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 senior writer at the New Statesman.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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