The Future of the Union, part one: English Votes for English Laws Contents

1Introduction: EVEL and the Future of the Union

1.Our predecessor committee, PASC re-acquired its broader remit in the new Parliament, and has been renamed Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee (PACAC) to reflect this.1 During this Parliament, PACAC is undertaking a range of inquiries, which will address the broader consequences of devolution to the parliaments or assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the future of the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and decentralisation to London and other Local Government entities in England. This is urgent following the Scottish Independence Referendum of September 2014.2 PACAC launched a multi-phase inquiry entitled ‘The Future of the Union’ on 21 July 2015.3 This is the first of the series of Reports we will publish in the course of that inquiry.4

2.In 1979, the then Labour Government brought forward a set of proposals for devolution to Scotland and Wales. These proposals were subsequently defeated in referendums and the issue of devolution was put to one side at Westminster.5 Following the 1997 General Election, the new Labour Government once again brought forward a set of proposals for devolution to Scotland and Wales. This time, the Government’s proposals also included plans for a measure of devolution to Northern Ireland, and for the creation of a London Mayor and Assembly.6 All were approved through referendums in 1997/98. The Government also later published plans for regional government in England and the creation of regional Assemblies in England. A referendum was held in the North East in 2004, but the proposals were rejected by a margin of 78% to 22%.7

3.Since then, the devolution settlements in Scotland and Wales have evolved: the Scotland Act 2012 granted further tax raising powers to the Scottish Parliament, while the Government of Wales Act 2006 and Wales Act 2014 devolved primary law making, and some tax raising, powers to the National Assembly for Wales (NAW).8 However, until 2015, there have been no Government proposals to address the ‘English’ question and the anomaly created by national devolution to Scotland and Wales—that MPs representing constituencies in Scotland can vote in Westminster on policy issues which are devolved to Scotland—and where Westminster legislation only applies in England.9

4.Whilst in opposition, the Conservative Party undertook a series of internal reviews considering how to address the West Lothian question (see paragraph 15 of this Report), and what some now call the English question. The Conservative Government has since brought forward a series of proposals for decentralisation to Cities within England and has introduced a system of English Votes for English Laws through changes to the House of Commons’ Standing Orders.10

5.However, the implementation of proposals to decentralise power to Cities and Combined Authorities in England does not address the anomaly created by devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland i.e. the ability of those Members to vote in Westminster on policy affecting England only. This was brought into sharp focus in the debate leading up to the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014.

6.On the morning of 19 September 2014, a few hours after Scotland had voted against Independence, the Prime Minister made a statement on the steps of Downing Street in which he announced the formation of the cross-party ‘Smith Commission’ to consider the further devolution of tax, spending and welfare powers to the Scottish Parliament.11 In that statement, the Prime Minister also added an endorsement of the principle behind English Votes for English Laws (EVEL); “as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, so it follows that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland

must have a bigger say over theirs”.12 For England this meant taking forward “the question of English votes for English laws… in tandem with, and at the same pace as” the process of extending devolution in Scotland.13

7.The UK has undergone major constitutional reform since 1997, which has radically altered the UK’s constitution, but which has also resulted in some unintended consequences and anomalies.14 During the course of this Parliament, PACAC will undertake a series of inquiries to evaluate these issues, to attempt to take a strategic overview of the UK’s constitution.

8.The first strand of PACAC’s inquiry into the UK’s constitution, and the principal focus of this Report, is therefore how EVEL has been implemented via amendments to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. On 2 July 2015, the Government published its initial set of proposed amendments to Standing Orders, with the intention for the House to debate and vote on these changes on the 15 July. Following an emergency debate on EVEL on 7 July, sought by Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael MP under SO No.24, the Government released an amended set of proposals on 9 July and announced that a vote would be postponed until after the House returned from the summer recess. A final set of proposals were tabled on 15 October and were approved, following a debate in the House of Commons, on 22 October 2015. PACAC launched this inquiry into the Government’s changes to Standing Orders, and into the broader constitutional implications of the introduction of EVEL to the House of Commons, on 21 July 2015.

9.PACAC is one of three House of Commons Committees that has inquired into EVEL since July 2015. The Procedure Committee undertook an interim evaluation of the-then proposed Standing Orders, and published its Report English votes for English laws Standing Orders: interim report in October 2015. The Procedure Committee has committed to undertake a full technical evaluation of the new Standing Orders before the end of the 2015–16 Parliamentary session. The Scottish Affairs Committee has also taken evidence on the Standing Orders, but has not published a report to date.15

10.PACAC’s inquiry has also explored the broader implications of implementing the principle of EVEL, public attitudes to EVEL, responses to EVEL and its potential constitutional implications. We took evidence from Professor Richard Wyn Jones, Professor the Lord Norton of Louth and two former Clerks of the House of Commons, Sir William McKay and Lord Lisvane. A full list of those who gave evidence can be found at the back of this Report. We thank all of those who gave evidence to this inquiry.

1 Standing Order No.146, as agreed by the House of Commons on 5 June 2015, reconstituted what was the Public Administration Select Committee as the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The Committee’s remit is “to examine the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and the Health Service Commissioner for England, which are laid before this House, and matters in connection therewith; to consider matters relating to the quality and standards of administration provided by civil service departments, and other matters relating to the civil service; and to consider constitutional affairs.”

2 The Scottish independence referendum, held on 18 September 2014, saw voters in Scotland vote against independence by a margin of 55.3% to 44.7%. The turnout was 84.6%.

3 For the terms of reference for our inquiry into English Votes for English Laws and the Future of the Union, see: EVEL

4 In the current phase of this inquiry, PACAC is looking at Inter-institutional relations in the UK

5 In 1979, Scotland voted in favour of a devolved assembly (by a margin of 51.6% to 48.4%), however, as a result of the requirement that a yes vote should constitute at least 40% of the eligible electorate, the referendum failed to see the implementation of the 1978 Scotland Act (which was subsequently repealed). In contrast, Wales voted comprehensively against devolution, by a margin of 79.7% to 20.3%.

6 Devolution to Northern Ireland was one strand of the Good Friday process, the other two strands focused on Northern Ireland’s relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Two referendums were held on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, one in Northern Ireland and the other in the Republic of Ireland. The Northern Ireland referendum endorsed the Good Friday Agreement by a margin of 71.1% to 28.9%, on an 81.1% turnout. In London, the referendum on the creation of the Greater London Authority (consisting of a Mayor and Assembly) were approved by a margin of 72% to 28%, on a turnout of 34.6%.

7 On Thursday 4 November 2004, voters in the North East of England rejected the Government’s proposal to establish a regional assembly by a margin of 78% to 22%. The turnout in this referendum was 47.8% of the region’s 1.9 million voters.

8 The Scotland Act 2012 provided the Scottish Parliament with the power to raise or lower income tax by ten pence in the pound, subject to a ‘lockstep’ whereby changes in one rate would also have to apply to the other two main rates of income tax, alongside the devolution of responsibility for minor taxes such as the landfill tax and stamp duty land tax, enhanced borrowing powers and increased competence over a limited range of areas including drugs and airguns The Government of Wales Act 2006 formally separated the National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Government as two separate bodies, banned dual candidacy on both the list and constituency ballots at Assembly elections, and provided a two stage approach for the Assembly to acquire primary law making powers. The first stage enabled the Assembly to bid for legislative competence to be devolved on a case by case basis by Westminster, via Legislative Competence Orders, so long as this bid fell within the subject areas already devolved to the Assembly. The Act provided that following a referendum, the Assembly could move to the second stage of legislative devolution, with legislative competence devolved outright in those devolved subject areas. The Wales Act 2014 devolved responsibility for minor taxes such as stamp duty land tax and the landfill tax to the Assembly and, pending a referendum, provided for the partial devolution of income tax powers.

9 The West Lothian Question also applies to MPs representing Welsh seats in relation to votes on policy matters that are otherwise devolved to the National Assembly for Wales (NAW), but it has been mostly associated with MPs representing Scottish constituencies.

10 The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill (currently awaiting Royal Assent) allows for the delivery of bespoke devolution packages to Local Authorities in England that have agreed to form Mayoral Combined Authorities. The Greater Manchester deal, for example, provides for the devolution of powers relating to strategic planning, transport, business support budgets, the Apprenticeship Grant and Health and Social Care to the new Mayor of Greater Manchester and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

11 Other Committees in both Westminster and the Scottish Parliament have conducted inquiries into the Smith process. The Scottish Affairs Committee are currently conducting an inquiry into the Fiscal Framework that will be a key feature of the Scottish Parliament’s new tax powers and have previously held an inquiry into the Smith Commission proposals. The Devolution (Further Powers) Committee in the Scottish Parliament has also inquired widely into the Smith Commission and the Fiscal Framework.

12 Scottish Independence Referendum: statement by the Prime Minister, 19 September 2014

13 The timetable outlined for further Scottish devolution (and by implication, answering the West Lothian Question) by the Prime Minister in his statement was for the Smith Commission to produce a cross-party agreement by November, with draft legislation to be published by January. The Smith Commission published its report on 27 November 2014, and on 22 January 2015, the UK Government published a Command Paper, Scotland in the United Kingdom: an enduring settlement, Cm 8990, containing draft clauses which aimed to take forward the Heads of Agreement contained in the Smith Commission Report. See paragraphs 22–32 of this report for the process which led to the passage of the new Standing Orders and the implementation of EVEL.

14 The 1997 Labour Government was elected on a manifesto pledging a package of constitutional reform including devolution to Scotland and Wales, the creation of a Mayor of London and Greater London Authority, legislating to allow referendums to be held, subject to local popular demand, on devolution to the regions of England, reform of the House of Lords and the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights in a Human Rights Act.

15 The Scottish Affairs Committee took evidence from Chris Bryant MP and Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP (Scottish Affairs Committee, Oral evidence: English Votes for English Laws, HC 399, 13 October 2015) and Michael Clancy OBE, Professor Charlie Jeffery, Sir William McKay, (Scottish Affairs Committee Oral evidence: English Votes for English Laws, HC 399, 8 September 2015)




© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 9 February 2016