With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s plans to provide fairness for England in our constitutional arrangements.
I am proud to be a Minister in a Conservative and Unionist Government. As an Administration we are passionate supporters of the Union, and we are taking a whole range of measures designed to strengthen it and secure its future. To achieve that goal, we are committed to delivering a balanced and fair constitutional settlement for all the people of the United Kingdom.
One of the first things that the Government did after the election was to introduce legislation to give new powers to Scotland, with legislation devolving more powers to Wales and Northern Ireland following close behind. We are giving the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that stronger voice within the Union, and it is only right and fair that we do likewise for England. With the Scotland Bill already at Committee stage, it is important to make a start on that process now.
In 1977, when the then Labour Government first proposed a devolved assembly in Edinburgh, the veteran Labour MP Tam Dalyell posed what has become the great unanswered question of our constitutional arrangements: why was it right that after devolution English MPs would lose the right to vote on key issues affecting his constituency in West Lothian, while he would continue to vote on those same issues in their constituencies? Since devolution was introduced in the 1990s, the West Lothian question has been very real and has remained unanswered.
It is right that we strengthen our Union by extending the powers of the devolved Assemblies, but it is also right that we now ensure real fairness in our constitutional arrangements. It is that process that we will begin today. Our proposals build on careful consideration and debate. I am indebted to my predecessor as Leader of the House, William Hague, and Sir William McKay and his commission, for their work, and to colleagues from throughout the House who have contributed their views and expertise.
There are different views and concerns about these matters in the House. The proposals that I am setting out today are designed to make a real start in addressing those concerns. They will give English MPs, and in some cases English and Welsh MPs, a power of veto to prevent any measure from being imposed on their constituents against their wishes. No law affecting England alone will able to be passed without the consent of English MPs. They will also give English MPs a power of veto over secondary legislation and a range of English public spending motions on matters that affect England only, and they will give the decisive vote on tax measures to MPs whose constituents are affected by those changes, once further planned devolution to Scotland takes place.
Many laws are of course common to England and Wales, which share a legal jurisdiction. The devolution settlements in Northern Ireland and Scotland are much broader than in Wales, where key areas like policing and justice are not devolved. So it is right that we extend the principle to Wales, too: no English and Welsh law will be made on matters devolved to Scotland or Northern Ireland without the agreement of English and Welsh MPs.
Today I am circulating an explanatory note for Members to set out how the new procedure works, but in summary it is this: to establish whether a matter is covered by this new procedure, you, Mr Speaker, will be asked to certify whether a Bill, or elements of it, are devolved in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, and are therefore to be treated as England only. It is very much like the way that you currently certify whether a matter is a financial one, and therefore a matter for the Commons only.
In considering such measures, we have endeavoured, where possible, to keep our proposed new process as close as possible to existing parliamentary procedures, with all Members from across the United Kingdom continuing to vote on Second Reading, in most Committees, on Report and Third Reading, and when considering Lords amendments. The key difference is that our plans provide for an English veto at different stages in the process.
There will be new stage of parliamentary consideration before Third Reading, in which English, or English and Welsh MPs will be asked to accept or veto English and Welsh provisions that meet that devolution test. For England-only bills, Committee-stage consideration will be undertaken by English MPs. That will give them a voice in shaping the content of laws that affect their constituents. All other Committees will remain unchanged.
There will be no changes to procedures in the House of Lords, which will retain the right to scrutinise and amend Bills as it does now. The two Houses will continue to agree the text of Bills, as now, through the exchange of messages, or ping-pong. The only difference is that there will be an additional veto when Lords amendments are considered in the Commons. All Members of Parliament will vote on them, but where those amendments affect England, or England and Wales only, they will need the support of a “double majority” in the House of Commons, with both English and UK MPs needing to support an England-only amendment for it to pass.
That new “double majority” system will use a new system for recording votes in the Division Lobby. In future, votes will be recorded on tablet computers, so that it will be possible to give the Tellers an immediate tally of whether a measure has a majority of English MPs as well. I am grateful to the Clerks who have arranged a demonstration for Members of the new double-majority voting system that forms part of the Government’s proposals. It can be viewed in the Lobby between 1 and 2 pm today.
Much of the important law making that we do in this House is through means other than full programme Bills. Other key votes determining the distribution of spending will also be covered by those changes, such as on the revenue support grant in England and police grants in England and Wales. Overall spending levels will remain a matter for the whole House.
The rules governing the votes and procedures that I have described are set out in the Standing Orders of this House, and we propose to make English votes a reality through changes to those. We will table a motion in the coming days, but the text of the changes that we propose to the Standing Orders will be made available to Members in the Vote Office after this statement, and published on gov.uk.
Explanatory notes and a guide to the process will also be made available to ensure that Members and all those with an interest have the full details of what we propose. In addition to today’s statement, there will be a further opportunity to consider the proposals when they are placed before the House of Commons for full debate and decision shortly before the summer recess—as I indicated earlier, that will be on
There will, of course, be views about the operation of the proposals in practice, and I inform the House that I have written to the newly re-elected Chair of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend Mr Walker, to signal that I intend to invite his Committee to undertake a technical assessment of the operation of the new rules. We will also involve Members on all sides of the House in assessing the new system and what else we might need to do to strengthen fairness in our constitutional arrangements. I see today’s announcement as an important first step in getting that right, and we will hold a review of the new process once the first Bills subject to it have reached Royal Assent next year. There will be a clear opportunity to assess the workings of the new rules, and consider whether and in what ways they should be adapted for the future.
Today we are answering the West Lothian question and recognising the voice of England in our great union of nations. This change is only a part of the wider devolution package, but it is a vital next step in ensuring that our constitutional settlement is fair and fit for the future. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving me, earlier this morning, advance sight of his statement and the draft procedural amendments he proposes.
The Leader of the House has announced in his statement the Government’s intention to rush ahead with controversial and complex changes to the procedures of this House, in an effort to ensure provision of what he likes to call English votes for English laws. The Official Opposition recognise that, in the light of the ongoing deepening of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is important for the views of English MPs to be expressed clearly on English matters, but we believe such changes would best be achieved by proper consultation and an attempt to reach cross-party agreement.
I am disappointed but not surprised that the Government have made no such attempt, and that they intend to rush the procedural changes through the House in the next two weeks, in a time-limited debate to change our Standing Orders. That is no way to make profound constitutional change. It is an outrage that the Government believe it is. The Opposition consider that the issue should have been properly dealt with as part of a constitutional convention to examine how our country is governed in a much more profound and holistic way than the rushed and partisan changes the right hon. Gentleman has cobbled together and put before us today. The proposals are complex and much more time will be needed to interrogate their effects, and the effect they will have in practice on our procedures in the House.
An initial impression points to plenty of opportunities for procedural chaos, and I have some early observations, questions and profound worries.
The Leader of the House appears to have gone out of his way to ignore both the warnings and the recommendations of the McKay report, which his Government commissioned. Why has he done that? The creation of a veto rather than a voice for English MPs on England-only Bills, and on parts of other Bills, statements and statutory instruments, appears to go much further than the McKay commission envisaged in its 2013 report. Again, why has he decided to do that?
The decision to include an unprecedented double majority requirement for some Lords amendments—English MPs will get two votes and other MPs will get one—goes much further than the McKay report, which suggested a double count but no English veto. Is it not ironic that, just as the Labour party moves to one person, one vote for its leadership election, the Tory party decides to force the House to adopt multiple votes, but only for some MPs? Perhaps the Leader of the House is much more worried than he is letting on about losing important votes in the Lords.
Will the Leader of the House explain how his proposals avoid creating two classes of MPs in the House, which McKay cautioned strongly against? How does that square with the report’s recommendation that
“after due provision has been made for”
“views…to be heard and taken into account, the UK majority should prevail, not least…to retain the UK Government’s accountability at election time for decision-making during its time in office”?
Can the Leader of the House explain how his plans fulfil the very strong view expressed in the McKay report that we need to address feelings in England without provoking an adverse reaction outside England? Judging by the reaction in the Chamber today, he has certainly failed that test.
The proposals risk the Union rather than save it. As a self-proclaimed Unionist, why is the Leader of the House in such a rush to enact this partisan proposal that he has not even bothered to consult on, not least with the Procedure Committee? The Leader of the House is playing with fire. Why is he being so reckless? It is hard not to conclude that the proposals are not an attempt to address the West Lothian question, but rather a cynical attempt by a Government with an overall majority of just 12 to use procedural trickery to manufacture themselves a very much larger one.
The hon. Lady talks about rushing ahead. The West Lothian question has existed for 20 years. In 13 years of government, Labour did nothing to address it. This is something we worked on carefully in Opposition. It was a pledge in our manifesto. Last year, the former Leader of the House, William Hague, wrote to the acting leader of the Labour party inviting her to take part in cross-party talks on this very issue. Labour did not respond to that invitation, so I will take no lessons from Labour about an absence of cross-party discussion. The Labour party did not want to be involved, so we have gone ahead on righting this wrong without it.
We need to move ahead now, alongside devolution. We are delivering more powers to Scotland. We will deliver more powers to Wales. It is right that we now address the issue of fairness for England too. The hon. Lady talked about the time needed to assess to the effects. That is precisely why I have written to the Chairman of the Procedure Committee asking him to review this in action over the next 12 months and why I have said we will review its operation in 12 months’ time.
The hon. Lady said she expected a voice not a veto, but what is a voice? Surely this is a simple premise. It is not right that a Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish MP should be able to decide what happens on education in my constituency, whereas I have no say whatever the other way around. I say to the Scottish nationalists and the Labour party that I think most of their constituents would judge that simple proposition as fair as well. Matters relating to schools and education in Scotland are decided in Holyrood in the Scottish Parliament. Why is it wrong for English Members of Parliament to have the ultimate say in what happens to schools in their constituency?
The hon. Lady talked about English MPs having two votes. This is not going to work like that. Everyone will walk through that same Division Lobby side by side. It is simply that an electronic system will enable us to establish in this House whether a vote is carried by both the whole House and by a majority of the MPs affected when the territorial extent of a measure is limited to either England, or to England and Wales. Again, why is that the wrong thing to do?
The hon. Lady talks about two classes of MP. The West Lothian question created two classes of MP. We are trying to restore fairness to the system. There is a central question for the Labour party. The Labour party is now a party of England and Wales. It is not a party of Scotland. Against all expectations, it has been wiped out in Scotland. In fact, the Conservatives came within 300 votes of being a larger Scottish party in this Parliament than them. Labour Members will have to explain to their constituents—if, as it appears, Labour is going to oppose these measures—why it is that they oppose fairness for England when it is okay to argue that powers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be extended. I support the extension of powers to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are doing the right thing. It is also surely right to ensure that we can give a fair deal to the English too. That is what these measures are about.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. The Procedure Committee will do a quick and dirty technical review of the changes in the time that remains before recess, but it will take time for the procedural implications of the changes to Standing Orders to become apparent. I suspect we will need to revisit this issue at some stage within the next 12 to 18 months.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I congratulate him on his uncontested re-election as Chair of the Procedure Committee. That shows the respect this House has for him. I ask him to see this as an ongoing task for his Committee. I have said I will return to this in 12 months’ time. In the meantime, I would like him to track the workings of this not simply over the next few weeks, but over the next few months. I would like the Procedure Committee to be absolutely central to deciding how this evolves as the months go by.
Order. This issue, of course, evokes very strong feeling in all parts of the House. Let me say at this early stage that colleagues can be assured that if they wish to contribute to the exchanges on this statement, they will have the opportunity—everyone will have the opportunity—to do so.
What a lot of constitutional bilge and unworkable garbage! What this statement is creating is two classes of Members of Parliament 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. With this double majority—the new thing introduced this morning—we would do as well to stamp the foreheads of Scottish MPs before they go into the Lobby, and I thought that the Leader of the House was quite close to suggesting or proposing it.
This is the most dramatic and important constitutional statement that we have had since the days of Gladstone. Never before has there been an assault on the rights of Members of Parliament in this House to look after the interests of their constituents. This places you, Mr Speaker, in the most intolerable and politically invidious situation where you will be dragged into a political role and you will have to decide and determine, almost on your own, whether my honourable colleagues get to vote and participate in full. I wish you all the best with that, Mr Speaker. The fact that the Government have placed you in such a situation is matter of eternal shame on them.
This is the reality of asymmetric devolution across the United Kingdom. It is never going to be tidy: there is unhappiness in England and there is most definitely unhappiness in Scotland and increasing unhappiness in Wales. The way to solve this is to have our own Parliaments. What is wrong with an English Parliament? Then we could all come to this House as equal Members and determine and decide issues such as foreign affairs, defence and international obligations. Instead, we get this cobbled-together, unworkable mess that will indeed be challenged all the way, right down the line, and it will probably end up in the courts.
Only this week, 99% of my hon. Friends voted for something that is the sovereign will of the people of Scotland, but it was voted down by English Members of Parliament. English votes for English laws? Then there is a veto, and it becomes English votes for Scottish laws. This is unacceptable, Mr Speaker.
We had a referendum last year and we lost it. By God, though, this lot are doing their best to ensure that Scotland becomes an independent nation. I almost congratulate them on the almost ham-fisted approach they are adopting on Scottish issues. All this is going to do is to make the whole movement towards independence even more irresistible. For that, I almost thank the Leader of the House.
The hon. Gentleman seems a tad on the exercised side. I simply do not accept that what he says would represent the common-sense view of the Scottish people who, after all, voted for the Union a few months ago. This is not about his constituents. It is about my constituents and the constituents of hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have a Scottish package of devolution; we have a Welsh package of devolution; and we have a Northern Irish package of devolution. The SNP has argued for 20 years and more for the Scottish people to have more control over their own destiny. We are giving the Scottish people more control over their own destiny. Why is it therefore wrong for the English people to have some additional control over their own destiny? That is the point between us. It is not about wrecking the Union; it is about ensuring that there is fairness across the Union.
If we are to have a Union in which the different component parts have greater control over what takes place in the constituencies and areas represented, why is it wrong for England to have the same? I am afraid that this is something that Scottish MPs should welcome and accept as being part of a constitutional settlement that means that there will be a stronger Parliament in Scotland—probably the strongest devolved Parliament anywhere in the world. That is what SNP Members called for and it is what the Scottish people voted for, but they cannot turn round and say to the English, “It is not okay for you to have a bit of that same control over your destiny”.
I am pleased that the Government now have an answer to the question I posed before the Scottish referendum—the question of who speaks for England. I am very glad that they are tackling the problem that devolution has posed—that Scotland could vote for a lower rate of income tax in the Scottish Parliament and then send Scottish MPs to this Parliament to impose a higher rate of income tax on England. Is it not a sign that the Opposition still do not get it—that there needs to be justice for England in this Union, as well as for Scotland?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, as ever. I find it difficult to understand how it is possible, in one week, for Pete Wishart and his colleagues to vote in favour of full fiscal devolution for Scotland, and then to vote against the idea of England’s having greater control over tax measures that affect England. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr MacNeil must calm himself. He is an aspiring statesman. He must simmer down.
Ah! A long time to go.
A lecture in calmness will be provided by the Father of the House, I feel sure.
Even the title of the statement sounds racist. [Interruption.] Yes! Yes!
The Leader of the House talked repeatedly about constitutional arrangements, but is it not a fact that the glory of this country is that we do not have a constitution, and that we are governed by the Queen in Parliament? Furthermore, is it not a glory of this House that all its Members, from those who hold the highest office to the most newly elected Member of Parliament, are equal in the Division Lobby? Is it not a fact that the Government are not just underlining whatever differences there may be between the outlooks of people from different countries within the United Kingdom, but undermining the whole basis of British democracy, all the way back to when Magna Carta was signed? I hope that there will be enough Conservative Members of Parliament who have sufficient love of this wonderful House not to co-operate in destroying it.
The right hon. Gentleman is a distinguished Member of the House, but I have to say that his opening comment about racism demeans his point, and I therefore will not respond to it. [Interruption.]
Order. I have known Mr Gray for more than 20 years, and I have never previously detected him having any difficulty in making himself heard, but such is the noise that today may be an exception.
The only occasion on which I recall having had difficulty in making myself heard, Mr Speaker, was when I was the briefest ever shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. I was sacked by Michael Howard after five days for raising some of the issues that we are trying to address today.
I warmly welcome what the Leader of the House has announced. It is a major, major step in the right direction. I foresaw it 10 years ago, but there we are: a prophet in one’s own country. It does not go quite as far as I, at that time, proposed—I would much prefer some form of federal solution to our difficulties—but I take great comfort from my understanding that we will see how this thing works, and if it does not work, the door will remain open for more radical solutions to the West Lothian question.
It is important for me to stress that what we are delivering is what was voted on by the people of the United Kingdom on the basis of our manifesto, and I think it right and proper for us to deliver on that manifesto. I intentionally left the door open to Members in all parts of the House so that in 12 months’ time, when we have seen how the proposals bed in and when the first Bills have received Royal Assent, we can review the whole package and decide what is working and what is not.
The general election saw the Conservative party fall to its worst level in Scotland since the introduction of universal suffrage. The people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly for my party to strengthen the Scottish Parliament. Why do the Government have such a disregard for the views of the Scottish people, reducing the ability of Scottish Members of Parliament to vote on matters that have an impact on the Scottish budget?
The people of Scotland voted for the Union, and we are delivering more powers for the Scottish Parliament so that we can strengthen the Union. That is what we committed ourselves to doing in our manifesto, and it is what the whole House agreed on before the general election. We are fulfilling our promise, which is the right thing to do.
The point has been fairly made that, because of the funding system we have in the UK, many decisions that might appear solely to have an impact on England can have a UK effect, but my understanding of what my right hon. Friend was saying was that the Government fully understood that and that it would be recognised in the structures put in place. If that is the case, I have to say I find some of the arguments being advanced by the SNP to be rather synthetic. I have a great interest in all sorts of subjects, including wind farms in the Monadhliath mountains, but I have to recognise that they are not ones that I can pursue as a Member of Parliament in this Chamber.
The point that SNP Members seem to have failed to take on board is that no measure will be able to pass through this House without the consent of the whole House, and the whole House includes Members of Parliament from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is how it is today; that is how it will continue. It is absolutely right and proper that that should be the case. They will continue to vote in all the Divisions they vote in at the moment. They will speak in the debates and ask all their questions. This does not create a second tier of Members of Parliament. It actually addresses the existing West Lothian question, which creates a division in competence between different Members of Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman will of course as a result of these proposals continue to vote on all UK issues. He will also have the opportunity to take decisions about matters that affect Wales and affect England and Wales, such as policing and justice, which are devolved in Northern Ireland and Scotland. This should actually strengthen his role in this House because it will give him greater control over matters that affect the country he represents.
My constituents who have written to me about this will warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I think it is the first important step in ensuring that the constitution is fair and is seen to be fair for everybody, and it will support the Union. Will he confirm that what he has announced is a modern-day “no taxation without representation” measure, and that taxation visited solely on England will have to have a majority of English MPs to get through this House?
This is an important point; it is absolutely right and fundamental. Over the next two years, we shall see, for example, the creation of a Scottish rate of income tax—the power of the Scottish Parliament to set its own rate of income tax. Is it wrong that at the same time English MPs should have a right to say no if a UK Parliament imposes a tax that will only apply to English MPs’ constituents? I think they should have a say on that, and this proposal will do that.
If there are not to be two tiers of MPs in this House after these changes, what on earth does it mean to have a double majority at Report stage? I have to say I think it is an outrage that the Government are seeking to drive ahead with a fundamental challenge to the constitutional integrity of this House as the Parliament of the UK through Standing Orders. If the Leader of the House really thinks these proposals will bear scrutiny, he should bring forward primary legislation for proper scrutiny both on the Floor of this House and in the other place. If he thinks he can do that, let him come ahead and do it.
Standing Orders can be amended and changed by hon. Members, but if it is the view of Members of this House that there should be primary legislation when we carry out the review in 12 months’ time, the right hon. Gentleman should bring that forward as a proposal.
I fully understand the mischief that my right hon. Friend is seeking to address, but he will understand the particular circumstances of north Wales, where people are heavily reliant on services provided in England, particularly health services. They are already disadvantaged by the defective devolution settlement put in place by the Labour party. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that they will not be further disadvantaged by the measures he is now putting in place?
I am acutely aware of the issues affecting people, particularly in north Wales, where there are cross-border issues and where Manchester and Liverpool can often seem closer than Cardiff. It is none the less the case that a matter such as health in Wales is devolved and something for the Welsh Assembly, so while my right hon. Friend can vote on health matters throughout England, the same does not apply the other way around. But his position in this House will remain the same: as a Welsh Member of Parliament, he will be able to vote on and contribute to decision making about health service matters in England, as he does at the moment, but such matters cannot simply be imposed on the English against their wishes.
Why does the House of Lords remain unreformed—a model of democratic perfection, where it is still possible, with the connivance of all three main parties, to buy places—while we stagger and stumble with ad hoc steps, now EVEL, that will lead to the certain break-up of the United
Kingdom? Why do the Government not work with all parties and have a constitutional convention to work out a federal system that will be right for all four nations?
The hon. Gentleman talks about the House of Lords, but if he is so exercised by that perhaps he will explain why, when House of Lords reform was before this House in the previous Parliament, the Labour party did not support the programme motion that would have allowed it to continue.
The fact that the programme motion was never moved might be a reason.
The Leader of the House has half answered the West Lothian question; he has given English Members a veto. What he has not done is allow them the right to initiate legislation. That happens in Scotland. Will his review in a year’s time take that into account?
The programme motion was not moved precisely because the Labour party said its Members would not support it. That is the story of the previous Parliament. They have a habit—as my hon. Friend will know—of saying one thing and doing another.
In 12 months’ time, when we carry out the review, I will be very open to submissions from all parts of the House about how the process should work, the way it is working and the extent of its working.
At the foot of page 2, the explanatory notes state:
It would help the House if the right hon. Gentleman were to identify past Bills that he considers to have been England-only in their entirety.
There will be a relatively small number of England-only Committees; most Bills are broader in extent, and in the previous Session there were only four. One example in particular is education, which is devolved to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but I would expect most Committees to continue to be configured in exactly the same way as they are today, with representatives from throughout the United Kingdom.
I support the rights of, and the transfer and devolution of powers to, not just the different countries in the Union but the regions in England, particularly those in the north. To me it is pretty obvious—a logical consequence—that today’s announcement had to happen and to take the form it has. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the underlying principle behind it is a fair settlement for all nations in the United Kingdom?
I can absolutely confirm that. As I said at the start, I am a Minister in a Conservative and Unionist Government, and we have every wish to protect and preserve our Union. That is why we are providing far greater powers to the Scottish Parliament and the Administration in Wales, and will move to introduce corporation tax in Northern Ireland. We have stronger and stronger devolved Assemblies throughout the United Kingdom, and it is absolutely right and proper to provide some degree of fairness for English constituents and English Members of Parliament. That is what we are doing.
The right hon. Gentleman talked earlier about Scotland having a stronger voice in the Union, but this week 95% of Scottish MPs voted for more powers for Scotland, and we, the 56, were vetoed. Now he wants a veto for England. Just where was Scotland’s veto this week, when Scottish-only matters were being blocked? May we have, for fairness, a veto-for-veto principle?
The Scottish National party is struggling to come to terms with the fact that the Scottish people voted to be part of the Union and to have a United Kingdom Parliament. I know that that is difficult and I know that SNP Members do not like it, but I actually think they have brought value to the House and I enjoy debating with them. They make an important contribution to the House on behalf of Scotland, but they are part of a United Kingdom Parliament. Constitutional changes will be voted on by United Kingdom Members of Parliament, including Scottish MPs, as will these measures on English votes on English laws.
I welcome this limited start on English votes for English laws, but I am intrigued as to how we will achieve an English vote on English income tax, given that only part of the tax is being devolved. The tax on employment income is being devolved, but not the tax on savings income. Will the Leader of the House explain what process will be used to achieve an English, Welsh or Northern Irish-only vote on the main rate of income tax to be paid by our constituents?
Will the Leader of the House clarify the position for London MPs? As a London MP, I have no say over transport or policing in London. Those matters come under the jurisdiction of the Mayor. I therefore feel doubly disfranchised, because I cannot vote on matters that relate to my own city and I apparently will not be able to have a say on certain other issues. This is not only a West Lothian question; it is also an east London question.
The difference is that Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast have Parliaments and Assemblies that legislate. In London, there is no such separate legislative power. This House legislates for London. There is administrative devolution in London, and there will soon be greater administrative devolution in Manchester as a result of the Bill that is now going through the Lords, but the key point is that this House will continue to legislate for London.
This statement. I can see why our Scottish colleagues fail to understand the feelings of hostility and unfairness that English voters experience, but I am surprised that Labour Members cannot understand how people in Cleethorpes and elsewhere in England feel. I welcome the statement, but may I add a caveat? I am concerned that we are stumbling towards a major realignment of our constitution without knowing what the final destination will be. Will the Leader of the House assure me that there will be adequate time to debate all our constitutional issues during the coming months and years?
We are clear about the end point, which involves a strong Parliament for Scotland, with more devolved powers than any comparable assembly in the world, and strong powers for Cardiff and Belfast, alongside a United Kingdom Parliament that legislates for and is participated in by the whole of the United Kingdom but also has provisions to ensure fairness for England as the largest country in the Union. Some degree of justice needs to be visible for the people we represent in England.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing the voice of Northern Ireland to be heard. As these proposals will affect Northern Ireland quite dramatically, I appreciate your letting me respond to the statement. We will use our eight votes and make up our minds on these kinds of issues on the basis of what will strengthen the United Kingdom and not weaken it. I have great sympathy with English Members on this matter, and I understand their arguments. I understand the problems and the challenges, but as we on these Benches have said before, we need to avoid unintended consequences. We need to think these things through properly, without rushing, and we should consider all these matters in a constitutional convention. The principle will be that no law affecting England alone will be able to be passed without the consent of English MPs, but there are matters that remain in this House that affect Northern Ireland, including the legacy of the past, parades and so on. Will the Leader of the House allow the same principle to apply to Northern Ireland MPs in regard to Northern Ireland-only matters that are not devolved?
The simple principle of these changes is that if a matter is not devolved, it will be and is a matter for the UK Parliament. If we are talking about strengthening the Union, then it should be the case that those are matters for the UK Parliament. We would weaken the Union otherwise. If a matter is devolved, it is the responsibility of the Administrations in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland. If it affects English-only constituencies, it will be for those who represent English-only constituencies to decide whether to accept or reject it.
My right hon. Friend rightly referenced the fact that some Opposition Members cannot vote on education in their own constituencies, but can vote on education in his and my constituencies. This goes further than education, as it extends to policing, health and other areas. Does he agree that the Government’s proposals balance the principle of English consent for English measures with the ability of MPs from all parts of the United Kingdom to continue to deliberate and vote together?
Yes, I do, and it is important to pick up on what the leader of the Democratic Unionist party said. We need to ensure that we keep the Union strong. We are passionate Unionists. At the same time, the Union is not strengthened if English citizens feel somehow that the constitutional settlement lets them down. We need to address their concerns to strengthen the Union that we regard as so important.
I proudly represent an English constituency, but I am also a proud Unionist. I am shocked by this nasty little measure, which has not been properly debated. Will the Leader of the House say why the House has a proper system of debating legislation when it has a simple majority on, for example, issues such as Standing Orders? Will he agree to bring legislation on this before the House, because the questions from my colleagues from Northern Ireland and Scotland—
If the right hon. Lady and others wish to come forward as part of the review and say that they now want this set in legislation, we will obviously consider it. Let me remind her of the facts: her former colleague, John Denham, who was a member of the shadow Cabinet in the previous Parliament, argued very strongly for the need to do this. Labour Members of Parliament must decide whether they want to say to their English constituents, “You should not be a part of the devolution changes that are taking place.” I am happy to have that argument with them on the doorsteps of this country. I think that people in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will think that this step is fair.
That is the key point. Whether Opposition Members accept it or not, this Parliament is currently legislating to create the strongest devolved Assembly that this country—and probably much of the world—has ever seen. We are extending significant new powers to Edinburgh. Additional powers will go to Northern Ireland in due course. It is absolutely right and proper that, as we do that, we also address the obvious question, which is raised by constituents in constituencies represented by Conservatives and Labour in England, that there has to be a part of the process that focuses on their interests.
The Leader of the House said: “and they will give the decisive vote on tax measures”. For me, that is the nub of it. We have heard much talk today of huge new powers for the Scottish Parliament. Let us look at the facts: 70% of tax decisions and 84% of welfare decisions will remain in this House. That amounts to patsy powers. That is why we have such a contingent of Scottish National party MPs. We need to make Scotland’s voice heard—on justice and on fairness. I ask the Minister: what is it he is afraid of in hearing Scotland’s voice?
Well, nobody is afraid of hearing Scotland’s voice. As I have said before, I welcome all the new SNP Members; they have added value to the debate in this House. The hon. Lady has just made the point that the vast majority of tax decisions will remain in this House. Those Members will continue to vote in a United Kingdom vote, without an English dimension, on all tax measures that fit within that category. We are talking about when a tax has been devolved. If there is a Scottish rate of income tax, and an English counterpart to that rate of income tax, it will be voted on in the Scottish Parliament and English MPs will have the right to say, “Well, it actually only applies to them, and they will accept it or not accept it.”
Does the Leader of the House agree that it is simply unpalatable for those living in English constituencies to see us devolve more powers to Scotland and yet not address the West Lothian question? Much is made of future threats to the Union, and does he agree that not dealing with this issue is one of them?
Absolutely, and my hon. Friend represents a large number of Scottish constituents, and he is a powerful advocate for them. It is important that he is able to take decisions on matters that affect them. It is also right and proper that, when a matter exclusively affects English constituencies, he and his English colleagues should be able to say no if it is something that their constituents do not want.
Going back to the London question raised by my hon. Friend Mike Gapes, I listened carefully to the answer of the Leader of the House gave when he talked about legal jurisdictions. The logical conclusion to that is that when the police grant and transport issues in London are discussed, Welsh Members will be allowed to vote because we come under the same legal requirement as the English. Is that the case? How is it fair that elected Welsh Members will have their powers reduced when unelected Welsh peers will not?
Policing is a classic example of something that is not devolved. We do not have a separate Welsh policing system. Therefore it is right and proper that we should retain the involvement of Members of Parliament from England and Wales in voting on police matters. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, those matters are devolved. That is the key difference. The situation in London is straightforward: London does not have a devolved Assembly in the way in which Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do. It does not legislate. This House legislates for London. Therefore the decisions about new laws in London should be and will be a part of this package.
I can recommend some good breathing exercises for Opposition Members to calm them down. Many of my constituents are extremely concerned that we are legislating to devolve power to Scotland—quite rightly—as part of our manifesto commitment, but at the same time we are not taking further action to strengthen the powers of English MPs to have a veto over what happens. I warmly welcome the statement, but will my right hon. Friend undertake that, after this 12-month period, we will consider introducing legislation? As we devolve more power to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and parts of England, we need a law to give us oversight of what happens in this place.
I have said that in 12 months’ time we will be open to listening to the views of Members. I hope that my hon. Friend will make that case when the moment arises. He is right about the views of his constituents. I still do not truly understand why two Opposition parties, which support devolution, do not think that it is fair to provide England with an element of increased control in that overall devolution package. It is incongruous and strange. For the Labour party, in particular, which represents a large number of English seats, it makes no sense. I look forward to seeing its Members argue their case on the doorsteps because I do not think that they will win.
I listened carefully when the Leader of the House said that there would be no changes in the House of Lords. He went on to say that if amendments were made that affected England only, there would be a veto by English MPs. What happens if the House of Lords decides to extend the extent of a Bill to bring in Scottish matters or to change things affecting Scotland? Will Scottish MPs get a veto over that?
A Lords amendment will be subject to the same certification process whether it is UK in its extent or English only in its extent, and the votes will take place accordingly.
Following on from what Mike Weir said, I too am very concerned about what could happen in the other place. As things currently stand, we could go forward with this particular measure and be held hostage to fortune in the other place not only because of the political persuasions in the Lords but because they would not have the same criteria applied to them. We would spend a lot of time in this place trying to figure out what are English laws for England, and down there they could spend twice as long debating what we have given to them, with all the machinations that go on.
The Lords will debate what we send to them as a House. If they send back legislation with material differences, as is the case at the moment, we will vote on whether to accept the changes or not. If the legislation concerns matters that affect England or England and Wales and are certified as such, to be accepted and passed into law it will require the support of the whole House and also of the MPs affected, either those in England or those in England and Wales.
I must say that I think that this is one of the most ill thought through statements that I have ever heard from the Dispatch Box, and there have been quite a few recently. I want to ask about the Yorkshire problem. Given that the population of Yorkshire is greater than that of Scotland and given the Leader of the House’s so-called concern for English votes, particularly, obviously, English votes in the south, will he give Yorkshire MPs a veto on those matters that directly affect Yorkshire, such as last week’s decision to pause the electrification of the TransPennine Express route?
I gently remind the hon. Lady that this proposal was part of a manifesto on which we were elected and on which her party was not, so it has hardly arrived new. It has been studied and supported. In Yorkshire there is no assembly that legislates. The difference is that we as a Parliament are passing additional responsibilities that would previously have been dealt with here to the Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so this is simply a compensatory mechanism for the rest of the country.
The Leader of the House states that today he is answering the West Lothian question and recognising the voice of England in our great Union of nations. There are 56 SNP MPs who have been given a strong mandate to speak up for Scotland. When will the voices of the people of Scotland be not only recognised but heard? All the powers we seek are given to us without any vetoes attached. We have just had three Committee days to discuss the Scotland Bill and, as my hon. Friend Pete Wishartstated, each and every amendment was voted down by the Government. The content of this statement is indeed “evil”.
I do not think that with the SNP there is any danger of Scotland’s voice not being heard. I simply remind SNP MPs that we are passing to Scotland more power for the Scottish Parliament than it has ever had before, as we promised the Scottish people. That is right and proper.
Will the Leader of the House ponder for a moment on the fact that had his proposals been in place over the past hundred years, Alec Douglas-Home, Andrew Bonar Law, James Callaghan, Lloyd George and Gordon Brown would not have been able to vote on their own Governments’ proposals in this House of Commons? Does that not strike him as incongruous, coming as it does from a Conservative and Unionist party?
The Leader of the House has already shown his disdain for Welsh MPs by timetabling the debate on this matter for
It is something of an irony that this announcement is made today when the first item of business was the Transport for London Bill. Under the new proposals, who would vote on that? Would my hon. Friend Nia Griffithbe precluded from doing so while David Morris,whose constituency is rather further away, could vote on it? Why would my hon. Friend Mark Tami and Hywel Williams not be of equal status with other Members of this House under these proposals while their predecessors, now in the House of Lords, would be?
The answer is that they would all vote on the proposals. The difference is that if there is a legislative measure on transport in north Wales, it is voted on by the Assembly in Cardiff and Members of Parliament in this House have no say on it. Under these proposals, every Member of the House will take part in Divisions, but a Division that affects only one of the four nations of the United Kingdom will need the support of the Members from that country.
Will the Leader of the House recognise that although 95% of the MPs in Scotland are from the SNP, 100% of the MPs of Kent are Conservative and their constituents voted for this measure?
I am not sure whether we are hearing proposals for English votes for English laws or for Tory votes for Tory laws. It is interesting to hear the words “double majority” in the statement because, of course, that principle was ruled out for the European referendum. May I build on the question asked by my hon. Friend from Plaid Cymru, Hywel Williams? He asked for worked examples of legislation from history, about how they would have worked, and about how this would apply to other procedures in the House, such as private Members’ Bills, ten-minute rule Bills, Opposition day debates and so on. Are we going to get detail on that?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that for now we will not apply this to private Members’ Bills. It will not apply to ten-minute rule Bills and the intention is that all Members of this House will continue to participate in all Divisions that affect the United Kingdom in general. The only change will be that Members of Parliament representing England or England and Wales will have a decisive say on matters that affect only their constituencies.
I am concerned that these proposals mean that Scots MPs will be ceding power over matters that have a financial impact on our constituents. Part of the role of the Speaker is to certify money Bills with the aid of an extensive guidance note. Will the Leader of the House commit to ensuring that the guidance note on England-only laws receives the scrutiny of and debate by this House before the provision is put into Standing Orders?
As I said, there will be a full day’s debate in which all these matters can be raised. The Speaker will have the job of certifying whether a Bill is England-only, England and Wales-only or UK-wide in its entirety or in part. This will ensure that when we have devolved a tax rate to the Scottish Parliament and decisions are being taken by MSPs, if an equivalent tax rate applies only to England, rightly and properly the decisive vote will be decided by those people who are directly affected by it and not those who are not.
The House should reflect that when the Leader of the House rose to make his statement at 11.30 this morning he was probably signalling the end of the Union that he wants to preserve. The people of my constituency and of Scotland will reflect on the fact that in this proposal he is creating two classes of MP in the House of Commons and that is a disgrace. If he wants an English Parliament, why not make proposals for it?
As devolution to the nations continues apace, we need to find a solution to the English question. The Liberal Democrats remain of the view that a constitutional convention must be part of that solution. The Leader of the House has proposed a novel process, but will he confirm that he will engage with all the parties over the next few weeks and will not proceed with these changes to Standing Orders if they will have severe consequences for the future of the Union?
I think that these changes are essential to the future of the Union, but we will consult extensively across the House. That is why I have said that the Procedure Committee will review the matter over the next 12 months and we will have a review in 12 months’ time. We will, of course, continue to discuss it, as I already have, with Members on both sides of the House.
The West Lothian question is as of nothing compared with the utter shambles in the House today. Like my hon. Friend Pete Wishart,I think that the Speaker of this House is being put in an utterly invidious position. Will you pass on the message to Mr Speaker, Madam Deputy Speaker, that, with the utmost goodwill, I shall be the arbiter of what is in the interests of my constituency? Nobody in this House speaks for my constituency other than me.
That is not strictly true. The hon. Gentleman does not speak for his constituents on education. It is the Member of the Scottish Parliament for his constituency who speaks on education. That is why these changes are necessary. The situation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is different, and it is right and proper that when a matter that relates to schools in my constituency and affects schools in constituencies across England, ultimately English Members of Parliament can say, “That is not what we want.”
I want to extend a hand of friendship somewhat to the Leader of the House, who is proposing to introduce the use of tablets to ensure that English MPs’ votes count twice, but what will that cost? Does he agree that in this time of Tory austerity cuts, simply to tattoo the foreheads of Scottish MPs would be cheaper and would underline their status as second-class MPs?
I have no idea if any of the new intake of Scottish MPs have any tattoos, but personally I prefer to spend perhaps a couple of thousand pounds on six iPads that can do the recording for us.
The Minister woefully misunderstands the essence of the West Lothian question. I say this as a close friend for 30 years of the former Member for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell. He has sat in my kitchen and we have discussed this ad nauseam. The essence of the West Lothian question is that if the Government introduce and continue to introduce multiple competences for the different Members in this House, that will end this House, cause confusion, create political chaos and end the Union. It is better, therefore, to have separate Parliaments with separate jurisdictions, whose Members are clear about what they do and the role they have with their constituents, or to have a unitary Parliament, which is what Tam Dalyell always wanted. The Government cannot have something in the middle—a dog’s breakfast. I put it to the Minister that simply saying—
I absolutely understand the West Lothian question. The people who did not understand the West Lothian question were Labour Members when they introduced a new approach to the constitutional structure of this country without giving any consideration to the views of and impacts on electors in England. As we take a further step down the road towards devolution, we are ensuring that we do not forget the English, unlike Labour did 20 years ago.
The comments that we have heard from Government Members show a remarkable ignorance or that Ministers are trying, as we say in Scotland, to be sleekit. The double majority issue surely now extends to the rest of the discussion of the Scotland Bill and what powers are transferred to Scotland, and to other UK legislation, such as the European Union Referendum Bill, where a majority of Scottish MPs or Welsh MPs may decide that we do not want that referendum on the EU. Surely this is a morass and must be taken away. Will he go back and consider the entire document?
I say again to the SNP and in particular to the hon. Members for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and for East Lothian (George Kerevan), that one of the great ironies is that they can vote on education in my constituency, but they cannot vote on education in their constituencies. Such constitutional arrangements do not pass muster. We are putting in place changes that I think are right. They are necessary to hold the Union together and to provide fairness in this Parliament; they are right and proper, and their time has come.
Will the Leader of the House answer this question on the specifics of voting in this House and not try to dodge the issue? He says in his statement: “The key difference is that our plans provide for an English veto at different stages in the process.” Does he not recognise the rank hypocrisy of this position when his MPs flooded in to veto the proposals of Scotland’s MPs on the Scotland Bill?
No, I do not because constitutional matters—[Interruption.] I say to the Scottish nationalists that this is a Union Parliament that will vote collectively across the United Kingdom on constitutional change. That is true of the Scotland Bill and it will be true of the Wales Bill, as well as changes in respect of Northern Ireland and the Standing Orders on English votes. It is a Union Parliament and it will vote together on those issues.
I think this is a case of last and least, given the fine contributions from my hon. Friends. We on the Opposition Benches know that over the years the House has been resistant to change. I find it incredible that a form of electronic voting is to be brought in simply to downgrade the Scottish MPs, although it had been resisted before. As I am the last to speak, I will try to help the Leader of the House understand what we have been trying to say in the numerous questions that we have asked. Our concern is that if Parliament passes English votes for English laws on matters that are devolved, we might not be able to vote on matters that affect the budget consequentials for our Parliament and our constituents, so the Government must make it clear that the double majority will not apply to matters relating to budget consequentials.
All Members of Parliament from all parts of the United Kingdom will continue to vote on budget matters. All Members of Parliament will vote on the Budget. If tax changes have been devolved to Scotland and an equivalent rate that does not apply in Scotland applies in England, it is right and proper that English Members of Parliament have the right to say yea or nay to those changes. What the Scottish National party seems to be saying is that devolution and increased powers for Scotland are fine, but the English should not be allowed any fairness at all. That is not acceptable.
The Scottish National party Members here wisely and honourably make a vow of abstinence that they will not vote on what they perceive to be English matters. However, that was not the case with Scottish Labour Members of Parliament before the general election. On many occasions they voted on matters to do with education and health that affected my constituents and made my constituents, rightly, angry about how things were being dealt with in this House. I welcome the statement, although I do not think it goes far enough. I also welcome the review, but would like to be assured that it will take into account the views of all Members of this House, including English Members.
I can absolutely give that assurance. It is right and proper. These changes are necessary because, as I said earlier, all Opposition Members are, to say the least, in the strange position of being able to vote on education in my constituency but not in their own. That suggests that there is something wrong with our constitutional arrangements. As part of our plans to strengthen the Union and to provide more powers to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, there has to be an English dimension. That is what this is all about. I am disappointed that the SNP and the Labour party support devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but seem to oppose the English having anything as part of that change.