‘English Votes for English Laws’ slammed by MPs

One peer described the plans as 'a forest in which I lose myself'


A cross-party group of MPs has raised serious doubts about the durability of the government’s ‘English Votes for English Laws’ (EVEL) policy.

In October MPs voted in favour of the plans by 312 votes to 270 as part of the Conservative Party’s commitment to tackling the so-called West Lothian Question, whereby Scottish MPs are able to vote on policy areas that might not affect them.

Under the system, which was first applied to the Housing and Planning Bill in January, a new stage was introduced to the legislative process which gives MPs from England, or England and Wales (depending on the territorial extent of a Bill or part of it) the opportunity to vote on those Bills or parts of them that the Speaker certifies as being only applicable to certain nations making up the UK.

The cross-MOparty Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has today published a report casting serious doubts over how durable the EVEL policy is.

Whilst noting public support for action to tackle the problem, the Committee nevertheless describes as ‘particularly worrying’ the evidence provided to it by the former clerk of the House of Commons Lord Lisvane, who described the Standing Orders, prepared by the government and voted on in October, as a ‘forest in which I lose myself’.

The committee calls for the Standing Orders to be subjected to further evaluation and scrutiny, ‘if they are to be anything more than a short-term experiment in the House’s internal procedures’.

It describes as ‘regrettable’ that the Orders were drafted by the government, rather than clerks in the House of Commons, and warns that this should never happen again.

Pointing to the near-universal opposition to the proposals from all parties, other than the Conservatives, the Committee notes that the lack of cross-party support underlines the ‘vulnerability’ of the EVEL changes, and that they ‘face a high risk of being overridden as soon as there is a non-Conservative majority in the House of Commons’.

The Committee goes on to argue that EVEL needs to be matched with changes to the way the block grant from Westminster is provided to the devolved bodies under the Barnett Formula. For example, how funding changes to schools and hospitals in England impact on the grants provided to the devolved governments.

The Committee notes that ‘it is difficult to reconcile the implementation of EVEL and the continued retention of the Barnett Formula’.

Attacking the failure to secure cross party support for the changes, the Committee chairman and Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin MP  said of the government’s policy:

“The proposed solutions to the problem of English Votes for English Laws have little cross party support. The new Standing Orders should have been drafted by the highly-experienced clerks of The House of Commons rather than by government officials.

The government should use the twelve month review period we are in now to develop some more comprehensible proposals that all parties can get behind.”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

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