English votes for English laws Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

The Government’s Review

1.It will be difficult for the Government to judge whether the EVEL procedures are robust given the short period of time during which they have been in operation. Whilst it is impossible to predict when the procedures might be used “in anger”, it would be sensible to allow for an extended trial period from which a more extensive evidence base can be drawn. Following the Government’s review in autumn 2016, the EVEL procedures—if they are retained—should be subject to an extended trial period for the remainder of this Parliament, with a final review taking place early in the next Parliament. The next few years will see a series of votes on matters relating to the UK’s exit from the EU which may well provide a ‘stress test’ for the procedures. (Paragraph 35)

2.Following the extended trial period, the revised procedures should be subject to scrutiny by a Joint Committee, examining both the technical and the constitutional aspects of EVEL. (Paragraph 36)

3.Given that EVEL is at least partly a response to public perceptions of unfairness, it should also be assessed against the wider objectives of providing a distinct voice for England and a legislative process that is “fair for everyone”, without undermining the Union more widely. (Paragraph 46)

4.It is too soon to determine whether public perceptions have been substantively altered by the introduction of the EVEL procedures. We recommend that, as part of its review in the next Parliament, the Joint Committee should try to establish:

The implications of EVEL for the Union

5.There is no doubt that funding decisions taken in relation to England, or England and Wales, can have consequential effects on the other nations in the Union as a result of the Barnett Formula. Accordingly, there is a strong case for MPs from the devolved nations to have a say in such decisions. The model of EVEL chosen, whereby the consent of all MPs is still required for any piece of legislation to become law, ensures that MPs from the devolved nations are still able to speak and vote on funding decisions that might have consequential effects for the funding of those nations. (Paragraph 58)

6.Policy decisions taken in relation to England can also have spillover or knock-on effects in the devolved nations. Indeed, the reverse can also be true. Yet such effects can be difficult to determine and measure, and we are less convinced that they should entitle representatives from one nation to have a say on policy that applies exclusively in another. We note that, at present, there is no mechanism for English representatives to have a formal say on policy decisions taken by the devolved nations. (Paragraph 59)

7.The risk of deadlock under these proposals is reduced so long as they are contained in Standing Orders which can simply be suspended or repealed by a single majority-vote of the whole House of Commons. Should the EVEL procedures in future be placed in statute (see paragraph 135) then careful consideration would need to be given to including a mechanism that would ensure that deadlock could be avoided. (Paragraph 63)

8.Devolution has created greater democratic representation for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and primary legislative powers now reside in the devolved legislatures. It has, however, left the UK Parliament as England’s sole legislature. (Paragraph 67)

9.EVEL creates distinctions between MPs at some points of the legislative process. This may be seen as justified in the attempt to create some degree of parity between England and the devolved nations in relation to devolved issues, but clearly presents risks to Parliament’s position as a unifying body representing the UK as a whole. By opting for the double-veto form of EVEL, the Government has attempted to balance the need for a separate English ‘voice’ in the House of Commons with the need for Parliament to remain a sovereign chamber representing the whole of the UK. (Paragraph 68)

10.Despite the voting restrictions an MP representing a constituency in one of the devolved nations might face under the EVEL procedures, there is no constitutional reason why a future UK Prime Minister should not represent a constituency in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. It remains the Sovereign’s prerogative to invite whomsoever they choose to be Prime Minister, albeit in accordance with the constitutional convention that he or she invite the person who appears most likely to be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons. (Paragraph 71)

11.There is no constitutional reason why an MP representing a constituency in one of the devolved nations could not be appointed to a ministerial post whose remit pertains largely to England (or England and Wales). Likewise, there is no constitutional reason why an English MP could not be appointed to a ministerial post in a territorial department. However, in practice it is likely that the Prime Minister will take into account such issues when appointing his or her ministerial team. (Paragraph 74)

12.The continued right of all MPs to debate and vote on all matters before the House of Commons clearly demonstrates the continued UK-wide nature of the House. It is, however, an inevitable consequence of the devolution of power to the devolved nations (but not England) that the UK Parliament now legislates on a wider range of matters for England than for the other nations within the Union. (Paragraph 76)

13.We are confident that the Speaker’s decisions on certification are protected by Article 9 of the Bill of Rights and that no legal challenge to his decisions should be entertained by the courts. (Paragraph 81)

14.Giving MPs for Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish seats a veto over reserved matters affecting those nations would thus go considerably beyond the veto granted to English MPs by the current form of EVEL. (Paragraph 83)

15.EVEL attempts to address specifically English concerns about their voice within the Union. Yet if EVEL is to strengthen rather than weaken the Union, every effort must be made to develop cross-party support and to ensure that the procedures have no demonstrably negative effects on Parliament’s role as the centre of the political union, representing the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom. We trust that, when EVEL is reviewed by a Joint Committee in the next Parliament, it will consider the effect that EVEL has had on public opinion across all four nations of the UK, and not just within England. (Paragraph 88)

16.It remains our view that it is too soon to know whether EVEL and the ‘devolution deals’, separately or in combination, will provide an answer to the English Question. (Paragraph 92)

Impact on the House of Lords

17.There has, to date, been no procedural impact in the House of Lords as a result of EVEL. (Paragraph 96)

18.There is little evidence to date of any political impact in the House of Lords from the introduction of EVEL in the House of Commons. We will keep this matter under review, but we anticipate that adverse consequences are unlikely and should be resolved by the conventional deference shown by the House of Lords to the elected chamber. (Paragraph 101)

19.EVEL cannot be applied in a House of Lords whose members are appointed to represent the whole UK, rather than specific regions or constituencies. (Paragraph 106)

Impact on the work of Government

20.There is no evidence that legislation is being drafted differently, or that the legislative programme has changed, following the introduction of EVEL. (Paragraph 112)

21.We welcome the additional consideration being given by civil servants to the territorial extent and application of UK Government policies. A continued focus on the interaction between the UK Government and the devolved administrations will be required as EVEL and the recent and forthcoming changes to the devolution settlements bed in. (Paragraph 120)

22.It was incumbent upon Government to respond to the introduction of EVEL by taking steps to inform, advise and support those officials who would be dealing with the results of the new procedures. We were impressed by the range of training, guidance and support being offered to officials dealing with EVEL. We hope that this represents a wider move within the civil service to embed consideration of devolution and engagement with the devolved institutions into its work across the breadth of government policy. (Paragraph 122)

Standing Orders vs legislation

23.It is regrettable that cross-party support was not secured for EVEL prior to its introduction. Given the ease with which Standing Orders may be repealed, there can be no certainty as to the reform’s longevity. A prolonged trial period, followed by detailed scrutiny on a cross-party basis by a Joint Committee and combined with evidence of public support for the policy may provide more widespread political backing for the reform. (Paragraph 134)

24.Consideration must be given in the longer-term as to whether, and if so how, to secure English votes for English laws as a permanent fixture of the UK’s territorial constitution. We trust that the review by a Joint Committee, in the next Parliament, will consider the relative merits of Standing Orders and statute in this regard and recommend a way forward that secures cross-party support. (Paragraph 135)

25.Finally, we recognise concerns that should the EVEL procedures be set in statute they would be opened up to challenge and interpretation in the courts. In that event, we recommend that the legislation be drafted in a way that protects the operation of Article 9 of the Bill of Rights, which prevents the courts from questioning proceedings in Parliament. (Paragraph 136)

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