The Tories are pushing English Votes on English Legislation (EVoEL), their “answer” to the West Lothian Question.
The West Lothian Question (WQL) was first posed by Tam Dalyell, MP for West Lothian in Scotland during a debate on devolution. The Question is whether it is right that MP’s elected in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland should have a say in matters that only affect England but not the country they were elected in.
The obvious answer, now that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved governments, is to give England a devolved government of its own. However, despite every poll in the last few years showing increasing and consistent support for an English Parliament, none of the main parties will support it. The Tory proposal of EVoEL is as close as it gets but it’s not good enough.
The Tory proposal is to have MP’s elected in England form a Grand Committee within the British Parliament which will have the final say on matters that only affect England. There are a number of problems with this proposal:
- The MP’s, despite being elected in England, will still be British MP’s and they will have been elected to represent Britain, not England. When debating and voting on matters that only affect England, their first loyalty will be to Britain. Contrast that with the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where their elected representatives are elected only to represent their own country. What is good for the rest of Britain is second to what is good for their own country.
- The Speaker of the House will certify whether something qualifies as an English-only matter. The current Speaker is Michael Martin, MP for Glasgow North East. Mr Martin was a member of the Scottish Constitutional Convention and signed the Scottish Claim of Right in which he pledged to put the interests of Scottish people first and foremost.
- British MP’s not elected in England will still be able to propose and debate matter that only affect England. The smoking ban – which only affected England – was watered down from a full ban to a partial ban by an MP elected in Scotland even though it only applied to England. EVoEL wouldn’t stop this happening – an English Parliament would.
- EVoEL would kick in when the Speaker decides that a bill only affects England. Anything that costs money in England affects the amount of money available to be given to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the form of the block grant (actually a subsidy because only England pays more tax than it spends). Therefore, only a handful of bills every year would truly qualify for exclusion under EVoEL. It took a matter of days for a Scottish MP to spot this loophole that would allow him to declare an interest in almost every bill that doesn’t directly affect his constituents.
- Recent polls have shown almost 70% of people want an English Parliament. EVoEL isn’t an English Parliament.
- The British Treasury will control the purse strings. MP’s from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will still have a say on hom much money England gets and how it is spent. The current Chancellor of the Exchequer is Alistair Darling, MP for Edinburgh South West in Scotland.
There are more problems with EVoEL – not least the fact that British MP’s don’t want it and won’t make any effort to make it work – but these are the main ones. There is one major plus for EVoEL though and that is the fact that once they’ve admitted that there is a major constitutional and democratic problem that needs a solution and they’re forced to admit that EVoEL doesn’t work (and it won’t, you can be sure of that) they will have no choice but to give us a Parliament.