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.