The Leader of the House of Commons, William Hague, will unveil government plans today to introduce a plan for “English votes for English laws” (EVEL), in light of promising more powers to Scotland.
The debate around EVEL, something proposed in the Conservative manifesto in 2010, has flared up since the Scottish independence referendum led to further devolution to Scotland, including full income tax-raising powers. Tory MPs argue that it is unfair for Scottish MPs to vote on English laws, while the Scottish Parliament has such a high level of autonomy.
Hague, whose plans are not supported by his Lib Dem coalition colleagues, is expected to outline three options for solving the West Lothian Question today. They are:
Barring Scottish MPs from any role in English and Welsh bills.
This is the one that will be most appealing to the party’s backbenchers, some of whom have been calling for an all-out separation of Scottish MPs from English matters in parliament. It is also the option most unacceptable to the Labour party, which is the party poised to lose by far the most power in the Commons if its Scottish politicians can’t vote through its laws. It could lead to the scenario where, as the governing party, Labour wouldn’t even manage to vote through its own Budget.
Allowing English MPs to have a greater say over the early readings of bills before allowing all MPs to vote on the final stages.
This to some extent avoids the difficult situation of having two tiers of MPs in the Commons.
Giving English MPs a veto over certain legislation.
Deciding which legislation this would cover could lead to further disagreements and wrangling.
Lib Dem proposal
The Lib Dems have their own plan, separate from those of their coalition partners. Their idea is to establish a “grand committee” of English MPs to scrutinise legislation. The committee would be made up according to proportional representation. Nick Clegg has commented that the Tories, by connecting the two issues of devolution of powers to Scotland and the matter of English powers, “risk reneging on the commitment made to the Scottish people”.
Labour backs the option proposed by the McKay Commission, which was set up by the government in 2012 to look into solving the West Lothian Question. This option is to create a committee of English MPs to scrutinise bills that would not apply elsewhere in the UK. This differs from the Lib Dems’ “grand committee” plan in that its make-up would be decided according to the number of English MPs in parliament.
The Labour party refused to take part in talks with Hague on EVEL, calling it a Tory “stitch-up” to rush through such a drastic constitutional change. The former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, told the BBC’s Today programme this morning that the Tories are, “trying to rush through a kind of English formula”, and that they shouldn’t plan such a “major constitutional change” without consulting the people about devolution to the English regions first, simply for the sake of an “election pledge”.