English Votes on English Laws is undesirable but possible

I’ve just thought of a way to overcome one of the problems that is often brought forward as a reason why it would be hard or inadvisable to introduce English Votes on English Laws (EVoEL) in the Westminster parliament: the fact that clauses in many bills relate to different combinations of the UK’s constituent countries, e.g. England and Wales; England, Wales and Northern Ireland; or Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). Therefore, it’s practically difficult to say that a particular bill relates to England only and to limit voting on that bill to MPs from English constituencies.

My solution to this problem with the West Lothian solution is to say that for country-specific clauses such as these, you simply count only the votes of the MPs from the countries affected. So you don’t have to break up the chamber of the House of Commons and form a separate English Grand Committee, or a separate England-only block at the committee stage of a bill (Ken Clarke’s proposal that appears to be the Conservatives’ current policy). Scottish MPs could still be present at and participate in debates on matters not affecting Scotland, to preserve at least the idea that the Westminster parliament is that of the whole UK and to allow Scottish MPs to input into spending decisions that will in fact indirectly affect their constituents via the Barnett Formula. But if any Scottish MP voted on clauses or whole bills not affecting Scotland, those votes would simply be regarded as inadmissible and not counted.

So this is more of a negative version of EVoEL: counting out the votes of MPs representing seats not affected by parliamentary bills, rather than counting in only the votes and participation of English MPs on English bills or clauses. The drafters of bills and the House of Commons business managers know which clauses relate to which countries. So bills can be walked through and voted on clause by clause, just as now; only without counting the votes of MPs representing seats not affected by those bills.

Not great; but do-able.

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2 Responses

  1. The problem with EVEL ,English pauses for English clauses and what you have suggested, is that there will be arguments from non English mp’s about being excluded.Legislation for England will be delayed whilst an argument rages between mp’s
    as to why they should or should nothave an equal vote on an issue.English mp’s will always give in to save the union.

    • Agree, Tally; it’s a messy compromise and no real alternative to an English parliament. However, I think it could work better than English pauses for English clauses. Each part of a bill would have to contain a clear indication of its ‘geographical extent’, i.e. which countries it related to, which should be a cut and dried question, unless the MPs wanted to reinvent the devolution rule book. If there were still arguments, then that should be decided, before the bill comes up for consideration, via an independent constitutional tribunal, which would basically decide whether it was a devolved matter or not for the dissenting MPs’ countries. Unlikely that it would ever get that far. Then you could have a system of voting (e.g. through electronic keypads in which MPs had to code their ID), so that for each section of a bill, only the votes of qualifying MPs would be counted.

      In order for this to work, legislation would of course first have to be passed to exclude MPs from voting on bills or sections of bills not affecting their constituents. And that’s when the English MPs would be likely to cave in, as you say.

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