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English votes for English laws plan attacked in marathon Commons debate

Published 16/07/2015

All MPs will be able to vote on public spending laws
All MPs will be able to vote on public spending laws

Plans for English votes for English laws (Evel) should be thrown out and begun again, the Government has been told after a marathon Commons debate.

Commons Leader Chris Grayling was attacked by Opposition MPs for his plans to amend the rules of the House to ensure that English and Welsh MPs can give their consent to legislation which does not apply in Scotland.

The seven-hour debate, which ran for three hours longer than a normal sitting, saw support for the Government from its own side but unified opposition from Labour and the SNP.

Mr Grayling had already been forced to abandon plans to push through his changes before the summer recess, postponing a vote on whether to go ahead with the amended standing orders until at least September.

He brought minor amendments to MPs for last night's debate offering reassurances over the right of all MPs to vote on the Budget and finance matters.

He said: "These make it absolutely plain that members from across the entire House, all members, will approve departmental spending together which as I have set out, sets out the levels of funding for the devolved administrations reflecting Barnett consequentials.

"All MPs will vote on the legislation that confirms these decisions.

"So all aspects of public spending will continue to be voted on by the whole House."

But his plans were rejected wholesale by the opposition MPs, while some Tories continued to express unease.

MPs including senior Tory David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) and SNP former first minister Alex Salmond raised concerns about Mr Grayling's plans.

Mr Davis said there should be debates on the the part of individual Bills that do affect the block grant, known as money resolutions.

Mr Salmond said : "If the House decides to raise tuition fees in England then that doesn't affect public spending in that year but it's an automatic consequence of such a decision that direct public expenditure to universities is lowered and loan funding is probably raised as a result of having to compensate students.

"These things have an impact for Barnett consequentials.

"So unless you can reverse your previous advice and tell me a tuition fees Bill would not be included in these procedures, what you have just told the House is not correct."

Shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle said she was pleased that the Government "has at least seen a bit of sense in retreating from its original intention to make us vote today on these complex and controversial proposals".

Labour, she added, recognised that "in the light of the ongoing deepening of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland it is important that we evolve a mechanism for ensuring that the views of English MP are heard clearly on English matters".

She said: "However, believing in that simple aim does not mean that we can support the proposals which are being put before us today because as currently written they are deeply flawed."

Pete Wishart, the SNP's Commons business spokesman, said Mr Grayling's proposals were a "dog's breakfast", a "complete and utter shambles" and the product of a Commons Leader who "can't be bothered to do the work" of going out to the country and talking to voters about what they actually want.

The SNP's Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) later told Mr Stuart the proposed changes may offer his party a "huge lever to break the Union apart".

Former Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael said the Evel plans fill him with "genuine terror" because they are stoking up nationalist sentiment from both Scottish and English MPs.

Former Conservative Welsh secretary David Jones said the plans as they stand are a "blunt instrument" and need to be amended to take into account the position of border communities in Wales and elsewhere.

Mr Jones highlighted the fact that many Welsh communities are "structurally dependent" on England either for work or services like healthcare so the lines around what constitutes an England-only Bill could be blurred.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) said: "The way in which this debate and this discussion and this decision has been conducted only adds to the fires of nationalism."

Meanwhile, the SNP's Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) rejected Mr Grayling's assurances that Scottish MPs could vote on estimates and so would have a say over the block grant.

Ms Blackman pointed out that estimates cannot be amended and so insisted Scottish MPs have a say on individual Bills that affect the final departmental budgets.

Conservative Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) said the Government's proposals are the "mildest possible change" to the procedures of the Commons.

He said: "It's a tiny correction of the imbalance caused by the devolution brought in by the Labour Party all those years ago."

Mr Stuart added that it did not undermine or affect the interests of Scottish voters.

Former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve said: "The proposed Standing Orders are essentially very modest, they really are.

"I am very pleased that Mr Grayling listened about extending the period of debate and that the procedure committee will have an opportunity to look at them, but they are modest.

"They constitute about as small a shield to English susceptibilities as it is possible to devise. In my view, they will not in any significant way diminish the role of MPs as a collective group in this House."

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