An Introduction to EVEL
English votes for English laws (EVEL) was controversially passed in the House of Commons on the 22nd October, with a 312 to 270 majority. The act gives English MP’s the power to have a veto on ‘English only’ matters, meaning that they reserve the right to vote on issues which are deemed to only affect England and Wales. This is a very radical addition to the UK constitution and a direct attempt to tackle the ‘West Lothian Question,’ which questioned why Scottish MP’s could vote in English only affairs, when English MP’s cannot vote on issues devolved to Scotland. However the process itself is not only extremely complex but it has resulted in an imbalance of power within Westminster. All democratically elected MP’s are supposed to be equal within Westminster however this new law has created boundaries between MP’s based on nationality.
How will it work?
When a bill is introduced in the Commons it will be the Speaker’s task to certify whether or not the new bill should be subject to the new process. The speaker will announce whether the legislation relates exclusively to England or England and Wales and also whether the legislation relates to matters which have been devolved elsewhere. If deemed a truly ‘English only matter’ the bill will then go through the normal parliamentary process with the addition of an extra committee stage and the creation of a legislative Grand Committee. It is at this stage where English MP’s or English and Welsh MP’s only will be able to debate the issues and either consent or veto these clauses – regardless of what effects it could have on Scotland. After this, at each stage of the process although all members of parliament can participate in the proceedings, the final vote lies with English or English and Welsh MP’s.
What is especially striking, is the power that has been given to the Lords within this process. Although the legislative process remains unchanged, if any amendments are put forward by the House of Lords, two votes need to take place and both have to be in favour of the bill. One of these votes would consist of only English or English and Welsh MP’s while the other would be inclusive of all MP’s. This essentially means that the unelected chamber of Lords has more power to change certain acts of legislation, than democratically elected Scottish MP’s. This is not only unacceptable but completely undemocratic.
What can be defined as an English only matter?
One of the difficulties associated with EVEL lies in the fact that it is extremely hard to define what a truly ‘English only’ matter is.
Scotland’s budget is calculated through the Barnett formula and is wholly dependant on Westminster spending decisions. For example, legislation affecting public spending in relation to England only, could have an effect on Scotland’s budget through the Barnett formula. Therefore, if through EVEL, spending on education or healthcare in England was cut, this would have a direct effect on Scotland, as our budget in these areas would also have to reduce. It is therefore hard to say what specific matters debated by only English MP’s, wouldn’t have financial implications for Scotland.
The matters that English MP’s should solely vote on under EVEL are classed as ‘legislation (that) relates exclusively to England…and concerns matters which are devolved.’ It is believed that because certain powers are devolved to the Scottish Government and cannot be voted on by English MP’s in Westminster, there should be a similar system for these issues in England. However, Westminster is the democratically elected parliament of the U.K as a whole, not specific countries or regions and it is certainly not a devolved English government. It’s purpose is to represent all areas of the U.K and all MP’s should have equal status within this institution. If English MP’s really did wish to vote solely on these matters, perhaps they should have explored the idea of devolution within England: a separate English Parliament. This further devolution would allow English matters to be debated in an appropriate setting and could lead to what many feel would be a more viable way of government within the U.K, a federal system of governance – a decentralisation of power and more responsibilities handed over to local authorities.
What effect will EVEL have?
Out of the 5000 votes since 1997, one study shows that just 21 would have had a different outcome, should Scottish MP’s been excluded from voting and even that is an estimate as other MP’s may have voted differently under different circumstances.
The first bill associated with EVEL which is seen to apply exclusively to England and Wales was the Housing Bill, which was debated on the 2nd November 2015, just 11 days after parliament voted in favour of EVEL. The Housing Bill looks to extend the right to buy and give councils more power to deal with landlords. However already there are questions whether this is a truly English matter as SNP MP’s have drawn attention to the potential cross-border implications in housing associations. To make matters worse, the Speaker refused to comment on his decision leaving our MP’s feeling rather bewildered. The Housing Bill is still in its early stages however will be taken to Committee level in the next few weeks which is.where we will start to see EVEL at work.
Considering how long it has taken to have other legislation and bills pushed through, it is striking how fast Tory MP’s fought to put EVEL into practice. The reluctance by Tory MP’s for Scotland to vote on English only matters is also striking considering their interest and input in the Scotland Bill. The introduction of EVEL prompts the question of whether or not a Scottish, Irish or Welsh MP could ever be Prime Minister again as their authority would be questioned if they had to sit out of certain votes. EVEL is certainly not going to do any favours for the crisis of the union and Scottish MP’s ‘second class status’ in Westminster is only building frustrations and sending the wrong message to people in Scotland. This attempt at devolution is completely unrealistic and shows just how out of touch Westminster really is.
For more information please see the following links and resources:
SNP – English Votes for English Laws: What does it mean and how will it work? http://www.snp.org/
English Votes for English Laws: An explanatory guide to proposals – http://www.gov.uk