The new law passed by the UK's parliament has given English lawmakers a veto over legislation that only applies to England. It is the nation's biggest constitutional change in decades.
Lawmakers in the House of Commons voted 312 to 270 on Thursday in favor of the new law 'English votes for English laws' (Evel) which will allow English Members of Parliament (MPs) to control laws deemed just to affect England.
Under the new law, legislation affecting only England will be approved by a committee of lawmakers based in English constituencies before being voted on by all members. It effectively hands the committee the power of veto.
Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling of the ruling Conservative Party said: "It cannot be in any of our interests to see English people becoming cynical about the union and perhaps even wishing for its end."
The Conservative government promised ahead of elections in May that it would introduce legislation to address the fact that lawmakers in Scotland can vote on legislation that only affects England. Scotland's pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) won 56 of 59 Scottish seats in the 650-seat parliament.
The SNP said the plans were a "dog's breakfast" that would cause divisions between English and Scottish MPs. "They will make Scottish MPs second class in the unitary UK parliament, they will politicise the office of Speaker in forcing him to take the decision to exclude Scottish MPs from bills and they create an unnecessary new level of parliamentary procedure in a very tight parliamentary timetable," the SNP's shadow leader of the Commons, Peter Wishart, said on national radio on Thursday.
During the debate he described the Government's plans as "stupid" and claimed they would fuel demand for Scottish independence.
The SNP claim some legislation which only appears to relate to England - such as the expansion of London's Heathrow Airport - could have a major effect on Scotland.
It is unclear under the legislation what would happen if a new government was to be formed by a party with a majority in the United Kingdom, but not in England. This could happen should the Labour Party make an alliance with the SNP - while the Conservative Party held a majority of English MPs.
The plans are due to be reviewed after a year to assess how they are working.
jm/bw (Reuters, AP)