Speech:English votes for English Laws

English Votes for English Laws would seem on the face of things to be a fair and equitable riposte to the devolution of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; a righteous answer to the questions raised by English MPs.

That, though, forgets what drove the devolution agenda in the first place and ignores the arithmetic of this place entirely.

Of 650 Members who squeeze in here to work, 533 represent constituencies in England – if my counting is correct.

That represents 82% of the available voting muscle here and if you can't win a majority with those odds in your favour there's something seriously wrong with your operation.

Devolution was driven by a similar overpowering majority and the democratic deficit that it caused – an echo of that, perhaps, still rang in the passage of the Scotland Bill earlier.

Indeed, that experience made me wonder how many divisions here would have had different results if this rule had been in place at that time.

I considered counting them to find out but good sense prevailed and I am prepared to guess that less than 1% of divisions would have been affected.

Devolution doesn't give Scotland any inherent advantage over England – not does it do that for Wales or Northern Ireland – it was purely and simply a means of allowing Scots to take decisions on domestic policy issues which suit Scotland rather than waiting for this place to get round to it.

Scotland needed her parliament and needs it still to make sure that Scotland's domestic issues are addressed.

With four fifths of the Members in here representing English constituencies, however, there really can't be an argument that England suffers a democratic deficit or that England's voice is seldom heard here.

I listened to the statement made last night in the other place – that is a piece of my life I will not get back – and it seemed clear that there remains confusion in the Government's mind over how these changes to standing orders will work.

I heard Lord Forsyth comment that the Government did not seem to be listening – and I am sure he is supposed to be on the Government's side – and that the only way to have English votes for English laws is to create an English Parliament.

Perhaps the Government might want to listen to its friend cautioning against continuing its course of action.

Some Lords were clearly of the opinion that they were entitled to a proper consultation on the issue as per the amendment which was tabled in the name of the Member for Nottingham North and that such consultation was being denied them.

In that they are in good company with the people of Scotland who have been denied such luxury as well – unless you count the Tory manifesto and the vote in May of this year as consultation in which case it was overwhelmingly rejected by Scotland.

This is quite clearly an unnecessary amendment to standing orders which does not have the acquiescence of the people nor carry the burden of necessity.

This is a piece of outlandish opportunism on the part of the Government and it does the Ministers do credit.

I have heard the claims that the opposition to EVEL by the SNP is an example of Nationalist whingeing and that I refute and would point to the inclusion of the veto on changes made by the other part of this Parliament when they affect England or England and Wales.

Personally, I would see the Lords vetoed on a permanent basis but I do not think that is likely to be the intent of the Government and I wonder whether it is the perhaps the intent of the Government to rid itself of troublesome priests or Lords?

Perish the very thought.

I wonder whether, though, EVEL sets a precedent – if English MPs should have a veto over laws which affect England should not Welsh MPs have a similar veto on behalf of Wales or Northern Irish Members where their interests are affected.

I see no reason, in fact, why MPs representing Scottish constituencies should not have a veto over laws affecting Scotland – including, of course, Finance Acts.

The Government has to decide whether it is in favour of the UK continuing or the making of this place into a federal parliament because the lop-sidedness of these proposals will soon tip the thing over.

The burden being placed upon the speaker is simply unsustainable – even with the able assistance of two backbenchers as proposed – and the inevitability of disagreements and disputes on whether a Bill is one which should be subject to this procedure.

We all, of course, have great confidence in the ability of Mr Speaker and his deputies and do not doubt that they would manage the task with aplomb but speakers change and there will come a time when someone else sits there.

We have no guarantee that Mr Speaker's successors will be as adroit and diplomatic; we may have a less talented chair one day.

It was put to me recently that SNP Members should not oppose this change but encourage it in order to foment unrest and discord and to show that this House cannot function effectively.

That, however, is not what we are about, we did not come here to wreck the place or to leave Parliament in tatters when we leave.

It is not in our interests nor in the interests of Scotland to have this place dysfunctional while it still holds sway over our laws and our politics.

The proposals are a nonsense and a messy nonsense and should be dropped in favour of a more considered approach and there is time for the Government to change tack and make a positive contribution rather than this dog's breakfast.

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Monday, 21 January 2019


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