72.On 22 October 2015 the House agreed to implement, through Standing Orders, new procedures which have had far-reaching implications for the preparation of legislation and its passage through the legislative process, the role of the Speaker in making determinations on the content of bills and amendments, the systems used by the House to record votes cast in divisions, and the use of the Chamber itself. The level of complexity added to the formal proceedings of the House on legislation has been substantial. Standing Orders have increased in number by 15 and in length by twelve per cent.
73.Implementation of the Government’s proposals has represented a substantial challenge to the House Service in many aspects. Advice to the Speaker on the status of bills and instruments has been provided from the Public Bill Office and the Office of Speaker’s Counsel from within the existing staff establishment. While we had initial concerns about the resource implications for the House Service, we find that the advice available to the Speaker is comprehensive, of high quality and delivered in a timely way. There have been no instances where the Speaker’s certification has been challenged by Ministers, even in areas where the Speaker has come to a decision on certification which differs from the view set out by the Government.
74.The requirements of additional procedures in the Chamber and legislative grand committee have been anticipated and addressed by House staff with great professionalism. Clear advice has been provided to the Chair, other Members, Departments and the public on the operation of the new procedures. We wish to put on record our appreciation to all staff of the House Service for the excellent work they have done to facilitate the implementation of all aspects of the new procedures agreed to be the House.
75.We have set out above our evaluation of the procedures in their first year of operation. We have not pronounced on the merits of the policy which the Government has sought to implement through standing order changes, though we trust the Government will reflect on the implications of the technical issues we have raised for the feasibility of its broader policy objectives. The complexity of a system which seeks to join two separate functions—a political voice and a legislative veto—has led to imperfect results. It is this contradiction at the heart of the system’s design that the Government must urgently address.
76.We remain concerned that the substantial standing order changes made in October 2015 were not achieved by consensus. The House was sharply divided on their introduction: solely members of the Government party voted in favour, and members of six of the seven other parties represented in the House, together with one independent Member voted against. Our assessment, on the basis of the evidence we have taken from the two largest Opposition parties, is that this division has not been remedied through familiarity with the new procedures in operation. One year on from their introduction, we find that the new EVEL procedures do not command the respect and support across all parties that they should if the system is to be sustainable through the political stresses it must expect to face in the future. This is not a sound basis for a major long-term change to the legislative process in this House. When reviewing the operation of the present system, and contemplating any change, it is vital that the Government seek consensus from Members representing constituencies in each constituent nation of the United Kingdom for the basis of a system which will meet its policy objectives.
77.We share the conclusions of the Lords Constitution Committee and the recent report of the Mile End Institute on the future of the process. Evaluation of a process with such far-reaching implications for the House’s operation can only be provisional at this stage. It is impossible to know now what challenges for the certification process future legislative drafting may raise. The next general election may return a House of a different composition which will present other challenges for the system to address. We recommend that a further evaluation of the EVEL system should be undertaken later in the present Parliament, addressing any changes to be made as a result of our recommendations and of the Government’s own technical review, and that our successors in the next Parliament should also assess the operation of any system then in place.
53 The Member representing the UK Independence Party did not participate in the division to approve the Standing Order changes.
54 [Paul Flynn MP, representing the Shadow Leader of the House] and [Pete Wishart MP]. We note also the strong reservations on the principle expressed by Lady Hermon MP .
55 House of Lords Constitution Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2016–17, English votes for English laws, HL Paper 61, para 134, and Finding the good in EVEL: An evaluation of ‘English Votes for English Laws’ in the House of Commons, Edinburgh: Centre on Constitutional Change, November 2016, p. 36.
16 December 2016