Hague sets out ‘English votes for English laws’ options

16 Dec 14

A proposal to create an English grand committee that could be responsible for determining local government finance settlements is among the options put forward by the Conservative Party to implement a system of ‘English votes for English laws’.

Leader of the House of Commons William Hague today set out four possible options for reform in a bid to stop Scottish MPs in Westminster voting on policy areas devolved to Holyrood. He said change was needed because the so-called West Lothian Question was becoming a bigger issue as more powers were devolved to the Scottish Parliament following the Smith Commission recommendations.

The command paper, published today, sets out four proposals for reform – three from the Conservative Party and one from the Liberal Democrats.

Currently, all stages of legislative scrutiny at Westminster are open to MPs from across the UK. These are the first reading introduction of a bill, the second reading debate on general principles, the detailed committee stage examination, a report stage on these findings and a final vote on the amended legislation, called third reading.

Among the Conservative proposals is an option for a reformed committee stage for legislation deemed by the speaker of the House of Commons to apply to England or to England and Wales.

Under the plans, the committee stage would include MPs from the relevant parts of the United Kingdom, in proportion to their party representation in the House of Commons.

Although the post-committee report stage for legislation would be taken as normal by all MPs, a ‘grand committee’ made up of all relevant MPs would then vote after report stage, but prior to third reading, on a legislative consent motion. English or English and Welsh MPs would therefore be able to agree or veto a bill, or relevant parts of it, and such decisions would have the same status as those of the Scottish Parliament on devolved matters. Third reading would be taken as normal by all MPs, but only if the legislative consent motion was passed.

‘The English grand committee could have other functions, including determining the distribution of expenditure within England, such as local government finance or police grants, and it could also have additional questions to ministers in departments with English only functions,’ the paper stated.

‘The principle of requiring consent from an English grand committee could be applied to levels of taxation and welfare benefits where the equivalent rates have been devolved to Scotland or elsewhere’

Other options proposed by the Conservatives for consultation include limiting committee and report stages to English MPs so only they can amend relevant legislation, or allowing only English MPs to vote on all legislative stages of English bills, effectively as an English Parliament.

In its proposal, the LibDems called for much wider devolution of powers from Whitehall to local authorities through an English Devolution Enabling Bill, offering similar powers to those of the Welsh Assembly.

However, the party acknowledged that, although this would reduce the number of instances of the West Lothian Question, it would not remove the anomaly entirely.

It said any new stage in the Westminster legislative process to limit the involvement of MPs to those from English constituencies should operate on the same proportional basis as the elections to the devolved assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For example, a grand committee of English MPs should therefore be weighted to reflect the votes of the electorate in England, the party stated.

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