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English Votes for English Laws gets the go-ahead

Saturday, October 24, 2015

 

The momentum for further devolution in England, pushed from the Conservative camp, has been building since September 2014. After the Scottish referendum and during the 2015 general election, David Cameron made it clear that further devolution, or greater powers and decision-making, as seen in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales would also apply to England.

This covers a wide spectrum such as powers held by local councils and elected mayors as part of the northern powerhouse agenda but the crux of the platform in parliament is know as English Votes for English Laws (EVEL).

In practice, why should Scottish (and sometimes Welsh and Northern Irish MPs) get a say over laws that only affect England when English MPs no longer have a say over an increasing levels of policy areas - like schools. The vast majority of MPs in the House of Commons represent English constituencies and therefore English voters. The changes announced are intended to make the system fairer and allow fairer representation for all parts of the United Kingdom. But these measures stop short of an English Parliament. 

How will it work?

An extra stage is going to be added in the middle of the traditional law-making process. When determined by the Speaker of the House of Commons (via two senior MPs for advice) as “England Only” it will go to a Legislative Grand Committee of English MPs who will be able to block or veto anything that they do not like. 

An important principle is to try and maintain that all laws passed at Westminster continue to have the backing of the majority of MPs, just as they do now. As such the whole House will vote on any legislation at the end of the process.


Getting EVEL through the Commons

On 22nd October 2015, parliament voted through the plans to introduce "English votes for English laws." The government won the backing of MPs by 312 to 270 votes. A series of amendments by Lib Dem and Labour MPs were also defeated. Objections to the new law were described as ‘nonsense’ by Leader of the Commons Chris Grayling.

Mr Grayling told MPs: "These proposed changes enable us to give an answer to the West Lothian question, they enable us to give an answer to our constituents, to say England will have its own piece of our devolution settlement."

He rejected as "nonsense" claims that it would create "two classes of MPs" adding that the measures were "fair, sensible and I'm entirely comfortable as a unionist presenting them to this House". He added: "It can't be in anyone's interest to see English people becoming cynical about the union... it isn't tenable to have devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and for England to have no powers at all."

Opposition

The SNP claim that these plans are in effect an English Parliament. During a fiery commons debate they claimed the plans would make their MPs at Westminster "second class" citizens and weaken the Union. 

There may also be an impact on funding depending on the bill and the ‘veto’. Under the current Barnett formula grant system, funding for other parts of the UK is adjusted to take into account changes to public spending in England.

There are claims that it will politicize the role of the Speaker but the government believes he will still be able to act impartially. 

Labour remains opposed to the proposals and believes that they have been rushed. They wish to see an “English Voice’ in parliament but not an “English Veto.’ They also believe that the new system is too complicated. Labour's Chris Bryant said Mr Grayling's plans were so complicated that they resembled a "bowl of soggy, overcooked spaghetti" and claimed they would speed up the break up of the United Kingdom.

 

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