William Hague will lay out his EVEL plans today. Photo: Getty
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What is English votes for English laws?

English MPs would be given a veto over laws that apply only in England, under plans William Hague is putting forward.

The Conservatives are proposing a plan for English votes for English laws (EVEL) today. They have come up with a response to the so-called English question following the promise of further devolution to Scotland triggered by the independence referendum.

The Leader of the House of Commons, William Hague, will lay out his party's preferred solution to the problem today, having outlined a number of different options at the end of last year.

Under the Tories' proposal:

 - English MPs would be given a veto over legislation that applies only in England, including setting income tax rates (because income tax raising powers are being devolved fully to Holyrood under the Smith Commission's recommendations).

 - MPs from other parts of the UK, outside of England, would still be able to debate laws that apply solely in England, as a Commons majority would still be required for any bill to pass.

 - The committee stage of putting a bill together, when detailed line-by-line scrutiny takes place, would be restricted solely to those MPs who represent English constituencies.

 - English MPs would also be given a veto, in Hague's words, "to prevent the wishes of the English or English and Welsh being overridden by Scottish MPs".

Hague summed up his plan to the BBC's Today programme this morning by explaining, "the decisive say would be given to English MPs over measures that only affect England while maintaining the unity of parliament as a whole".

He admitted that, because of preserving the ability of the Commons to vote bills out, then legislation put together solely by MPs from England "could still be rejected by the House of Commons as a whole". He asserted that sticking to all MPs voting is vital to maintaining the "integrity" of parliament representing the United Kingdom as a whole.

The theoretical outcome of Hague's plan that English laws could be defeated by representatives from elsewhere in the UK will rile many English MPs, mainly Tory backbenchers, who believe English MPs should have an all-out say over English-only policy. They would prefer a purer plan closer to the slogan "English votes for English laws". Hague, however, insists his plan is the "best solution" and is true to the slogan.

Labour will also have its reservations with this plan. Ed Miliband has called for a cross-party constitutional convention to consider the problem after the general election, and to avoid falling into a Tory-induced "Westminster stitch-up" on the issue. Labour has a lot more to lose than the Tories, who only have one Scottish MP, from a weakening of the powers of MPs representing seats outside of England. Yet the party has in the past suggested a greater role for English MPs at the committee stage of a bill, similar to Hague's proposal this week.

The Lib Dems, in contrast, are calling for a "grand committee" of English MPs, which has the right to veto legislation applying only to England, with its membership based on proportional representation.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.