Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, October 26, 2015

The dilemma of England-only voting

With devolution and the possibility of Scottish independence comes the demand from some for special privilege for issues affecting only England. How do you make that work?

MPs debating 'English votes' plans
A row has erupted over plans to bring in "English votes for English laws", as MPs debate the proposals.

MPs from English seats will get an effective veto on bills that apply to England only under the plans…

But Labour and the SNP oppose the plans. The SNP said they "simply exacerbate the further alienation of Scotland from the UK Parliament".

Labour said they risked creating "two tiers" of MPs at Westminster…

Ministers say their solution will address the long-standing anomaly - known as the West Lothian Question - by which Scottish MPs can vote on issues such as health and education affecting only England - or England and Wales - but the House of Commons has no say on similar matters relating to Scotland, where such policies are devolved.

Under the reforms, an additional parliamentary stage, called a grand committee, would allow English, or English and Welsh, MPs to scrutinise bills without the involvement of Scottish MPs…

English votes: A beginner's guide
The government is attempting to change the way MPs make laws to reflect the fact that the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood is getting more power…

Why does it matter?

At the same time, he promised English MPs they would get more power too - they would be able to legislate in areas such as health and education without any input from MPs representing Scottish seats. He called it "English Votes for English Laws", which got shortened to EVEL…

Why not just set up an English Parliament?

This is what the SNP - who are firmly opposed to EVEL - claim the government is trying to do, in all but name. They claim the current plans will just make their MPs at Westminster "second class" citizens.

Some argue that an English Parliament would strengthen the SNP's case for an independent Scotland, further weakening the ties that bind the UK together…

So how will it work exactly?

All laws passed at Westminster will, in theory, continue to have the backing of the majority of MPs, just as they do now.

But an extra stage will be introduced in the middle of the law-making process, allowing English MPs to block anything they don't like the look of in bills deemed to be "England only"…

How many England-only laws are there?

Quite a lot…

The picture becomes even more murky when you consider laws that are, on the face of it, England, or England and Wales, only but have knock-on effects in Scotland and the other devolved nations.

There are also funding implications for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland when a spending commitment is made for England only, for example on the NHS. Under the current Barnett formula grant system, the devolved administrations' funding is adjusted to take into account changes to public spending in England.

This is often controversial, for example when spending on the London Olympics was deemed to be UK-wide, rather than England-only - triggering a row between Westminster and the devolved administrations…

What is Labour saying about all this?

Labour has previously called for a "constitutional convention" to consider the issue, and has accused the Conservatives of "rushing" a decision that will enact "profound constitutional change"…

Under its previous leadership, the opposition called for devolution within England to regions and for the House of Lords to be replaced with a "Senate of the Nations and the Regions".

UPDATE, 25 October

Government accused of risking 'disunited kingdom' as Commons approves English votes for English laws

The Government was accused of risking the creation of a “disunited kingdom” after the Commons approved an historic change to give English MPs a veto over laws which affect only England...

The landmark reform has been agreed in the Commons by 312 votes to 270, a government majority of 42. Moves by Labour to derail them were rejected...

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