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English MPs set to get Evel veto

Published 02/07/2015

MPs will have a full debate and a vote on the plans on July 15, Chris Grayling said
MPs will have a full debate and a vote on the plans on July 15, Chris Grayling said

English MPs will have a veto over laws only affecting England in Government proposals that will "answer the West Lothian question", Commons Leader Chris Grayling has said.

A new stage will be introduced for laws passing through Parliament when English, or English and Welsh, MPs will be asked to accept or veto legislation only affecting their constituents before it passes to third reading, its final Commons stage.

There will be a separate committee stage for English, or English and Welsh, MPs for Bills not affecting Scotland and Northern Ireland, meaning legislation can be amended without the consent of all MPs in the Commons, although there will be further opportunities to overturn any changes.

The Government will attempt to enact the "English votes for English laws" (Evel) proposals through changing standing orders - rules which govern parliamentary procedure.

MPs will have a full debate and a vote on the plans on July 15, Mr Grayling said.

In a Commons statement, Mr Grayling said: "Today we are answering the West Lothian question.

"And we are recognising the voice of England in our great union of nations.

"This change is only a part of the wider devolution package that is a vital next step in ensuring that our constitutional settlement is fair and fit for the future."

Mr Grayling stressed that no law affecting England alone would be passed without the consent of English MPs.

He added that a "decisive vote" on tax measures would be given to MPs whose constituents are affected by those changes, once devolution of income tax and other powers to Scotland has taken place.

The Commons leader said: "They will give English MPs and in some cases English and Welsh MPs a power of veto to prevent any measure being imposed on their constituents against their wishes.

"No law affecting England alone will be able to be passed without the consent of English MPs.

"They will give English MPs a power of veto over secondary legislation and on a range of English public spending motions as well on matters that affect England only.

"And they will give the decisive vote over tax measures to MPs whose constituents are affected by those changes, once further planned devolution to Scotland takes place."

Mr Grayling said there will be no changes to procedures in the House of Lords, although Lords amendments will need to be accepted by a double majority of both UK and English MPs in the Commons to be put into effect.

To count the two separate majorities needed for a Lords amendment to be added to a Bill, a computerised voting system will be introduced for the first time in the Commons with votes recorded on tablet devices.

Mr Grayling said: "All members of Parliament will vote on them but where they affect England and Wales only they will need a support of a double majority in the House of Commons with both English and UK MPs needing to support an England-only amendment for it to pass.

"This new double majority system will use a new system for recording votes in the division lobbies.

"In future votes will be recorded on tablet computers so it would be possible to give the tellers an immediate tally on whether a measure has a majority of English MPs as well."

The Commons Speaker will decide whether a Bill should be treated as English-only, or English and Welsh-only, in a process similar to deciding whether only MPs and not peers should vote on financial matters.

All MPs will vote at second reading, in most committees stages, at report and third reading and when considering Lords amendments.

Mr Grayling said this remains "as close as possible to existing parliamentary procedures".

But he added: "The key difference is that our plans provide for an English veto at different stages in the process."

For Labour, shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle said the Government was cynically seeking to "manufacture" a larger majority by using "procedural trickery".

She said the Opposition recognised deepening devolution in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland requires the views of English MPs to be "expressed clearly" on English matters.

But Ms Eagle said proper consultation is required and an attempt to secure cross-party agreement.

She told Mr Grayling his approach was "no way to make profound constitutional changes", adding: "It's an outrage that this Government think that it is."

She reiterated Labour's demand for a "constitutional convention".

Ms Eagle went on: "An initial impression appears to point to plenty of opportunities for procedural chaos."

The Labour frontbencher questioned how the plan would avoid creating two classes of MPs and why it went further than the McKay Commission's recommendations.

Ms Eagle told Mr Grayling: "These proposals risk the Union rather than saving it.

"As a self-proclaimed unionist, why are you in such a rush to enact this partisan proposal that you've not even bothered to consult on, not least with the Procedure Committee.

"You are playing with fire. Why are you being so reckless ?

"It's hard not to conclude that what we see here is not an attempt to address the West Lothian question, but a cynical attempt by the Government with an overall majority of just 12 to use procedural trickery to manufacture itself a very much larger one."

Mr Grayling dismissed the suggestions that the plan was being rushed and noted the West Lothian question has existed for decades, Labour failed to address the issue during its 13 years in power, the Tories had examined it when in opposition and made a pledge in their 2015 general election manifesto.

He added the Tories wanted to move on with "righting this wrong" without Labour, as the Opposition previously turned down cross-party talks.

Mr Grayling said an assessment of how the measures are working would take place 12 months after they are implemented.

The Tory frontbencher said the West Lothian question had created two classes of MP, adding: "We are trying to restore fairness to the system."

Charles Walker, Conservative chairman of the Procedure Committee, said he suspected the issue would need to be revisited by his committee within the next 12 to 18 months following an initial assessment.

Pete Wishart, the SNP's Commons leader, said the Conservatives are doing their best to ensure Scotland becomes independent.

He said: "I almost congratulate them for the almost ham-fisted approach that they're having to Scottish issues because all this is going to do is make the whole movement toward independence even more irresistible.

"So for that, I almost thank the leader of the House."

Earlier, Mr Wishart said of the proposal: "What a load of constitutional bilge, unworkable garbage."

He said the plan would create two classes of MP and hamper the ability of Scottish parliamentarians to look after their constituents.

Mr Wishart went on: "This is the most dramatic and important constitutional statement we've had since the days of Gladstone.

"Never before has there been an assault on the rights of Members of Parliament in this House to look after the interests of their constituents."

He suggested there should be individual parliaments for the home nations, with a UK parliament discussing foreign affairs, defence and international obligations.

Mr Wishart said: "Instead we get this cobbled together, unworkable mess that will indeed be challenged, all the way, right down the line and will probably end up in the courts when it comes to this."

Mr Grayling told Mr Wishart: "It's not about wrecking the Union, it's about ensuring that there's fairness across the Union."

He reiterated that the Scottish parliament would be strengthened by the Government's devolution plans north of the border.

Conservative James Gray recalled he was sacked as shadow Scottish secretary after five days in 2005 for raising some of the issues the Government was trying to address.

The North Wiltshire MP welcomed the plan as a "major, major step in the right direction", adding: "It doesn't go quite as far as I, at that time, proposed. I'd much rather some form of federal solution to these difficulties."

He questioned if the door remains open for "more radical solutions" should the measures not work.

Mr Grayling replied: "I intentionally left open the door to members on all sides of the House in 12 months time, as we see how these proposals bed in and see how they work their way through, to review this whole package and say what's working and what's not."

Labour former minister Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) described the proposals as a "knife in the heart of the Union".

Liberal Democrat former Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael said: "If there are not to be two tiers of MPs in this House after these changes then what on earth does it mean to have a double majority at report stage?

"I have to say I think it's an outrage the Government is seeking to drive ahead with what is a fundamental challenge to the constitutional integrity of this House as the Parliament of the United Kingdom through standing orders."

He urged Mr Grayling to bring forward primary legislation in order to allow proper scrutiny.

The Commons Leader suggested Mr Carmichael should bring forward his idea in 12 months time when the measures are reviewed.

He later told MPs there will be a "relatively small number of England-only committees" as most bills are broader, adding: "In the last session there were only four."

Conservative Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) said there was a sense of unfairness in England, adding: "In welcoming this statement can I just add the caveat I am concerned that we are stumbling towards a major realignment of our constitution without actually knowing what the final destination is."

Nigel Dodds, the Democratic Unionist's Westminster leader, said: "We will vote - our eight votes - and make up our minds on these kinds of issues on the determination of what strengthens the United Kingdom not weakens the United Kingdom."

He said he had great sympathy with English MPs but there is a need to avoid "unintended consequences", as he supported a constitutional convention.

Conservative Tom Pursglove (Corby) said it was "simply unpalatable" to devolve more power to Scotland without addressing the West Lothian Question.

But Labour's Diana Johnson (Kingston Upon Hull North) condemned the plans as "one of the most ill-thought-through statements I have ever heard from the despatch box".

She said: "Given the population of Yorkshire is greater than Scotland, if the so-called concern you have for English votes, particularly obviously English votes in the south, will you be giving Yorkshire MPs a veto on those matters which directly affect Yorkshire, such as the decision to pause the Transpennine Express electrification last week?"

Mr Grayling replied: "In Yorkshire there is no assembly that legislates - the difference in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, we as a Parliament are passing additional responsibilities that would previously have been dealt with here to those three assemblies.

"This is simply a compensatory mechanism for the rest of the country for that."

SNP MP Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) said the proposals represented "Tory votes for Tory laws".

Aberdeen North MP Kirsty Blackman said: "I am concerned these plans mean Scots MPs will be ceding power over things that have a financial impact on my constituents."

While Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) said: "I think the House should reflect when you gave your statement at 11.30 this morning, you were probably signalling the end of the union that you want to preserve - the people of my constituency and of Scotland will reflect that what you're doing through this proposal is creating two classes of MPs in the House of Commons.

"That's a disgrace. If you want an English Parliament, why don't you bring forward proposals for it?"

Mr Grayling said: "I just think that's nonsense."

In Lords exchanges on the statement, f ormer cabinet secretary Lord Butler of Brockwell backed moves to tackle the issue but said the Government's proposals were "provocative and possibly unconstitutional".

The independent crossbench peer and former head of the civil service said the proposals gave English and Welsh MPs a "veto" over laws affecting just England and Wales.

He suggested an alternative system where the whole House would get a vote on third reading - the final stage of Bills - in the Commons.

"Wouldn't that be an equally effective but also simpler and less divisive way of dealing with this question than the proposal for an English and Welsh veto, which seems to me to be both provocative and possibly unconstitutional," he said.

Lords leader Baroness Stowell of Beeston said she did not accept the description that there was a veto.

Labour former Home Secretary and Scottish MP Lord Reid of Cardowan said he agreed the issue should be addressed, but hit out at the specific proposals.

"This isn't an answer, this is a guess - and it's not even an educated guess," he said.

Lady Stowell said the issue had to be addressed and there had been an "extraordinary amount of debate and consideration" on the issue.

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