UK Politics

MPs debate revised 'English votes for English laws' plan

English, Scottish and Union flags Image copyright PA
Image caption At the moment, Scottish MPs vote on all legislation in the House of Commons

The House of Commons has debated revised government proposals to give England's MPs a veto over English laws.

Ministers had to amend their plans after criticism from opposition MPs, including over the time for scrutiny.

A final set of proposals will now be drafted, with a delayed vote to be held in September.

During the seven-hour debate, Conservative MPs backed the government's approach but there was opposition from Labour and the SNP.

The government wants to change Commons rules known as standing orders to give MPs from English constituencies a "decisive say" on bills that apply exclusively to England.

It has proposed an additional "parliamentary stage" to allow English MPs to scrutinise legislation without the involvement of Scottish MPs, saying it is a matter of fairness.

England's MPs would be asked to accept or veto legislation only affecting England before it passed to a vote of all UK MPs at its third and final reading in the Commons.

Image copyright Various

West Lothian Question

  • Many powers - like education - have been devolved from Westminster, and are the responsibility of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments
  • In 1977 Labour MP Tam Dalyell - the MP for West Lothian - highlighted what he saw as a dilemma caused by devolution: that Scottish MPs would carry on voting on English issues but MPs wouldn't have a say on matters in Scotland
  • He said it was absurd that he was able to vote on matters affecting the English town of Blackburn, Lancashire, not Blackburn, West Lothian, which was in his own constituency
  • Debate over the anomaly has intensified with the new powers being handed to Scotland following its independence referendum.

This means England's MPs could block any unwanted policies from being introduced in England - but could not force proposals through unless the whole House agreed.

A similar process would be used where matters covered only England and Wales - with Welsh MPs included.

The proposals will, ministers say, 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 England, but the House of Commons has no say on similar matters relating to Scotland, where such policies are devolved.

'Appetite for change'

During the Commons debate, Commons Leader Chris Grayling told MPs all laws that affected government spending throughout Britain would be voted on by all MPs.

He said the government's plans had been republished to make this "crystal clear".

Defending his plans, he added: "We intend to provide more powers to Scotland, more powers to Wales, we intend to devolve to Northern Ireland the powers in areas like corporation tax, but ultimately we need to be fair to the English and that is what this is about."

Former SNP leader Alex Salmond did not accept that Scottish MPs would not be locked out of decisions affecting their grants.

He gave the example of a Commons vote on tuition fees in England, which he said could have an impact on the amount of funding Scotland receives.

Shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle said she was pleased that the government "has at least seen a bit of sense in retreating from its original intention to make us vote today on these complex and controversial proposals".

Hunting row

A vote on the government's proposal had been due to take place this week. But ministers were forced to rethink their plans after they came under sustained attack from SNP and Labour MPs unhappy at the government's handling of the matter.

A redraft of the proposals was published on Tuesday. The changes in them proved minor and sought only to clarify the position concerning Budget measures.

The debate came after a row over plans to change fox hunting laws in England and Wales, with a vote being axed after the SNP said it would oppose the move.

The SNP had previously said it would not vote on issues affecting England and Wales only.

But it said its change of heart was partly due to the government trying to make Scottish MPs "second-class citizens" in the Commons through its "English votes for English laws" plans.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the SNP's position was "entirely opportunistic".

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