The Government’s plan to stop Scottish MPs’ votes from deciding on matters that only affect England will probably face legal challenge, an influential SNP MP has said.
Pete Wishart, the SNP’s shadow House of Commons leader and chair of Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee, described the policy as “a lot of constitutional bilge” and said the courts could block the change.
“What we are creating to do with this statement is two classes of MPs in this house which will have a significant impact on our ability to look after our constituents and to stand up for their interests in this House of Commons,” he told the House of Commons.
“This is the most dramatic and important constitutional statement that we’ve had since the days of Gladstone – never before has there been an assault on the rights of MPs in this house to look after the interests of their constituents.
“We get this unworkable mess that will be challenged all the way down the line and probably end up in the courts when it comes to this.”
The Government says it does not have to pass legislation to implement the rules, which it is introducing using Standing Orders of the House of Commons.
Mr Wishart blamed the UK’s “asymmetric devolution” settlement for the situation and said Britain should have a federal parliament with separate legislatures for each of the UK’s nations.
The Government’s plan involves a new Legislative Grand Committee stage to amend legislation that is considered English-only or English and Welsh-only.
Amendments from the House of Lords would also have to be approved by a “double majority” of all MPs and English or English and Welsh MPs.
English votes for English laws: What is it all about?
English votes for English laws: What is it all about?
1/6 So Scottish MPs would still be able to vote on matters which do not relate to their constituents?
Yes, but Mr Hague has insisted the plans would mean English MPs would have the "decisive" say. Asked whether former SNP leader Alex Salmond, who is hoping to win a Westminster seat at the upcoming election in May, would be able to vote on English legislation, the Commons Leader said: "He will be voting on it but the decisive votes will be cast by the English Members of Parliament"
2/6 Who would decide on what was an 'England-only' matter?
So far, Mr Hague has said it would probably be for the Speaker of the Commons to decide which measures should be treated as England-only, adding there would have to be "a mechanism" for making the decisions. He told the BBC: "Most of the recommendations from all the studies have said you would have to ask the Speaker of the House of Commons or some other impartial authority to certify when a piece of legislation or part of it is English or English and Welsh or United Kingdom. That's the system we would have to adopt"
3/6 Why does Mr Hague want to introduce the proposal?
The Commons Leader is expected to argue that the reform is a "fundamental issue of fairness." He will say: "How could it possibly be right for the Scottish Parliament, for example, to vote for a reduction in Air Passenger Duty in Scotland and then for Scottish MPs to come to Westminster and be able to impose an increase in Air Passenger Duty in England? "You only have to think about this for a moment to see how fundamentally important this is and how such issues have to be addressed. Under our proposal this would not be possible without the agreement of English MPs. "The English veto should be extended to taxation when the equivalent decisions have been devolved to Scotland - and under a Conservative Government it will be"
4/6 Are we likely to see the proposals in place anytime soon?
Mr Hague wants to see the reforms debated in the Commons before the general election and has said the proposals will feature in the Conservative manifesto for the general election on 7 May. He said the plans will be "a very high priority" for the Tories if they win an outright majority in the election
5/6 Is everybody happy with these proposals?
Not really. The proposals have fallen short of the English parliament demanded by some MPs, including Tory former Cabinet minister John Redwood, who told the Daily Mail that the plans need to be "strengthened" in order to win support from Conservative MPs. He said: "Scotland can do what it likes under its devolved powers – we are asking for the same." It is believed that some Conservative MPs believe only the more radical option of giving Scottish MPs no vote at all on English matters would meet promises made by Prime Minister David Cameron, who directly linked the English votes issue to the granting of new powers to Holyrood in his immediate response to the rejection of independence by the electorate in Scotland. A Downing Street source has acknowledged there were "clearly different views" within the party but expected "very widespread support" for the chosen option
6/6 How is this likely to affect Labour?
While some Tory MPs may feel the powers do not go far enough, there is likely to be some cheer among Conservative ranks over the potential difficulties it could raise for any future Labour government, reliant on its own Scottish MPs, or the support of the SNP, for a Commons majority. Mr Hague has in fact pointed out the proposed changes would curtail the ability of a future government which did rely on Scottish MPs' votes for a Westminster majority to pass legislation on England-only matters, including health, education and transport. He told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It would be able to get many things through that are United Kingdom matters, but when it came to England then it would have to have regard to the majority in England. That is a necessary corollary of greater devolution to Scotland and Wales"
The DUP, a unionist party in Northern Ireland with eight MPs, also appeared cool on the plan. The party’s leader Nigel Dodds said he would “vote for what strengthens the United Kingdom”.
Chris Grayling, the Conservative Leader of the House of Commons, defended the measures.
“It’s really important everyone feels our constitutional arrangements are fair, so this one nation government will end the anomaly that a majority of English MPs can be outvoted on matters which are devolved elsewhere,” he said.
“At a time when we’re giving more power to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, it’s right the English should have a veto over things that only affect their constituents.”
In April the Government promised to introduce English Votes for English Laws within a year of winning the general election.Reuse content