The English votes for English Laws (Evel) proposal was tabled in Parliament yesterday to give English MP’s a collective veto over specific clauses which pertain only to England. This is the first time in 38 years Westminster has moved to begin resolving the democratic imbalance between England and Scotland known as the West Lothian question.
“Even the title of this motion sounds racist,” said Labour’s Sir Gerald Kaufman’s as the proposal was introduced. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon called the plan “staggering in the extent… of its hypocrisy and incoherence.” Labour argued it was an “outrage” that ministers were finally moving quickly to make what they called “profound constitutional change.”
The SNP’s Pete Wishart labelled it “constitutional bilge” and “unworkable garbage.” He threatened the plan would make Scottish independence “even more irresistible,” adding, “by God, this lot are doing their best that Scotland becomes an independent nation. I almost congratulate them.”
The SNP heckled Leader of the House Chris Grayling throughout, as he read out the long awaited proposal:
“It’s really important everyone feels our constitutional arrangements are fair, so this one nation government will end the anomaly that a majority of English MPs can be outvoted on matters which are devolved elsewhere,” he said. “At a time when we’re giving more power to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, it’s right the English should have a veto over things that only affect their constituents.”
The changes will be installed by amending the standing orders of the Commons, rather than introducing new legislation.
It is a complex solution to a complex problem. The Speaker of the House will be given the responsibility of determining if a Bill is subject to the English votes for English Laws process; if he decides it is, the Bill will be submitted to a new English-only committee stage. If the House of Lords table amendments, the bill will need the support of a majority of English MPs, and a majority of MPs overall, to become law.
Entire policy areas, such as education, have long been devolved to Scotland. The fact that English and Welsh MP’s have no say on Scottish laws, but Scottish MPs have a say on exclusively English matters, is known as the West Lothian question.
The results of the general election intensified this power imbalance, which has grown over 16 years of devolution, introduced by successive government – most recently “Devo-Max” to appease Scottish separatists. Almost 1.5 million SNP voters are now represented by 65 MPs, compared to four million UKIP voters represented by just one.
Shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle said the plans would create two classes of MPs and accused the Conservatives of a “cynical” attempt to “manufacture itself a very much larger” majority in the Commons. However others argue there already exists two classes of MP; those restricted to English matters, and Scottish MPs with influence over the entire UK. Therefore, it is said, the new proposal in fact seeks to make all MPs more equal.
Another criticism of English votes for English laws is that it could effectively exclude Scottish MP from many important debates in the Chamber. Yet the new opportunity for veto will come after a bill’s committee and report stages, so Scottish MPs who have points of value to add to the discussion, feel strongly about the topic matter, or believe it indirectly effects their constituents will still be involved until the final stages.