The ex-Welsh Secretaries' Club debates English votes

William Hague, David Jones and John Redwood
Image caption William Hague, David Jones and John Redwood have all served as Tory Welsh Secretaries

It was a tale of former secretaries of state for Wales.

William Hague (1995-97) delivered the statement setting out how the coalition government would answer the English or West Lothian Question.

His predecessor John Redwood (1993-95) told him: "England expects English votes for English issues. We expect simplicity and justice now: no ifs, no buts, no committee limitations, no tricks. Give us what we want. We have waited 15 years for this. Will he now join me in speaking for England?"

Mr Hague told him: "Yes, for the whole of the United Kingdom."

David Jones (2012-14) asked: "Do you, as a former secretary of state for Wales yourself, acknowledge that a great many people in Wales rely heavily on services that are delivered in England, and that it would be wholly wrong for the representatives of those people to be denied a voice on issues that so clearly concern them?"

Mr Hague replied: "In respect of a small number of cross-border issues involving a strong structural dependence - health care in Wales is one such instance - there is a strong case for a wide definition of what constitutes an English matter, so that others can be involved."

A hint there, perhaps, of borders being redrawn, or at least a recognition of the question Mark Easton asks: What is an English law?

When a government sets out proposals for tackling an issue, you might be forgiven for thinking a solution might be a step nearer. Tonight, few would bet on an imminent answer; my colleague Vicki Young suggested the long grass had just grown an inch.

Labour boycotted the process; the coalition cannot agree between the parties on the way ahead and the Conservatives themselves have three options of varying palatability to their own backbenchers.

If there is a consensus to be found, it may be around Labour's acceptance last week of the idea of allowing English MPs to scrutinise and amend legislation that affects England alone. That option, though, does not go far enough for many Conservatives.

The imminence of an uncertain election makes agreement harder to reach. The SNP may have to relax its self-denying ordinance on English issues if it wants to get concessions out of a minority Labour government. Plaid Cymru say "English votes for English laws" is reasonable if accompanied by a more symmetrical devolution settlement and Welsh MPs can still vote on issues that affect the Welsh budget.

Mr Hague hopes to put the coalition's preferred option (once it has one) to a vote by MPs in the New Year. What could possibly go wrong?