MPs approve controversial English Votes for English Laws reform
In heated debate, SNP warns that measure could hasten the end of the union
Nigel Dodds of the DUP: “We should stop twisting the United Kingdom parliament into what it is not: a subordinate, occasional, intermittent, part-time, part-staffed, devolved assembly”. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA
The House of Commons has approved a controversial constitutional reform that will exclude MPs from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales from voting on measures that only affect England.
In a heated debate on the measure, known as English Votes for English Laws (EVEL), the Scottish National Party warned that it would hasten the end of the union and the Democratic Unionist Party’s Nigel Dodds said it was the wrong answer to a perceived democratic deficit in England.
“If England wants or needs a parliament, then it should have one. We should stop twisting the United Kingdom parliament into what it is not: a subordinate, occasional, intermittent, part-time, part-staffed, devolved assembly. There is no suggestion that on matters where parliament legislates solely for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland that only Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish members will, respectively, have the territorial veto now to be accorded to English members. Where’s the justice in that?” Mr Dodds said.
The Conservative government presented English Votes for English Laws, which won the backing of MPs by 312 to 270 votes, as an answer to the so-called West Lothian question, the anomaly that allows Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs to vote on issues that only affect England, while English MPs cannot vote on similar issues that are decided by the devolved parliaments. David Cameron promised to introduce the changes after last year’s Scottish independence referendum, along with expanded powers for the Scottish Parliament.
Grand committeeUnder the measure, the speaker of the House of Commons will determine if a Bill should be treated as exclusively English or exclusively English and Welsh. If it is designated as such, it will pass through an additional committee stage, called a grand committee, at which only English MPs (or English and Welsh MPs if Wales is also affected by the proposed legislation) will scrutinise it. The grand committee would be able to veto Bills before all MPs from across the UK can vote on them. If the grand committee does not veto legislation, all MPs will be allowed to vote on it at final stages.
Defending the proposal, the leader of the House of Commons, Chris Grayling, said it would help to address a legitimate grievance felt by English voters.
“To all of those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who share my concern for the future of the union, I say this: it cannot be in the interests of any of us to see the English people becoming cynical about the union and even perhaps wishing for its end. That is why I think these proposals will help to secure what most reasonable people would think was a fair settlement across the United Kingdom,” he said.
Shadow leader Chris Bryant said Labour supported England having a clear and distinctive voice in parliament but said the government’s proposal undermined the union and the principle of equality among MPs and that the new measures were far too complex.
“They will be incomprehensible to most members of this House let alone the wider public. In years to come, people will be running competitions to see whether anyone can explain these measures in fewer than 1,000 words. I bet that nobody will ever win that prize,” he said.
Complaining that Scottish MPs would now be second-class members, the Scottish National Party’s Peter Wishart said the move would anger Scottish voters and backfire on the government.
“Scotland is watching this debate and the mood is darkening. If this is an exercise in saving the union, the government could not have contrived a more inept way to do so. Support for independence is increasing,” he said.