‘English votes for English laws’ to be scrapped in government bid to revive the Union

Rule was introduced to calm Tory anger about devolution settlement – but has ‘not served our Parliament well’, ministers now say

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 08 July 2021 14:41
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The law designed to prevent Scottish MPs from voting down legislation affecting England only will be axed, in a new government bid to revive the Union.

English votes for English laws (EVEL) was introduced by David Cameron’s government to calm Conservative anger that the devolution settlement had handed to much power to Scottish MPs.

But the government is now arguing it has “not served our Parliament well”, paving the way for a vote that will scrap the law next week.

The Scottish National Party hailed the move as a “massive defeat” for the Conservatives, saying: “We will finally bury this appalling, time-wasting mess next week.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leader, admitted it was “a victory for the SNP”, but argued: “It’s also a victory for people of my way of thinking about our constitution.

“This is important because, within this House, we are the Parliament of the whole of the United Kingdom.”

However, the removal means the UK is once again wrestling with what was famously dubbed “the West Lothian question” after being raised by Labour Tam Dalyell, back in the 1970s.

It demanded to know why English MPs could not vote on matters devolved to other parts of the UK – yet Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs vote at Westminster on England-only matters.

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, announced the move to abolish the requirement that such legislation must be approved by a majority of English MPs.

“The government believes it has not served our Parliament well and that removing it would simplify the legislative process,” he told MPs.

The move is an implicit rebuke to Mr Cameron, who – notoriously – unveiled EVEL the day after Scots voted against independence in 2014, saying: “The millions of voices of England must be heard.”

Scottish Tories have been pushing for EVEL to be axed since 2017, believing it is powerful ammunition for the SNP to whip up anti-Union sentiment.

But two cabinet ministers are believed to want to save it, fearing its abolition will leave future governments vulnerable to laws for England being imposed against their will.

Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, and Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, are reported to have spoken out, in vain.

Mr Gove said: “My department, along with the Leader of the House, have been reviewing the English votes for English laws procedure.

“The procedure has been suspended since April 2020 and, having reflected on the procedure, the government believes it has not served our Parliament well and that removing it would simplify the legislative process.

“It’s a fundamental principle that all constituent parts of the United Kingdom should be equally represented in Parliament.”

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