I am really keen to hear what my constituents think on the issue.

“But constitutional change on this scale doesn’t happen overnight.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband has also faced turbulence in his own party over his perceived lack of clarity on English devolution.

A group of Labour MPs met in private earlier this week to discuss fears Mr Miliband is being manoeuvred into a position opposed to the ‘English votes for English laws’ policy of the other parties.

On Friday Mr Miliband unveiled his idea for a ‘Constitutional Convention’ outlining a timeline moving towards a resolution before the next general election.

The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is also calling for calling for the Government to set out timetable for devolution across England following the ‘no’ vote in Scotland. Cllr David Sparks, chairman of the Local Government Association, praised the move from Westminster to devolve more powers.

He said: “The devolution genie is out of the bottle.

“It is locally-elected councils – driving their local economies through devolved taxation and greater control over council tax and business rates – which can satisfy the desire of people in England to have greater say in the places they live and work.”

Cllr Sparks added:“The clock is ticking and we need to act now.

“That is why we have called for an urgent meeting of a Constitutional Convention to speed up the process of English devolution.

“We all have an historic opportunity between now and the next General Election to launch a new start for a refreshed and reinvigorated Union, with a healthier political culture made possible by bringing power closer to the people on whose behalf it is exercised.”