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I beg to move,
I am exceptionally grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and to hon. Members throughout the House for the support that they have given me in bringing this matter to the Floor of the House today. It is a matter that is genuinely urgent, given the time scale that has been presented to the House by the Government, although it need not necessarily have been so. The urgency is of the Government’s own making. The matter had been under consideration already and would benefit from further mature consideration.
I would have liked to put in to speak in this debate, but I have to return at 2 o’clock to Committee to consider the Education and Adoption Bill, which I believe I would be barred from participating in under the terms of the Government’s proposals. Does not the depth of the proposals mean that we should have proper, thorough parliamentary scrutiny of these matters, rather than the proposals being railroaded through in this unconstitutional manner?
I am not entirely sure whether the hon. Gentleman is right that he would be barred from that, certainly at this point, but I can see that that is the logic of where we eventually go, although I suspect that logic might be resisted by the Government and Opposition Whips Offices because I know from my own experience that getting people to serve on such Committees is not always easy. It will be interesting to see what influence the Government business managers bring to bear on that in the fullness of time.
Is there not further reason why we would charge the Government with haste on this issue? Many of us on the Opposition Benches—a growing number, I hope—think the impact of the Scottish referendum will be to move this House to an English Parliament, with Parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That ought to be at least part of the discussion, rather than being excluded from the discussion, as the Government have done.
Rather than saying that that should be part of the discussion, I think it comes to the very heart of the discussion. I fully accept that the devolution process that was started in 1999 has created within the United Kingdom a number of anomalies. I entirely understand the concerns felt by right hon. and hon. Members representing constituencies in England, in particular. In order to address these anomalies, we need mature considered measures, instead of replacing the existing anomalies with further anomalies, as I very much fear the Government are about to do.
Surely it is true to say that discussions about future devolutionary change can go on. What is proposed is a change in the
Standing Orders simply to give a veto to the representatives of the people affected. That does not lead to an English Parliament or to English initiative; it finally brings a little justice into the system. It is based on what we had in our manifesto, and it should be proceeded with quickly.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Indeed, I suspect that I am more grateful than his colleagues on the Treasury Bench are, because he has nailed one point very early on: this does constitute a veto. As a federalist, I have no problem with vetoes, but if they are to be part of our parliamentary procedure we have to be prepared to have them going in different directions. The veto now being anticipated for English Members of Parliament would not be available to Scottish Members of Parliament, because they are governed by the Sewell convention and legislative consent measures. That is only the subject of a convention; it is not a veto. That is what I mean when I say that the Government, by bringing their proposal forward in this manner, risk creating further anomalies. The anomaly is one not of detail, but of fundamental constitutional principle. Were the House to bring together its collective mind, I do not doubt that we could eventually find a solution. Perhaps we would reach a compromise that was a little messy, but it is something we could reach. However, we are not going to reach that in the one day that will be offered to us to debate the changes to the Standing Orders.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not ignoring history? Scotland has had special arrangements in this House since the Victorian period. From 1948 Bills could be dealt with by the Scottish Grand Committee, and that was expanded in the 1990s, as he knows very well, and eventually Scotland ended up with its own Parliament. He cannot stop some change on the basis that it is not the final change.
I am by no means resistant to some change, and I will return to that point shortly. The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that the Scottish Grand Committee could debate Bills, but it could not vote on or amend them. That is how Grand Committees work. They are a perfectly sensible mechanism by which debate can be conducted by those who have the most direct interest, although they are perhaps a little redundant in this age of devolution, but they are by no means an attack on the fundamental principle that once we leave the Committee Rooms and enter this Chamber we are all equal and have the same right to participate in votes.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that the biggest danger facing the Union is not Scottish nationalism, but English nationalism? If we fail to deal with English votes on English laws in a timely manner, as set out in our manifesto, which the people voted for, English nationalism will see off our Union.
I absolutely agree 100% with the hon. Gentleman. The threat comes from English nationalism. However—it pains me to say this—that English nationalism is to be found on the Treasury Bench. The Leader of the House, when he came to the
Dispatch Box last week, took great pains to say that he was speaking as a Conservative and Unionist. I hate to say it, but he has brought forward something that no Unionist should. It is perfectly understandable for people in England to identify a national interest in response to a mood of Scottish nationalism forming north of the border, but the answer is not to meet it with more nationalism. The answer, I suggest, is a proper federal structure across the whole United Kingdom.
Mr Speaker, as an historian, you will know that the history of these islands is one of constitutional abnormalities. We are a nonsense, but somehow it works. It works because in this Chamber we are all equal, no matter where in the United Kingdom we come from. Therefore, to destroy that is nonsense.
This is where I will try to make some progress. I have been generous in taking interventions so far.
As I said yesterday, I want today’s debate to focus on the means by which the Government are seeking to achieve English votes for English laws, rather than the principle of English votes for English laws itself. As I have said, I am not without sympathy for the principle. I think that ultimately the solution will be for the people of England to decide what they want their constitutional future to be. Are they to have an English Parliament? If so, they should have an English Parliament, and this is the United Kingdom Parliament. Are they to have a network of regional Assemblies or something of that sort? That is a decision for the people of England, not something that we should seek to shoehorn into our Standing Orders.
My concern about what is proposed is that it is the most modest of proposals. It does not deal with the over-centralisation of power in Whitehall that blights people in England. It does not deal with the lack of proportionality. It does not deal with the fact that there is only one UK Independence party MP for 4 million votes. Those issues are also a democratic affront that require urgent consideration by those on the Treasury Bench, yet they do not seem to be attended to by the determination to introduce changes to the Standing Orders before the House rises for the summer recess.
What does the right hon. Gentleman say to my constituents who see the inherent unfairness of a situation in which he can vote on education matters affecting my constituency but I cannot vote on education matters affecting his? My constituents might quite rightly accuse him of wanting to have his porridge and eat it, and that is unfair to England.
Hopefully that is the last time I take an intervention intended for a local press release. Had the hon. Gentleman been listening, he would have heard me say a number of times already that I completely understand that point and am sympathetic to it. It is an issue that needs to be resolved by the people of England and for the people of England, but not by trashing the Union and the United Kingdom Parliament, of which we are all Members. I do not know what the ultimate solution will be, but I wish the people of England every bit as much joy in that debate as we in Scotland have had over the past 50 years. It is a debate that they must now have if we are to remain part of this family of nations.
I am afraid that is exactly what is happening. The Government are trying to create an English Parliament within the United Kingdom Parliament, instead of doing the long and difficult thing that we had to do in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a real threat to the United Kingdom if MPs from England regard this place as an English Parliament, rather than a United Kingdom Parliament. That used to be what it meant to be a Unionist. That is why I lay the charge at those on the Treasury Bench that they risk losing the right to call themselves Unionists.
I am going to make some progress, because the range of voices heard in this debate should be as wide as possible and I want to allow as many Members as possible to make speeches.
The Government brought forward a number of supporting papers with the Leader of the House’s statement last week. They are helpful, in as much as they give some detail on the proposals, but they give no indication of what they are seeking to achieve and where this will ultimately take us. The question of the double majority was raised earlier by Graham Stuart. It does constitute a veto. If we are to have a double majority, that means, in effect, that we will have two tiers of MP. We cannot have a double majority without having two tiers of MP; it is illogical nonsense to insist otherwise. Once we have crossed that threshold—crossed the constitutional Rubicon—we have to wonder where it will ultimately take us.
Is it not the case that we already have a two-tier system of MPs in Parliament—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]—in that some Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies refuse to take their seats and yet are paid allowances by this Government?
I do not think that is quite the kind of two-tier system that Conservative Members were cheering. The right hon. Gentleman is correct in his analysis. An appropriate change could be made to Standing Orders for that, because it is perfectly—
Forgive me—I really do need to make some progress, or nobody else is going to get to speak.
That would be an appropriate use of the way in which the Chamber responds to issues through Standing Orders. Matters of constitutional change, by convention—and rightly so—are taken on the Floor of this House at all stages, and likewise in the other place. They are given the fullest consideration because it is understood that they become exposed only with proper debate and scrutiny.
One of the novel aspects of the proposal that the Leader of the House laid before the House last week is the extension of these matters to Finance Bills. That opens up a whole range of questions that were not answered by him at the Dispatch Box or by the papers that he placed in the Vote Office. Finance Bills are, and have been for a long time, treated differently by this House. The fact that they are considered only by this House and not by the other place is the obvious difference, but there are also differences in the way in which they are introduced and considered in a mix of time spent here on the Floor of the House and in the Committee Room upstairs.
Are not Finance Bills a classic example of the way in which our unwritten constitution has developed? We trust Governments to be careful with it and to nurture it, whereas in this process we see a Government lighting the blue touch paper on the Union and not being careful with our unwritten constitution. Should not this House say, “Take care, take time, reflect”?
That is exactly what I hope this debate will achieve, because I know that the concerns about the constitutionality and the process of this are shared by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I am exceedingly grateful. The problem with the proposition that the right hon. Gentleman is putting forward is that it ignores the fact that there are already two classes of functions that were passed by the United Kingdom Parliament, which created not two tiers of membership in this House but two functions as between the Scottish Parliament, with its devolved functions, and those in the United Kingdom, which have been left swinging in the wind. Does he not accept that?
I do, but the hon. Gentleman must surely accept that what is being proposed through changing Standing Orders is not an appropriate way of addressing it. As I have already said times without number, I fully accept that several anomalies have been created by devolution, starting in 1999, but the answer to that is not to trash our own procedures in this House.
No; let me make a bit of progress because I want to stay on the question of Finance Bills.
Even with the measure of devolution of some taxes—I stress “some”—I would suggest that the setting of the Government budget as a whole is, again, treated differently from the passing of legislation in individual policy areas. Will the Leader of the House explain how his proposed new system is going to work for the consideration of estimates? For example, will estimates debates continue to be a vehicle for Select Committees, and how will that work when Select Committees draw their members from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which will be the case in this Parliament, as we can see from the Order Papers for today and and tomorrow?
This goes to the point that Kevin Brennan made about serving on Committees. I do not doubt that the Committee concerned, with good will, and perhaps even a measure of discussion among the usual channels, could deal with this, but the anomaly has been created and as yet the Government have no answer to it. Where is this going to take us in future? How are Members of Parliament from areas of the country that exercise devolved powers going to interact with Select Committees? If the principle of veto is to be accepted, and if members of the Health Committee or the Education Committee, for example, are to be drawn only from England and Wales, then I very much look forward to seeing how the Government are going to set up the Scottish Affairs and Northern Ireland Affairs Committees—good luck to them on that one.
If the principle of the veto is to work, it has to work both ways. For the Scottish Parliament, that means the end of the Sewel convention and the end of the conventional sense—the classic sense—of parliamentary sovereignty as it has been understood in this Chamber in the past, because if we give a veto to the Scottish Parliament on legislative consent motions, then that is the end of Dicey’s classic definition of sovereignty. I am not too unhappy about that—I am quite relaxed about it—but if the House is to undertake something of this sort, then surely it requires more than the debate that we are being offered.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman misses the key point about this being done through Standing Orders, which is that Standing Orders can be suspended by the House in a specific instance or permanently, and that therefore the sovereignty of this House remains unaffected.
No. If we are to take this to its logical conclusion—that is to say, to give a veto to the Scottish Parliament on areas that would currently be dealt with by the Sewel convention—then that will not be reclaimed by Standing Orders; it is the end of the supreme sovereignty of this House. That is why we need a sensible, more reasoned debate for which Standing Orders will always be inadequate.
No, I am sorry—I have been generous with my time.
The logic is that we should be considering this, if it is to be considered at all, by virtue of primary legislation. I know that that brings concerns particularly to those on the Treasury Bench, and that the Leader of the House will say that it raises questions of justiciability and reviewability of decisions that would ultimately have to be taken by you, Mr Speaker.
I am grateful. Is there not a clear distinction between two things? The first is whether this should be introduced by means of Standing Orders, and the second is what procedure, or method of reflection, the House may go through in deciding how and whether to adopt it, and under what circumstances. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was drawing the House’s attention to the latter point and the apparent lack of a timetable for proper consultation on this issue.
The two propositions are not mutually exclusive. There are elements that could be capable of remedy through Standing Orders if we were to have a proper debate. The Government’s proposal goes too far, too fast. In principle, other changes may be possible, as we discussed in government before the general election. I do not completely exclude the possibility of proceeding in that way, but going as far as the Government want to us to go, and within their timescale, brings with it an attendant level of risk that I would consider to be irresponsible in these circumstances.
The last Government discussed whether the proposal could be addressed in a single Bill. If there is a will in the House to consider how it could be done, that would be a much more sensible way of doing it. The Government are saying that we should do it for a year and that it should then be reviewed by the Procedure Committee. I hold that Committee in very high esteem, but the only thing that would happen under that process is an examination of how the system had worked. It would not put a dangerous genie back in the bottle after it had been let out. I think we all know that that is the political reality.
Personally, I am quite relaxed about the use of primary legislation and the justiciability of decisions then made by Mr Speaker. I do not think that anybody in this House should be making any decision that would not stand up to judicial scrutiny. However, if that is to be the block, let us have a proper debate, because it must be possible to use primary legislation to deal with that very point. Surely it is necessary to have a proper description of the boundaries of judicial review and any proscriptions. Frankly, this House has never undertaken such an exercise. Judicial review as a body of law has been allowed to grow like Topsy, led by the judiciary itself.
I am aware that I have already taken up quite a lot of time, albeit with interventions.
I believe so. It also highlights the need for a debate that goes well beyond the walls of this Chamber. The debate needs to be conducted throughout the country and to take in not just the political parties, but the Churches, the trade unions and civic England in the widest possible sense.
No, I will not give way.
That was how we built the consensus in Scotland that then led to the creation of a Scottish Parliament. Ultimately, that is what the people of England are going to have to do. They are not entitled to use the United Kingdom Parliament as a proxy for an English Parliament.
That brings me to my final point. In Scotland last year we went through a painful process that ultimately led to the people of Scotland deciding to remain part of this United Kingdom. We did it on the basis that we are all equal participants in this Union. I made those arguments in good faith and I believed at the time that the Conservatives did so, too. It is difficult for them to sustain that proposition if they insist on proceeding in this way.
I am pleased to have a further opportunity to set out the Government’s plans for strengthening the Union by providing fairness for England.
At the centre of the plans I announced last Thursday is the concept of fairness for all four countries of our United Kingdom. Fairness requires that further devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales be accompanied by a louder voice for England at Westminster on English matters. If we are devolving tax rates to other countries of the United Kingdom—the House is currently legislating to do so—it is only fair that Members of Parliament in those constituencies affected by that change have the decisive say over any tax rates that apply in their constituencies. If Members of the Scottish Parliament are in future to decide a Scottish rate of income tax, is it actually unfair that English Members of Parliament, or English and Welsh MPs, or English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs, have the decisive say over tax rates that affect their constituencies?
Will the Leader of the House tell us, then, whether it is now Government policy to end the Sewel convention on legislative consent motions and to give the Scottish Parliament a veto when it does not consent?
Not at this moment, no. We have an established method of using legislative consent motions. It is not unreasonable that we should use that same device in this House when an English-only matter affects English-only constituencies. Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that he should resist the idea of a legislative consent motion approved by English Members of Parliament on matters that affect only their constituencies?
May I take the Leader of the House back to January 2004, when Tony Blair’s Government were proposing top-up fees for English students? At the time, I was lobbied by the then Conservative Opposition and by Labour rebels, who told me that the Scottish National party should vote against that proposal on the basis that top-up fees for English students would have a knock-on effect on Scotland through the Barnett formula. Why has the Conservative party changed its mind? If these proposals go through, would I be in a position to exercise a vote on such a measure in the future?
Let me take that example and the question raised by Mr Carmichael about estimates. It is not our intention that estimates be voted on by individual groups of Members. They are, and will continue to be, a matter for the United Kingdom Parliament. On the question of tuition fees, what Alex Salmond must understand is that one of the things that was not understood by those in England who were affected by that change—which, if I recall correctly, was carried by a majority of five—is that, although English MPs voted against it, it was only as a result of the votes of Scottish MPs that it was carried, but it did not apply to students in Scotland. That is a very simple example. If a measure is to be applied to a group of people in England and not in Scotland, is it really unreasonable to suggest that English Members of Parliament should have the decisive say over that change?
Is the Leader of the House not acting a bit like a male rights activist who thinks that when females get extra rights there is a zero-sum game that takes rights away from him? If Wales passes a law to give more education rights, that has no impact on England, but if a health law is passed in England it has a Barnett consequential for Wales. There is an asymmetry and it is wrong for the right hon. Gentleman to plod forward and demand these rights when this is not a zero-sum game.
That was a very strange analogy. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he can vote on education in my constituency but not in his own constituency. Surely, if anything creates an anomaly, it is that.
Could my right hon. Friend tell me how it can possibly be right that I as a Welsh MP should be able to tell his constituents how to run their education and health service, or even why I should want to spend my time doing so? We have a Welsh Assembly and a Scottish Parliament, so is it not absolutely right that English constituents should have exactly the same right to self-determination?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have all lived with this situation for 20 years. The difference now is that we are legislating again: first for Scotland, to give significantly more powers to the Scottish Parliament, and later in this Session we shall legislate for Wales, to give significant additional powers to the Welsh Assembly. It is surely therefore right that, as part of our desire to protect our Union, we make sure that any resentment in England about the fact that those powers are not replicated there is addressed to the maximum degree.
Last night we discussed Scottish laws and whether they and Scottish powers should preside at Westminster or Holyrood. Ninety five per cent. of Scottish MPs in the House of Commons, as well as the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, want those powers to be moved to Scotland, but 500 Labour and Tory MPs who are not from Scotland walked through the Lobby and applied a veto. Why does Scotland not have a veto when the Leader of the House wants an English veto?
There are two parts to the answer. The first is that in the referendum last year the Scottish people voted to protect the Union. At the same time, we offered them a raft of additional powers for the Scottish Parliament that will enable it to take a far broader range of decisions than it could in the past. That is the difference. If we are to make that change, we must in my view address the issues raised by constituents in England who ask, “What about us?”
Does the Leader of the House not understand from this very intense debate that what he is doing is ill-prepared? If we had proper legislation, we could have pre-legislative scrutiny, consult the public and get academic experts in, but he is denying the House a full look at all the implications.
Let me make this clear for the hon. Lady. Will she explain, therefore, why last year when my predecessor invited members of her party to take part in the discussions about constitutional reform, they declined? I will not take any lessons from Labour Members about why this has all come late to them. When we published the proposals six months ago, we invited them to take part, and they ignored us. Do you know, Mr Speaker, the now acting leader of the Labour party did not even bother to respond to the letter? I will not take any lessons from them about this.
Let me cover some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, and I will then give way again.
The right hon. Gentleman’s first point was about two-tier MPs. He and other Members on the Opposition Benches are concerned that the proposals will create two tiers of MP or will impinge on the equal status of Members of Parliament. That is simply not right. All Members of Parliament are equal, and all of them will be able to continue to debate and vote on every piece of legislation passing through the House of Commons. It is simply incorrect to say that any Member of this House will be excluded from voting on or debating any piece of legislation. That is not what the reforms say: it is absolutely clear that everyone will be able to continue to participate.
The point is that if a measure affects wholly and exclusively English or English and Welsh Members of Parliament, they should have the decisive say on whether it is passed. Such a measure cannot be agreed without a majority of the United Kingdom Parliament, but nor can it be agreed without a majority of the MPs whose constituencies are affected by the change.
The distribution of grants will be part of this procedure. That, like all of this, was very clearly set out in our manifesto. I know that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland’s party has not always believed in sticking to manifesto commitments, but that is precisely what we are seeking to do. We think the proposal is important—it was clear for the country to see, and the country was able to debate it—and we are sticking to that promise.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that what he is proposing is a measured response based on precedent? Over the years, we have made changes to Standing Orders to deal with Scottish Bills, for example, in the way he suggests. We have amended Standing Orders when changes have been needed over time. Is not what he is doing absolutely in the tradition of how the House of Commons deals with these matters?
That is absolutely right. Indeed, my hon. and learned Friend might like to know that those with long experience of the workings of this House, including Members of the other place who have worked in positions of authority in this one, are all united in the view that changing Standings Orders is the right way to proceed. As I made very clear in my statement last week, hon. Members may form a different view over the next 12 months. When we review these matters in 12 months’ time, I shall be very open to such views. I am very clear, however, that changing Standing Orders is the starting point.
I have the document with the proposed changes to the Standing Orders, which were suddenly presented last week. There are 22 pages of new Standing Orders. My understanding of the procedure in the debate next week is that unless the Government table a motion that allows amendments to be made to them, we will have only one chance to amend them at the end of the debate. Given that there are 22 pages of Standing Orders introducing a range of very complex things, will the Leader of the House use this opportunity to confirm that he will table a motion for next week’s debate that will allow the draft Standing Orders to be amended appropriately, rather than to allow them to be amended just once at the moment of interruption, which would be a farce?
One of the reasons for publishing the Standing Orders two weeks in advance was to give Members the opportunity to raise precisely that sort of question. I am very happy to discuss that with the hon. Lady. She has not come to my office to ask me to do so, but if she wants to I shall be happy to discuss with her after this sitting how we are going to handle that debate.
I absolutely endorse the spirit of what the Leader of the House is trying to do, but will he deal with the issue of whether we should do it by altering Standing Orders or through primary legislation? The problem with changing Standing Orders is that, as we know from experience, Governments can just suspend them on the day, without any recourse; if the changes were made in primary legislation, Governments would have to repeal the Act. Is there not therefore a stronger argument for primary legislation?
It is clear that primary legislation is one possibility. As I have said, however, the advice we have received from the Clerks and those who have been involved in overseeing the House in the past is that such changes are normally done through Standing Orders. We have sought to deal with this measure, which was in our manifesto, through Standing Orders. I made it very clear in my statement last week that if Members have a different view when we review all this in 12 months’ time, as I have committed us to do, we will look at such an issue very carefully.
What legislation will the Government try to get through during that 12-month period, and how legitimate will that legislation be if, at the end of that period, we decide to reverse all this?
The hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand that Standing Orders are not some “obscure mechanism”, as one newspaper called them, but the means by which the House is governed on a day-to-day basis. They determine all the ways in which we operate in this House, so we are using the conventional mechanism by which the House operates. There is nothing strange about that. The question is whether we should do something different, and I am saying that we can discuss that as part of the review in 12 months’ time.
I rise to ask the right hon. Gentleman my question again, because I did not get an answer. I do not understand why he cannot give an assurance now that he will table a motion that will allow us to amend different parts of the 22 pages of draft Standing Orders, rather than have to deal with them in only one amendment. I see that he has received a note from the Box, and I hope that he can give me an answer.
As I said, I want to be as helpful to the House as possible. There will be an opportunity to debate and vote on more than one amendment to Standing Orders. It is of course up to the Speaker whether to select an amendment, but I expect amendments to be tabled and to be debated. If the hon. Lady wants to sit down with me afterwards to work out how best to handle that debate, I will be very happy to do so.
I am sorry to persist, but my understanding of the way we work is that unless the Government table a motion allowing votes on more than one of the changes to the Standing Orders at the moment of interruption, we will not have time to take other amendments. Will he undertake now, at the Dispatch Box, to table an appropriate motion so that we can amend—or, at least, attempt to amend—some of the 22 pages of changes to Standing Orders and have a vote on them at the end of the debate next week?
As I have just said, there will be an opportunity to debate and vote on more than one amendment to the Standing Orders. I give the hon. Lady that undertaking. There is absolutely no intention of limiting the debate.
I believe that the Government are entitled to fulfil their manifesto commitment. What worries me is that the Union is at stake, and we have to be seen to be doing this in a very fair way. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be open to the idea of allowing extra time so that Members can debate this fully, are not be limited to speeches of just three or four minutes on a complex area and have all the time they need to table amendments and get them debated. I really think that that is in the interests of the Union and of the Government.
As I said, there will be an opportunity to table and vote on more than one amendment. I am happy to look at whether we can provide a little more time for the debate. This change is intended to fulfil our manifesto commitment, but if there is a desire among Members to have a little more time, I am happy to look at how best we can provide it.
I will make a little more progress, because a lot of people are waiting to speak.
I am reticent about using legislation, because this House currently determines its own rules and procedures, rather than the courts. The boundaries between the courts and Parliament are long established and well respected. There is a principle of mutual respect, which means that the courts will not generally challenge the means by which legislation is passed or decisions taken in Parliament. There is a strong feeling in the House that using legislation to govern our legislative process would risk opening it up to legal challenge and that ultimate authority may pass from you, Mr Speaker, to the courts. We therefore have to be immensely careful.
Parts of the processes of the House have been legislated on, but I think that it would be better to consider the issue of legislation in 12 months’ time as part of the review, when we have seen the detail of how this works and invited the Procedure Committee to look in detail at how to make it work as effectively as possible. It is important that we are careful.
So far, the Leader of the House has talked about the position of Scottish and Welsh MPs. Some of us in this House believe passionately that there should be devolution to local authority areas in England. If there was devolution to combined local authority areas in England, would it be his intention to come back with proposed changes to Standing Orders to affect the voting position of the MPs who come from those areas?
The hon. Gentleman is not taking into account the fact that what we have in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is legislative devolution—they have the power to make laws. When there is devolution in England, for example to the Mayor of London, we do not devolve the power to legislate. The Chamber that legislates for England is this one. That is why we have to ensure that within what is and must remain a United Kingdom Parliament, we offer to English or English and Welsh Members of Parliament the decisive say over matters that exclusively affect their constituencies.
This is nothing to do with the majority in an individual Parliament; it is about doing what is right. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Conservative party has a United Kingdom majority in this Parliament, so this is not about the numerical position in this Parliament, but about making sure that we can answer English constituents when they say, “You are providing additional powers to Wales and Scotland and considering devolving the right to set corporation tax to Northern Ireland, but what about us? Where to we fit in? Where is England in this new devolution settlement?” That is what we are seeking to sort out.
Because I value the strength that this Chamber brings. To take away its remit over English matters would be to devalue it. We need to ensure that there is fairness in this Parliament; we do not need to dismantle our constitution to the point where we have an English Parliament as well.
In 1997, the incoming Labour Government had devolution in their manifesto, which is similar to the position of the current Government, but there was extensive consultation before they created a Parliament and two Assemblies. What we have here is a shabby little alteration to Standing Orders. How is that suitable for the people of England, even for those who agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has to say?
The hon. Gentleman clearly did not read our manifesto and clearly did not pay attention to what took place before the election, because these proposals were published months ago and have been discussed extensively. They were also set out in fine detail in our manifesto. He is claiming that we should not be implementing our manifesto commitment. There may be other parties in this House that do not believe in fulfilling their manifesto commitments, but we do.
No, I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already.
Before I finish, I want to make one point about double majority votes. The important thing to say—
We have proposed double majority votes for the consideration of Lords amendments and for other votes in which the agreement of English MPs in the whole House is required, simply to avoid the House having two Divisions, rather than one. Since we have the technology to do it in a single Division through a double majority vote, we can make things a lot easier for the workings of this House. That will be a lot more efficient than having everybody walk through the Division Lobbies twice in a row.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that he is muddling up process and substance? Process is one thing, but the substance is that he wishes to strengthen the Union—something I really agree with him about—by creating a division within a Parliament that is meant to represent the Union. In that sense, the proposal is half-baked. It is neither fish nor fowl, and he should go back to the drawing board.
The Labour party has a decision to take over the next few days on whether it will back these proposals or oppose them. It is now as near an English party as anything else. If Labour Members are going to go back to their constituents, who are undoubtedly saying the same thing as my constituents and my colleagues’ constituents, and say, “When we had the chance to give you fairness in the constitutional arrangements, we said no,” then bring it on.
I want to ask the Leader of the House a very simple question. As I understand it from his proposals, the Speaker will have to adjudicate on what is an English-only Bill. Where is the definition of an English-only Bill set down? Alex Salmond raised the issue of tuition fees and its Barnett consequentials. Where in the proposals is the definition set out?
The test that will be used is very simple: is it a devolved matter or not? Health and education are devolved. If it is a devolved matter, it will be covered by the proposals. The premise is simple: given that education is a devolved matter in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and that MPs from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland therefore cannot vote on education matters in their constituencies, they will not have the decisive say on education matters in the constituencies of English MPs.
I am most grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way. May I just explain to someone who really ought to know that many students leave Northern Ireland because we simply do not have sufficient university places? Very bright students—my constituents and the constituents of my colleagues—go to English and Welsh universities, of which I am enormously proud, having attended Aberystwyth University. Therefore, increases in tuition fees in England—so-called English laws—affect my constituents and constituents across Northern Ireland and Scotland. It is wholly untenable for the Leader of the House to claim that if education is devolved to Northern Ireland, it is an English-only matter in this place. That is completely wrong.
There has been a dilemma over tuition fees. We have a situation where an English student going to university in Scotland is liable to pay tuition fees, whereas a Scottish student is not. Indeed, a Lithuanian student going to study in Scotland is also free of fees. English Members have had no say at all in that. What we have is a constitutional anomaly. Of course, the hon. Lady cannot vote on student fees in Northern Ireland, so she is already living with an anomaly. We are trying to ensure that there is fairness for English Members of Parliament.
To pursue the point that was made by Edward Miliband, the former leader of the Labour party, the Leader of the House indicated to me earlier that tuition fees would be a matter reserved for English MPs, but under the proposals, it is for the Speaker to certify which matters are reserved. How does the Leader of the House know, before the Speaker’s certification, that that matter will be certified, despite the Barnett consequentials that affect my constituents and many others?
If I remember rightly, I said to the right hon. Gentleman that it was an anomaly that Scottish MPs secured an increase in tuition fees in England when there was no equivalence in Scotland. Of course it is a matter for the Speaker, but the test that will be applied in the Standing Orders—against which the Speaker will make his decision—will be whether or not a matter is devolved. That is set out clearly in the Standing Orders and it is the simplest test of all.
I think that these measures are necessary. I know that they deliver to you, Mr Speaker, a challenge that you do not have at the moment, but I think you will agree that as we move towards an extra level of devolution for Scotland and Wales, and as we devolve additional tax powers to Northern Ireland, it is vital that English citizens of the United Kingdom think that the system is fair. That is what we pledged in our manifesto, and we have set it out in detail, step by step, while implementing those changes. We are keeping our promise, and those who elected us would expect nothing else.
I rise to support the motion tabled by Mr Carmichael, and I congratulate him on his successful application for this debate. Debates under
To avoid any scintilla of doubt, the official Opposition accept that with the prospect of greater devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the voice of English MPs must be heard on matters that relate purely to England. That could be achieved in any number of ways, but we believe strongly that such changes would best be achieved by the widest consideration and proper consultation with all political parties and wider civil society. Cross-party support would also be desirable, and it is regrettable in the extreme that the Government have made no meaningful efforts to facilitate that. Instead, they have played narrow party politics when they should have been putting the national interest and the Union first.
All those potential flaws were debated in this House at the time of devolution to Scotland and Wales. The settlement was asymmetrical, and the Labour party failed to institute a constitutional convention at that stage.
We had the guts to come forward with proper legislation and a referendum before any of the Assemblies were put in place. If only the Conservative party had even considered doing that.
Further to the intervention by Antoinette Sandbach, if we had known at the time that through a simple change to the Standing Orders, the issues that were devolved to the Assemblies and the Scottish Parliament would be handed down to some makeshift English assembly or Parliament, would that have had an effect on our debates on those devolved matters? It could have resulted in a completely different outcome.
In a minute. I am trying to respond to the point that has been put to me. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me a sentence or two, I promise I will give way. My hon. Friend Clive Efford is right: devolution is a desirable process but it must be done properly if it is not to create resentment. I give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman who is eager, as always.
The devolution settlements for Wales and Scotland took time to develop and evolve, and—as I was in the middle of saying—there are clearly issues for England that we now need to consider. We consider that that issue should be properly dealt with as part of a constitutional convention that should be charged with examining how the United Kingdom is governed, in a much more profound and holistic way than the reckless and partisan fiasco with which we are currently presented. Instead, we have a Prime Minister who chose to exploit the bitterness and division created after the Scottish referendum for his own narrow electoral advantage, rather than attempt to heal the wounds that had opened up. We now have a Government who seem more interested in pursuing a partisan procedural fix than in showing any intention of keeping our Union together.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that devolution has not worked in Northern Ireland? We have different forms of devolution everywhere, and it is not working; Scotland is wanting more and more. We do not have a mechanism for looking at a long-term strategy for how we should go forward. Should we have a Committee of the House of Lords or the Commons that will look for a long-term strategy so that we get a much better way forward?
We are in a complex position, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that Northern Ireland has its own particular issues that are mixed up with the peace process. We think that we need a constitutional convention to consider where we are in the round and across the piece—including the ever expanding House of Lords, which grows larger and larger every year, even as the Government want to cut the number of elected Members of Parliament. All that suggests that time is right for us to consider a constitutional convention.
My hon. Friend is right: we need to separate out the serious issue of how our whole constitution works together alongside devolved Assemblies and Parliaments in the United Kingdom. Is the real point that we need to discuss how the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and city regions that will get increased devolution, fit into that model?
My hon. Friend is right. We can do a range of things to devolve power and ensure that any resentment about the way we are governed, of which in this anti-politics era there is much, is properly responded to by a constitutional convention that reaches out—
I am in the middle of a sentence. Let me just finish answering my hon. Friend, then I will be more than happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman. Before I was so graciously interrupted, I was saying that it feels right this time—there has been so much change and so many more demands for devolution—to consider the issue as a whole and involve civil society. We should have a proper debate on that, and we certainly do not want to be involved with these procedural fixes.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her graciousness in giving way, and I apologise for intervening on her mid-sentence. Does she accept that her party bears a heavy burden of responsibility for the trials and tribulations that we face today? The Labour party was desperate to appease Scottish nationalism in 1999 and failed to address the West Lothian question posed by her former hon. Friend, Tam Dalyell, the one-time Member for West Lothian. Had Labour addressed the issue at the time, we would not be in this position today. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is proposing a simple remedy that addresses a long-standing sense of grievance in England.
I do not think the proposed remedy is simple; I think it is an abuse of process. These changes are controversial and complex and have profound implications for our constitution and for the Union. As such, they ought to be subject to proper scrutiny and consultation, but instead the Government hope to sneak them into place just before the summer recess, in one single debate and in only one Chamber of our Parliament.
They have chosen to use a procedural fix in an attempt to bring about profound constitutional change. Next week, they will seek to amend the Standing Orders of the Commons to introduce their partisan version of what they have chosen to call English votes for English laws, virtually without any parliamentary oversight and completely without the possibility of any judicial oversight.
We are due to debate the details of the proposals on
Why did the Labour party ignore the needs and voices of England when it first created lopsided devolution, and why has it come up with absolutely no ideas to meet the requirements and needs of England in 18 years of lopsided and unfair devolution?
I would not have given way to the right hon. Gentleman had I realised that he has only just come into the Chamber and has missed the rest of the debate. The answer to his question was given earlier when he was not attending.
The shadow Leader of the House makes her case in her usual strong way. On timing, a debate is scheduled for Wednesday next week. Has she approached the Leader of the House and asked for a suspension of Standing Orders so that we can speak through the night on all the issues? He has given confirmation that he will allow amendments and votes on the proposals, but has the shadow Leader of the House asked for that time?
I have not, but I might consider it. The hon. Gentleman has taken the assurances, or non-assurances, I got from my earlier question a bit too much to heart. Twenty-two pages of changes to Standing Orders will be up for consideration. Our normal procedures allow a vote on only one or two amendments. If the Government were to move a motion that allowed many, many more amendments to be voted on at the moment of interruption at the end of the debate, we might be in a position to have more of an effect. Currently, it is a fait accompli.
I assume that that is exactly what the Leader of the House will do—move that motion—but even if that happened, and even if we had votes at the moment of interruption, we will surely not have enough time to debate 22 pages of Standing Orders. Surely we should go through the night.
I am minded to agree with the points the shadow Leader of the House has made. Does she agree that the logical extension of what the Leader of the House has said on double voting implies that, in future, if any of the nations of this kingdom wish to exit by way of referendums, all of the peoples of this kingdom should have a say in those plebiscites?
The hon. Gentleman pursues his Northern Irish interests in his usual way. Many such issues need to be looked at very carefully, which is why we advocate a constitutional convention, so that we can look at the thing in the round and in balance, and so that we can make proper decisions that weigh and balance with one another, rather than changing something not realising that there are unintended consequences.
To follow up on the point made by my right hon. Friend John Redwood, it might be of interest to the shadow Leader of the House that, back in 1997, I tabled an amendment to deal with the result of the Scotland Act 1998 through amendments to Standing Orders. Of course, the Government at that time disregarded the matter.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. He is assiduous in his attendance and I could never accuse him of not being here from the beginning of a debate. The use of Standing Orders to make that change is a terrible precedent.
“must be widely regarded as fair…and respect the prerogatives of all MPs.”
Why does she believe the Government have rejected the McKay proposals?
I tried to ask the Leader of the House that question during his statement last week, but answer came there none. I agree with my hon. Friend’s interpretation.
I have no knowledge of whether that is the case. However, I am sure we will hear from Mr Walker. He can give us any answers, because he was there at the time.
Today’s debate is about process rather than content, so I will confine myself to observations of the process the Government have chosen to use. I note in passing that the Government have gone much further on English votes for English laws than the McKay commission suggested would be wise. They have not explained why they have chosen to do so, as my hon. Friend Wayne David has just observed.
The McKay report contained serious warnings about the effect of creating an English veto, a double majority and two classes of MPs. The Government’s proposals ride roughshod over those warnings and instigate all three. They also extend the application of the rules to Finance Bills and create the extraordinary probability that a measure passed by a majority in both Houses can be vetoed by a minority. It is possible to concoct a procedural fix to introduce major constitutional change, as the Government have done, but my contention is that it is not wise to do so. In fact, it is a constitutional outrage.
On that aspect, the hon. Lady is missing the point. If there were a majority in both Houses for a specific piece of legislation, there would be a majority in the House to suspend Standing Orders. That is crucial in ensuring that a Government that is dependent on non-English votes can get its business through.
The proposals for a double majority, as far as I understand them, are extremely worrying. They are likely to act as a dampener on the activities of the House of Lords as a revising Chamber. That is part of the debate we must have next week. Today I want to talk about the process—how the Government have decided to make the change.
The issue of Standing Orders is absolutely at the heart of the matter. The proposals make no suggestion of entrenchment of Standing Orders and no requirement of a special majority to suspend them. The House regularly suspends Standing Orders in particular circumstances—to speed up the passing of a Bill, to change the sitting hours or whatever it may be. The flexibility of Standing Orders ought to be a reassurance to the Labour party. If a future Labour Government are dependent on Scottish votes, they will be able to get their business through the House because they can suspend Standing Orders.
It is terribly kind of the hon. Gentleman to give us that assurance, but we need to base changes to our constitution on more than that.
The process the Government have chosen to use to create EVEL goes against every precedent. Substantial constitutional changes should be implemented by Acts of Parliament and examined in both Houses. They should not be rushed through in changes to Standing Orders. Changes to Commons Standing Orders cannot be challenged in the courts because of article 9 of the Bill of Rights, nor can they be subject to proper, open scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament. They are clearly not suitable for introducing a de facto English Parliament within the existing Union Parliament, as the Government have proposed.
All major constitutional changes, from the supremacy of the Commons in the Parliament Acts through to our membership of the European Union and the devolution process, have been introduced by Acts of Parliament—the Parliament Act 1911, the Parliament Act 1949, the European Communities Act 1972, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Government of Wales Act 1998, the Scotland Act 1998 and the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Each of those Acts was properly scrutinised over a period of time, with days of debates in both Houses and the proper consideration of amendments. Many were preceded by Green Papers, White Papers and a thorough debate in the country. Some could only be commenced after a referendum had been won. All those measures are subject to interpretation in the courts. Under the Government’s proposals, the introduction of English votes for English laws would not be.
The hon. Lady is of course right in reading that list, but I say to her gently that the point we are at today is the logical consequence of the way in which devolution was carried out. The logical consequence at its end is that, if we wish to reform the structures of this House in the way she wants, we need a written constitution and a completely different basis on which we are to operate. That was one of the things that those on the Labour Front Bench at the time said persistently they did not wish to see happen. Bringing forward measures to change these matters by Standing Orders is the only way to honour the commitment made by those on the Labour Treasury Bench at the time.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has perhaps not read the manifesto on which Labour fought the election, but it said we wanted a constitutional convention. The time is right to have a much closer and more holistic look at what is happening in the House of Lords and in the devolved Parliaments to see where we have ended up. That is our current policy.
No previous changes to Standing Orders have contained such substantial constitutional change. I have already dealt with why this is a lamentable precedent.
I have already given way to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I want to get on, because many people wish to speak.
Previous changes to Standing Orders, which were nowhere near as radical as these, were introduced initially on a temporary basis, often at the suggestion of the Procedure Committee, and tested out before either being abandoned or made permanent. Many innovative changes to Standing Orders have been introduced on a temporary basis initially. For example, the changes introduced by the previous Labour Government allowing for debates in Westminster Hall were temporary and subject to renewal. So too were the changes introducing the programming of legislation and deferred Divisions. Yet the Government have not even asked the Procedure Committee to report on the changes it has sprung on the House. They have merely suggested that it should have a review into the new arrangements, but only after they have already been implemented.
It is usual for changes to procedures of the House to be approved by free votes, as they are House business not Government business. This was the case with House of Lords Reform; changes to the legislative process, including the introduction of public evidence for Committees; the programming of Bills; and the election of the Speaker. The EVEL proposals, however, are Government business and they are especially partisan because of their explicit inclusion in the Conservative manifesto.
I am arguing that this is the wrong way to do this kind of change. The procedures and Standing Orders of the House should be House business. They should not be infected by Conservative or Labour Whips. It is the Government who have chosen to make these changes in this way. The right hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of himself.
We are now to believe that the Government should mandate changes to the Standing Orders of the Commons as set out in their manifesto and force them through using a whipped vote. This is a very, very sad day. The Government’s changes will turn their slim majority of 12 into over three figures if both Scottish and Welsh MPs are to be prevented from voting. I believe this is the real driver behind the changes, and it makes the outrageous procedural fix, of using Standing Orders rather than legislation to produce the change, even more unacceptable. I hope that even at this late hour the Government will think again. The unintended consequences of what they are doing could be very large indeed and the precedents they are setting are dire.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We all heard the Leader of the House indicate that tuition fees in England might be a measure subject to the procedure that he is outlining, anticipating not just the changes to Standing Orders but your certification if the change to Standing Orders take place. I know the Leader of the House does not understand the Barnett formula, but I know you do, Sir. Would that not therefore put you in a position of having to certify and disallow the votes of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Members of Parliament despite the clear direct and indirect effects that that would have on their rights to vote and on their constituents? Would that not be not just an invidious position, but greater than the shoulders any one man could bear—if I remember the quote correctly, when just such a measure was rejected in the 19th century?
The right hon. Gentleman has demonstrated very clearly that he knows his Gladstone and we are grateful to him for that. The short answer to him is that if these measures take effect, the responsibility of the Chair will be to fulfil his duties in accordance with the Standing Orders. That is the factual position. How people interpret that, what gloss—I use that term non-pejoratively—people put on it, is a matter for them. The Chair will do the duty of the Chair. People may like that duty or dislike that duty, think it beneficial or hazardous, but the duty would have to be done.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order relates to the response that has just been given, of which I am very respectful indeed. The Speaker will know that under the proposed changes to Standing Orders, the Speaker is actually forbidden to give reasons in the House for certification.
However, the Speaker is not forbidden outside the House to give reasons for certification. Is the Speaker minded to give reasons outside the House for certification?
I think we are ahead of ourselves. The possibility that the hon. Lady is ahead of me, and indeed most us, is certainly not one that should be discounted. I say she is ahead of herself with no spirit of surprise at all, but there are no such Standing Orders yet. My counsel to the hon. Lady is to wait and see, or, in the words not of Gladstone but of the late Lord Whitelaw, it is probably best to cross bridges only when you come to them. Perhaps we can leave it there for today. If there are no further points of order, we will proceed with the debate.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr Speaker. It is my first speech in the new Parliament and I rejoin the fray in another highly charged debate in this Chamber.
First, may I say that the Leader of the House has met me on a number of occasions in the past six weeks to keep me informed of the Government’s proposals? The problem we have, which afflicts the whole House, is that at this moment we have no Select Committees. Not a single Select Committee is meeting yet, because the relevant orders have not been laid.
The politics of what we are debating today and what we will debate next week are for the Government and this House to decide. I very much want to focus on a few areas that the Procedure Committee will want to cover later in this Parliament. As I said, the Committee is yet to meet. I hope we will meet before we rise for the summer recess, but that is not guaranteed. I will be sending a letter, as the elected Chairman of the Procedure Committee, to the Leader of the House later this week.
Is it therefore not distinctly odd that the Leader of the House wishes to take great pride in sticking to his manifesto commitment, when that commitment said he would consult the Procedure Committee before he brought the proposals to the House? He is trying to bring the proposals to the House before the Committee has met.
The pursuit of perfection is always to be desired, but it is not often achieved. That is the best answer I can give to the hon. Lady.
If the House votes for these changes next Wednesday, the Committee will want to consider how future Bills are drafted and whether their scope might be narrowed to enhance their Englishness. Will there be a temptation to narrow a Bill so that England comes to the fore and other parts of the Union are excluded? In due course, we will want to take evidence from Clerks and parliamentary counsel. In the last Parliament, there were some hard-won successes to make Report and programming more effective.
The hon. Gentleman is outlining a new idea for Parliament—post-legislative scrutiny—because the Standing Orders will already have been approved. His Committee might say they are rubbish, but we will be stuck with them for a year. What are we going to do about that?
With the greatest of respect to the hon. Lady, I am not entirely sure what the Procedure Committee can do about that on its own. As she will be aware, when the Committee comes up with recommendations, they have to be brought to the Floor of the House for a vote. We can bring our ideas to the House, but we cannot require it to adopt them; there has to be a vote on the Floor of the House.
My hon. Friend might recall that the Leader of the House wisely said that the arrangements would be subject to review within a specified period, which would give the Procedure Committee the opportunity to consider not only the 22 pages, but the seven lines of proposed changes to Standing Orders that I have proposed and which would also give the Speaker the power to issue a certificate.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The Committee will take a close interest in these changes, if they are implemented by the House next week—that is my guarantee to the Chamber.
The changes, if adopted, will insert up to four extra stages after Report. It is important that the Leader of the House identifies in the near future where this time will come from. We cannot have the Report stage being pared back. If anything, there is an enormous appetite in the House for its being extended to provide greater scrutiny, so we would be concerned if no additional time was provided for the extra stages.
I hope that extra time is indeed feasible. That is what I am asking for. It would be disastrous for the House and its ability to scrutinise and amend Bills if Report were truncated to take account of these new stages. Indeed, we might have to accept that the legislative process attached to certain Bills will become longer. Something will have to give. Either we will have to spend more time scrutinising fewer Bills, or we will have to extend the parliamentary day. More time will have to be found in the parliamentary week, or we will have to consider having fewer Bills.
Does this not sound more and more like the proverbial dog’s dinner in terms of its resolution and the procedures that will have to be introduced as a result?
It is for the hon. Gentleman to make that point. As I said, I want to keep out of the politics. I know that that is difficult for a Member of Parliament, but I will try my best.
I have briefly covered my concerns about Report, which I believe are shared by other colleagues I have spoken to.
The hon. Gentleman talks about more time being available for Report. Would not the guarantee of that be a House business committee? Is that not the logical conclusion of where we are heading? In his many discussions with the Leader of the House, has he detected any enthusiasm from the Treasury Bench for that proposition?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a wonderful intervention, because I am a huge fan of a House business committee, but he will recall that he was in the previous Cabinet, which did not bring forward such a committee. If the Government are minded to support one, they would obviously have my support in that ambition.
Our Committee is very open minded and broad minded. We are a new Committee—I believe we are beginning to gather our members together—but of course all colleagues are welcome to make representations, and if they do, they will get a fair hearing.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman, whom I know very well, that we were not talking about this proposal. I shall tell him what it was about outside the Chamber.
I want to make some progress because plenty of other people want to speak and I do not want to crowd them out. The Government will need to be careful in the language they use when introducing a Bill. It is right that an explanatory memorandum asserts the Government’s view about the scope of the Bill, but that assertion should not be made overtly or aggressively. We do not want a Bill introduced with the Government saying, “This is absolutely unquestionably relating to England only, and anyone who disagrees is a total and utter idiot”—that would be the subtext. They need to be careful in their language so as not to be seen to be putting undue pressure on the Chair—I dare suggest—to come up with a certification one way or another.
It might well do. However, in the Conservative party’s manifesto for England, we say:
“The Speaker will be required to certify bills or clauses where English MPs must give their consent to equivalent English decisions where provisions are devolved to another part of the UK, or they have a separate and distinct effect for England. In reaching a decision the Speaker will have regard to any cross-border effects and the national significance of any legislation, for example infrastructure projects.”
I think, therefore, that there is still some debate around the issue my hon. Friend raises.
Is it not a good sign that we have had the Scottish Parliament for some years now and there have been no great issues about deciding what is a Scottish matter? If it is possible to know what is a Scottish matter, it must be equally easy to know what is an English matter.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point that I am sure will be appreciated by both sides of the House—as he is appreciated by both sides of the House.
I know that the Chair of the Procedure Committee will understand that decisions of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly cannot have a financial consequence on this House, but that decisions of this House can have a financial consequence on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I know that someone of his expertise will have appreciated that point, even if it is lost on others.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and, of course, I appreciate that point and the sincerity with which it has been put to me.
In seeking certification of various clauses as the Bill progresses after Report, it could be that on some occasions the Speaker needs to clarify the advice he has been given and will require additional time to seek advice, particularly where judgments are finely balanced. The Speaker must be allowed that time. I know that the Government have an imperative to get their legislation through as quickly as possible, but in bringing forward these proposals, the Government must recognise that on occasions there will need to be delay as advice is sought and considered by the Speaker.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves on to his next point, I want to ask whether he is concerned that the Speaker is wilfully and deliberately prohibited from giving the reasons for certifying that Bills are exclusively English or English and Welsh only? What justification could there possibly be for prohibiting the Speaker from explaining why he has provided such a certification?
I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman’s reference to “cross-border”. Will he clarify whether there are even more parts of this jigsaw than we thought hitherto? If we take an issue such as HS2, those of us who are close to the English border and the connection at Crewe could be more deeply affected than, say, my hon. Friend Nia Griffith. Does that mean that some Welsh MPs could vote and others could not?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. It is not for me to defend the Government’s position on this matter, or to make the arguments that the Government will make. Her point will, however, have been heard by the Leader of the House. In fact, I was almost coming on to the direct part of my rather long speech that most closely relates to the very observation she has made.
The guidance attached to the proposed
I have spoken for longer than I anticipated. Indeed, this is probably my longest speech in the 10 years I have been in Parliament. I have enjoyed taking interventions and hope I have responded as best I can. What I would say is that I take this place very seriously; I take the concerns of Members very seriously; and the Procedure Committee will look at this issue very seriously.
I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing this important debate. As already mentioned, it is very rare that we have the opportunity to debate an important issue under
What we are doing is quite extraordinary. We have not done anything like this for centuries. It is of historical significance because it is of such constitutional importance. Nothing has been done like this since the days of Gladstone. I look nervously at Mr Rees-Mogg, who might well confirm that. Back in the days of Gladstone, this was being done in an attempt to curtail the voting rights of Irish MPs, and history is able to judge just how successful that was in maintaining the then Union in those times.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to cite the Irish example. No one predicted then the crises that would follow for the next 30 years of parliamentary history and then the subsequent crisis, which ended up partitioning our island. Does he agree that no one can now predict the crisis that could engulf Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland as a result of what is happening here?
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that I would not have defined it as a “crisis”, but as constitutional progress, but he is right in one respect—if this is an attempt to try to save the Union, God help them! It seems as though the Government are absolutely determined to push us out. They are introducing English votes for English laws in the same week as we have been debating amendments to the Scotland Bill, and 58 out of 59 Scottish Members of Parliament supported measures that were agreed in the
Scottish Parliament by every single party in it. To be voted down by English Members of Parliament shows that this is not just English votes for English laws; it is English votes for Scottish laws. It is totally and utterly unacceptable.
We are hearing about vetoes. Yes, that is a major characteristic of what the Government intend to do—to have a veto on issues that will be for England only. How are they are going to achieve that? They are going to give Members of Parliament iPads in the Lobbies. It is not only English votes for English laws; it is English iPads for English laws. Why do they not just tattoo our foreheads as “Scottish”—then they would not have to vote on the iPads and they would be able to identify us. Apparently, though, that was turned down for this more high-tech solution. It is utterly and absolutely bizarre.
One would think that, with something as constitutionally important and of such historical significance as this, we would have the fullest possible debate and full scrutiny. To create something as important as this, one would expect debate not just in this House, but in every single constituency and community across the United Kingdom. We would have thought there would be a Bill and an opportunity for it to be properly debated, and that the Bill would have different stages, at which hon. Members would be able to table amendments to be discussed, debated and decided on.
What do we have, however? We have two weeks in which to consider this issue. It was introduced by the Leader of the House last Thursday. This House has been invited to make up its mind a week on Wednesday. The Leader of the House would not even answer any parliamentary questions about English votes for English laws, but we got one yesterday, did we not, and by Jove, was it a cracker.
The hon. Gentleman talks about two weeks, so may I ask him why he has not made reference to the fact that these proposals were first presented to the House in December last year?
May I say to the Leader of the House—this is an important point—that we have been discussing, debating and looking at these issues for a long time in the House. We hear again and again about the West Lothian question and how it has to be addressed. I have a great deal of sympathy with English Members when it comes to this. I think there is a point to be addressed and that something needs to be done. However, to do it on the basis of the mad proposals of the Leader of the House is almost an insult to the House. To present his paper last Thursday and then to ask every Member to reach some sort of conclusion about what we should do is just about the worst possible disrespect to this House. The Leader of the House has to reconsider the amount of time he is going to give us to discuss the matter because this is huge. It is massive. It has never been done before.
This is an intriguing and interesting point. I still do not get English Members’ point. They are creating a quasi-English Parliament in the unitary Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They cannot be bothered—
I have asked the hon. Gentleman this question before, but he has not given any kind of answer. How does he distinguish between the proposals as he puts them and the fact that the UK Parliament deliberately decided in 1997 to create two different functions—not two different classes of Member? It was the UK Parliament that decided. What is his beef?
I am actually grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point. What we did—I will say this ever so gently and carefully to the hon. Gentleman—is this. We went around the difficult business of creating a Parliament. We did the work. We had a constitutional convention, and we consulted with communities and with interests across Scotland. What he wants to do is to create this quasi-English Parliament in two weeks. “Go and do the work.” That is what I say gently to English Members. “You cannot create a Parliament on the basis—on the back—of just changing the Standing Orders of the House. You must debate, you must consult, and you must make sure that you take the nations with you. Do the work, English Members!”
When it comes to constitutional reform, the engine for change in Scotland is the Scottish National party. Every time we see a leap forward for the Scottish Parliament, an increase in powers or an independence referendum, it is based on the votes of the Scottish people and their representatives, such as my hon. Friends who are with us today. Let us not try to pretend that this is anything other than an attempt to create an English Parliament in the House of Commons, which is unacceptable to the rest of the people in the United Kingdom. I have a great deal of sympathy with English Members. I know of their unhappiness, because we hear about it again and again. English Members are so unhappy about the unfairness of it—about these evil, dreadful Scottish MPs who come down here and vote on their legislation—but if they want an English Parliament, they must go and do the work.
I certainly do not think that the presence of members of the hon. Gentleman’s party in the House is an evil presence. They have a legitimate reason to be heard and to make their points. However, the hon. Gentleman seems to me to be arguing that we should not be taking the current Scottish legislation through Parliament at all, and that we should be having a national constitutional convention. We are responding to the vow, which he said was absolute, but I must gently point out that there was also a vow to the electorate in England and Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom that we would legislate to change the Standing Orders of the House. That, surely, encapsulates part of the problem. It is a bit difficult for the hon. Gentleman to come and argue against it when he asks for exactly the same position for the purpose of his own agenda.
What the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said in his rather lengthy intervention is partly right. What we have in this House, and what we have in this nation, is an issue and a difficulty. It is called “asymmetric
UK”, although Members may prefer to call it “asymmetric Britain”, and what it has led to is our own unhappiness. We agreed to—we voted for—a particular dynamic or trajectory of Scottish politics. We wanted to see further powers for our Parliament. That has been turned down by English Members, so we are unhappy. I sense that my Welsh colleagues are unhappy as well. In a debate last week, I heard them raise some of the cross-border aspects of what is being suggested. I know, because we are hearing it non-stop, that English Members are unhappy, and they are probably right to be unhappy. I know that they are furious about Scottish Members. How dare we come down and vote on their precious public services? However, there is a solution: it is called federalism, and it is what we thought we were voting for last year. What we were promised was as close as possible to federalism, or to home rule.
No, I will not.
We could do our own thing and decide what we want, English Members could decide what they want in their own Parliament, and Welsh Members could decide what they want. I see that Mr Allen agrees with all that I am saying. What is wrong with it? We could then come together in the House to decide on important matters such as foreign affairs, defence, international relationships, the monarchy and the currency. That would resolve all the outstanding issues, and would deal with some of the unhappiness on these Benches, on the Government Benches, and on the Benches to my right. Why can we not do it? I will tell the House why we cannot. It is because English Members do not want to pursue a logical solution to a question that is deeply hard to answer.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s argument about federalism. Germany is often cited as an example of a federal structure that works, but it did not work until Prussia was broken up. If one component of federalism is disproportionately larger than all the others, that imbalance cannot be overcome. I think that federalism in England may not be possible, given the current structure of the United Kingdom.
I say this to the hon. Lady: we will put up with it. We will deal with it. I know that it is difficult, but it is better than what we are securing now, because that is not working.
This places you, Mr Speaker, in the most unenviable, pernicious political situation—a situation that is almost intolerable. Given what was said by the Leader of the House, I think that you will be receiving your orders about certification from him. That is very much what seemed, from his remarks, to be intended. He will tell you what is English-only legislation, and you will have probably the most political role in the House. You will either have to stand up to the Leader of the House as he attempts to bully you, or you will have to—
Order. In what is a highly charged debate in which strong feelings are being expressed, I must of course leave the House to make its own assessment of the merits of these proposals, but, for the avoidance of doubt, let me just say to Pete Wishart that I have never been pushed around by anyone in the House. To be fair, the Leader of the House has never tried to push me around, and I think he knows that it would be a forlorn mission.
The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that, under proposed Standing Order 83R, votes on tuition fees will automatically be subject to the new rules. Let me also say to him and his colleagues that I regard their presence in the House as a great asset. I would much rather have them than 57 Liberal Democrats.
I do not really know what to say in response to that, other than “Yes, so would I.”
The Speaker of the House of Commons will now be thrust into a political role in which he will have to decide—if he is not to be bullied or pushed around by the Leader of the House—what will constitute Barnett consequentials. He will have to decide what will have an impact on our Parliament, and what will have an impact on the constituents whom we are all here to represent. The Speaker of this House will have to decide whether a Bill has a spending impact on the Scottish Parliament, and on public services in Scotland. That is a dreadful, dreadful position for him to be in. I say to the Leader of the House, “Shame on you for placing our Speaker, our cherished Speaker, in such an invidious political situation.”
That is exactly the point that I was coming to. There are ways of dealing with it. I suggested a solution in the form of federalism, but I did not sense any warmth towards that proposal from the Government Benches, so let us try another way. The right hon. Gentleman is right: we do not vote on English-only legislation. What we do is this. Every time a Bill is introduced, we scour it for the Scottish interest. We look for the Barnett consequential issues, and we establish whether it will have an impact on Scotland. If it will not have that impact, we leave it alone. We stay well away: of course we do. With all due respect to my English friends, I have better things to do than scour legislation about policing arrangements in Plymouth when I am looking after the people of Perth and North Perthshire.
As the right hon. Gentleman says, if there is no Scottish interest, we take no interest ourselves. How about building on that? How about saying. “This is a voluntary arrangement that seems to work reasonably well; why do we not continue to pursue it?” There may be issues on which the Leader of the House and I do not entirely agree, but surely we could try to resolve them by means of a voluntary arrangement, without creating two classes of Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. Why should that not be a solution?
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, because he seems very keen.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree that one of the problems—my constituents raise it with me regularly—is that Labour set up asymmetric devolution? My constituents watched Scottish Labour Ministers troop through the Lobbies to vote on education and health issues that simply did not affect their constituents, and that, to me, was unacceptable.
It was not so much Labour as the demand from Scotland that set up asymmetric devolution, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that it must be addressed. I am suggesting a way of doing that: I am trying to be helpful to Members.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous. Is he really saying that we should replace a settled position which is part of the constitutional architecture of the House with a discretion for the Scottish National party in respect of what is or is not a Barnett consequential issue? Surely he cannot be suggesting that we do that.
This is the way mutual respect works across this House—by doing things constructively and through having a relationship. If the Leader of the House disagrees with me about a Barnett consequential issue, let’s talk about it; do not impose legislation to make us second class in this House. How about resolving things through discussion, negotiation and partnership, instead of trying to ensure that we become second class in the united UK Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
I actually think the SNP has quite a good record in not voting on English business unless there are Barnett consequentials. If an amendment is tabled to exclude from this provision matters where there are Barnett consequentials, which I favour as I do not want to put the Union at risk, will the hon. Gentleman be minded to support it, and the general principle of English votes for English business if there are no Barnett consequentials?
The hon. Gentleman is tempting me; I have to say that sounds quite an attractive offer and proposition, if Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament could have a veto and suggest something does have significant Barnett consequentials.
My right hon. Friend did a good job there, and almost teased out a response from the Leader of the House suggesting we would have an opportunity to vote on these very important amendments—because we do intend to table such amendments. We want to try to improve this measure, because what we have at the moment is an absolute and utter disgrace and shambles.
I say this in a respectful manner: the hon. Gentleman and Alex Salmond will remember that a few weeks ago there was a lot of language about the suggestion that the SNP would come down and determine our Budget and so forth, and, in respect of these specific questions, both the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman said they would vote on matters relating to English questions and did so.
That is a poor caricature of what actually happened. The hon. Gentleman, a distinguished Member of this House, is here to represent the interests of his constituents, and we on the SNP Benches are here to represent the interests of the constituents who elected us. The hon. Gentleman wants to make me and my hon. Friends second-class Members of this House.
The hon. Gentleman will get to vote on every piece of legislation and participate in every single debate, and be able to table amendments to all critical Bills, whereas my hon. Friends and I will not.
No, as I have given way to the hon. Gentleman before.
I am grateful to, on this occasion, my hon. Friend for giving way.
It would be helpful if the Leader of the House clarified this matter and put some of us out of our misery on it. As currently drafted the Standing Orders are worded in terms of the Speaker being told or instructed; it is stated that the Speaker “shall” treat minor or consequential effects and disregard them. It would therefore be very helpful to the SNP and the rest of us if the Leader of the House confirmed that consequential effects do not include Barnett consequentials.
The hon. Lady is always my friend regardless of the occasion, and she is absolutely and totally right. The Leader of the House could get to his feet at this very moment and say that anything that has a Barnett consequential will not be subject to this English votes for English laws provision. He has that chance, but sits defiantly in his place. This is the difficulty my hon. Friends and I have.
Maybe the hon. Gentleman can answer on behalf of the Leader of the House.
No, but the point is that that issue is for the debate that is to be had, on an amendment. Will the hon. Gentleman support extra time for the debate next Wednesday? At present the Adjournment debate is proposed for Thursday. Why not have all of Wednesday and all of Thursday on this very important issue?
Yes, but I do not just want that; I want what every other meaningful and significant piece of reform of this House receives, which is a Bill—a piece of legislation we can properly scrutinise. I do not want just an extra day; I want the process that involves this House looking properly at all this.
This is an absolute and utter shambles and it is falling apart in front of the Government as we speak. The Leader of the House has divided the whole House on these issues, with Labour, the SNP, the Liberals and everybody else against the Conservatives. I suggest that the Leader of the House takes these plans away, looks at them properly, and brings them back when we have an opportunity to debate them properly and scrutinise them effectively, and this House gets its say on these issues. As things currently stand, you, Mr Speaker, are placed in a dreadful situation and this provision does not command anything like a spirit of partnership or a consensus across this House. Take them away, bring them back, do something better, and do not treat us as second-class citizens in the unitary United Kingdom Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is unacceptable to us.
I have received your message that you wish me to be relatively brief, Mr Speaker, and I shall do my best to abide by that and not model myself on Gladstone, whom we have had earlier reference to, and who Disraeli said was a
“sophistical rhetorician, inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity.”
I shall try to avoid verbosity and inebriation at the same time.
It has been said in this debate that this process has been rushed. That things have been rushed is the classic objection to almost any constitutional change, and it is one I am fond of using personally, but on this occasion it would only be rushed for a member of the Roman Curia or perhaps part of the mandarin class of imperial China. The issue we are considering has been debated since the 1880s. I do not think a period of 130 years is unduly rushed. The West Lothian question itself was raised by the hon. baronet the former Member for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell, in the 1970s, but we have had plenty of time to consider and deliberate on these issues.
The second major objection is that two classes of Members are being created. If I believed that to be true, I would oppose this proposal because I think there is a unity within this House that is of fundamental constitutional importance, and, looking at the SNP Benches opposite and considering the contribution its Members have already made since their election in May, it is striking how important that point is: every Member needs to be free to participate in the debates on the laws that we make. That is a reasonable and fair principle.
In a characteristically forthright speech from Pete Wishart, we have heard that the Scotland Bill does not give Scottish MPs the same type of veto as English MPs, but I think that is wrong. It is a misunderstanding of what the Scotland Bill is doing, because if this Standing Order were already in place, the Scotland Bill would be devolving the issues to Scotland and to English MPs in this House at the same point. Yesterday we debated the Crown estates and how they would be a devolved matter to the Scottish Parliament. If that goes through the House of Lords, it will be a matter that in England will only be voted on by English MPs, or at least they will have a veto on it. What is devolved to Scotland is equally and simultaneously devolved to England. That seems perfectly reasonable.
The double voting does not only apply to Members from England; it applies to Members from England, Wales and potentially Northern Ireland, if the issue is devolved to one Assembly but not the others. If there is a matter that is not devolved to Wales, Welsh MPs would be involved in that second lock on legislation. That is right and fair, because it ensures that those who represent the relevant constituencies have a say on how the law is made and a block on it, but, crucially, they cannot make the law unless all UK MPs support it in a majority.
What would happen in the case of a welfare reform Bill, which we would be told applied to England and Wales because, on paper, Northern Ireland would have welfare reform devolved? As we see from the Treasury, this is entirely karaoke legislation and the money will not flow unless the Assembly passes the legislation that has already been passed here. Would Northern Ireland Members be told that they did not count in the double majority for welfare legislation?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting point. I think this is covered in the Standing Order, but it may need further revision. The Standing Order makes provision for the Speaker to certify that where a matter is about to be devolved, it has already been devolved and therefore in the legislation should require an English vote. It therefore follows logically that if a matter is about to be undevolved, because the relevant devolved Assembly cannot come to a decision, the Speaker ought to certify differently. It may be that the Standing Order needs an amendment to clarify that, but it is certainly within the spirit of the Standing Order as currently written. It is ensuring an equality of all Members of Parliament because no legislation can pass without a majority in this House.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who was nearly the Member for Central Fife many years ago. Just to make sure that I have understood this proposal, does it also apply to Member of the other place? Or are we creating a situation in which Scottish MPs who successfully retain the trust of their constituents and get re-elected to this place become disqualified from legislating, whereas former Scottish MPs who get kicked out of here but then get appointed to another place are rewarded for their failure by being allowed to legislate on matters from which the democratically elected MPs are excluded?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to go down the path of the elected Scottish peers, which there used to be in the other place, but that is not relevant to this debate, which is on the process within the House of Commons and its Standing Orders. He does, however, bring me neatly on to why I think it is so crucial that this is done through Standing Orders, not through legislation.
That is of the greatest importance. The English must recognise that if we want the Union to maintain, we must not require exact parity. The United Kingdom is 85% English, and the English demanding exact parity is the way to destroy the Union. The English, in this context, have to be generous. It is important that we remember that; otherwise we destroy the Union that we are seeking to protect. That is why Standing Orders are important—they can be reversed. If the Opposition Members had a majority, whatever form of coalition it took, they could suspend Standing Orders on a single vote to proceed with the business they want—[Interruption.] Chris Bryant is shaking his finger at me and getting frightfully exercised, but we see Standing Orders suspended on a regular basis. Standing Orders have been suspended to rush through Bills in a single day, and they are suspended almost weekly on minor matters so that deferred Divisions do not take place. Standing Orders are not constitutional holy writ; they are a mild way of making an alteration.
We must avoid the temptation of taking this process towards an English Parliament. An English Parliament would usurp the United Kingdom Parliament. [Interruption.] Ms Ahmed-Sheikh shouts, “Why?” She might want it, because it would create the division of the United Kingdom that the SNP seeks. Those of us who are English and Unionists must be careful of the siren voice of that exact equality—that exact parity—that might be sought by those who favour independence in Scotland.
It is a privilege to follow Mr Rees-Mogg, a constitutional scholar who spoke with great authority.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Conservative party has a right to take action on this issue. It won a majority at the general election. It has a right to take action and it has the power to do so because it has a majority in this House. The question for Conservative Members is: what is the right way of doing this? That is what I want to talk about.
Government Members are in the Conservative and Unionist party. I suggest that the way the Leader of the House is going about this is true neither to the Conservative tradition nor the Unionist tradition. No good will come of the way he is going about his proposals, and I want to explain why. This goes to the point that the shadow Leader of the House made about how this is done: whether it is rushed through next week, through Standing Orders, or done in a considered way. I wish to focus on the issue of English-only Bills. This is not just about English-only Bills, because English-only clauses are mentioned in the Leader of the House’s proposals. You, Mr Speaker, will have to certify not only whether a Bill is England only, but whether a clause is England only. That will be an unenviable task.
The hon. Member for North East Somerset said that this issue has been around for 130 years. He is absolutely right about that, but why has it been around for that long? This is what Gladstone said in 1893 when he abandoned his second home rule Bill:
“it passed the wit of man to frame any distinct, thorough-going, universal severance between the one class of subject and the other”.
In other words, this is what is now the English-only question. In his time, it was a distinction between the Irish legislation and so-called “imperial legislation” .
Let us fast-forward to 1965, when Harold Wilson was the Prime Minister. He was furious because his Bill to nationalise the steel industry was defeated by the votes of MPs from Northern Ireland, so he told one of his Cabinet, “We’ve really got to do something about this.” The person in question said, “I think that is not very wise, Prime Minister, because it is really hard to make the distinction. Gladstone tried it.” Wilson therefore set up a royal commission, which reported in 1974, concluding that we could not distinguish between the so-called “ins” and the “outs”.
The reason I made the intervention I did on the Leader of the House is that this is at the heart of why this problem—it is a problem and an anomaly—has not been solved in 130 years. With all due respect, he proposes to do it on the back of a fag packet next week. I therefore intervened on him, following the intervention by Alex Salmond, to ask how you, Mr Speaker, were supposed to decide on what was an England-only Bill. The Leader of the House said it is simple—it is a devolved matter. But then we have to deal with the issue of tuition fees, as clearly a rise in tuition fees has Barnett consequentials. So goodness knows.
This is where I come to the real thing, and why I appeal to Conservative Members to think how they are going to vote next week. The question before us is: does this strengthen or weaken the United Kingdom? There is clearly an English question to address, as the general election illustrated to me very clearly, but the issue is how we address it sensibly.
Let us just fast-forward to this Session of Parliament once this proposal goes through, if it does. It is not as though the problem is going to be solved—the problem just begins, because the arguments made by Lady Hermon and the right hon. Member for Gordon will be played out not just in this House but throughout the United Kingdom. People will be saying, “That is an outrage. The Speaker has ruled that is an England-only Bill but it affects us.” Other people will be saying, “That is an outrage. He said it is not an England-only Bill.” That takes me to the simple point: we are talking about something of such huge constitutional significance. I say to Conservative Members: you have the power, of course you do, but do not use it next week because it is not true to your traditions. Your traditions are to be the Conservative and Unionist party, but this is neither for Conservatism nor Unionism.
Let me simply ask the right hon. Gentleman something. If he feels so strongly about this, why did we not get a response when he was leader of his party and the invitation was extended for his party to participate in cross-party talks?
Because a few months before the election the Conservative party thought it was a useful weapon at the general election—it turned out that it was, but let us leave that to one side. This goes beyond the disagreements between us; this is about the agreement between us, because we are both Unionists. I find myself agreeing with Alex Salmond, which does not happen very often—I totally disagree with him on the United Kingdom. Now, when I am agreeing with the right hon. Member for Gordon, the Leader of the House and Conservative Members should be thinking, “That’s not so good really. There’s something up here.” What is up here is how we make this change happen. I ask this question again: is this true to the traditions of Conservatism? No, it is not, because the last thing the Conservatives should do is rip up hundreds of years of constitutional practice in a Standing Order vote just before the House goes into recess. Is this for Unionism? No, it is not. That is my final point, because I wish to respect the time limit.
Will my right hon. Friend concede that solving this conundrum cannot be done by moving the deckchairs inside the Westminster bubble and by changing Standing Orders? It can only be seriously addressed by looking at devolution for England, just as we want devolution for all the other nations in the Union.
Of course that is an issue that needs to be considered. My proposal is for a constitutional convention, which I know the Government will not take up. At least let us not go down this road of Standing Orders, because it will, all of a sudden, change the whole practice of the House of Commons.
Let us be frank in this House: the cause of Unionism has been going pretty badly since
Thanks very much. We won the referendum. My party was in alliance with the Conservative Party, as the Scottish National party has pointed out, but the cause of Unionism has not been well served since then. I will not start laying blame; people will know what I think about this. The question for the Conservative party, which has a majority, is how does it properly serve the cause of Unionism? Following this procedure in the way that has been proposed is frankly an act of constitutional vandalism. It is not true to the great traditions of the Conservative and Unionist party, which is why I urge Government Members to vote against this measure next week.
Order. A five-minute limit will now apply. We will try to get through as many Members as possible in the time available. Sir Edward Leigh.
It is a great honour to follow the former Leader of the Opposition, who spoke with great passion. I wish to share and agree with some of the points that he made. The Conservative party is not an ideological party; it is not a party of narrow party interest. The Conservative party is a party of the nation. It is a party not just of England, but of the United Kingdom. Our aim, our will and everything that we should strive for in this Parliament is to maintain the United Kingdom, because the United Kingdom hangs by a thread. We should not give any succour to those who wish to break up the United Kingdom.
This debate is about not just the principles of these issues, but the time, and that is what I wish to speak on. We must have adequate time. We must assure everyone in the country as a whole that we have not just debated this matter in an afternoon, constrained by statements or urgent questions, with no real time to debate the 22 amendments to Standing Orders. Next week, we will debate this on Wednesday, but we have an Adjournment debate on Thursday. How often do the Whips run around, trying to fill up this Chamber, with no one taking any interest? Here we have a major constitutional issue with only a part of a day in which to discuss it. In all sincerity, I say to the Leader of the House that he should use his power to allow another day—a full day—for amendments, as this is a matter of vital concern.
I hope that I am not giving away any confidences here, but when we were having these discussions in the 1922 Committee before the general election, I constantly warned about the threat to the United Kingdom. I was assured by my colleagues, “No, we must have a full exclusion of all Scottish Members, as that is what the English want. They will be the Parnellites, and they will misuse this Parliament to filibuster and delay matters. We should exclude them entirely.” I said, “No, don’t exclude them, because that will be a lever to break open the United Kingdom.” I was then told by my colleagues that the Scots do not care. “The Scots don’t want to take part in English business,” they said. The trouble is that the SNP will make them care. We have already heard Pete Wishart making that point again and again. This will become a real issue, because the SNP will say, as it is perfectly entitled to do, that this is not only English business, as it has consequences for Scotland because of the Barnett formula.
Of course the SNP wants independence, but why are we making it easier for it? What we are discussing today—what we will achieve in Standing Orders—will not change the result of a single vote in this Parliament, because the Conservative party has an overall majority. If we lose the next general election, the Labour party, or whatever is in power, will simply reverse it, so why are we giving this gift to the SNP? What we need is an amendment to this motion to ensure that when there are Barnett consequentials, there are not two classes of Members, and that the Scots, the Welsh and anybody else can vote during the entire process. That is a perfectly fair amendment and a compromise. The House might not like that, but at least it will ensure, Mr Speaker, that you are not put in the invidious position of having to certify a Bill that the Government may tell you affects only England, but that, because of Barnett consequentials, affects Scotland too. It is well known that I believe that we should get rid of the Barnett formula and replace it with a needs-based formula and that we should give full fiscal autonomy to our Scottish friends, which would solve all these problems. But the Secretary of State for Scotland has resisted those amendments, so we are where we are.
I finish on this point. The Conservative party is always best when it recognises that the Union is asymmetrical. We do not believe in neat constitutional solutions, as advocated by our liberal friends. We are a party of tradition and history and we recognise that our nation is asymmetrical. The English, who comprise 85% of the population, must take a bit of stick on this—carry a bit of a burden. We must recognise that, occasionally, the West Lothian question cannot always be resolved. We know that, but we must be generous on these issues.
In the few seconds left to me, I make one final appeal to the Secretary of State. Let us at least allow proper time for debate, and let us get this right.
I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing this debate. I am unashamedly a Unionist, and passionately believe in the integrity of this United Kingdom. What I say to the Government is that their proposal is muddled and incoherent, and will lead to many problems and a very fractious House of Commons, which really should be the forum in which we bind together this United Kingdom. When various questions have been raised today, the response has been lacking in clarity. Sometimes we will have votes in which English MPs only can take part. Occasionally, we will have votes in which Northern Ireland MPs, Welsh MPs or Scottish MPs can participate. That is a recipe for divisiveness in this House and it plays to the separatists’ agenda, and not to the integrity of the United Kingdom.
It has been said that we would be second-class citizens. Given what the hon. Gentleman has said, Scottish MPs will be not second-class or third-class citizens, but fourth-class citizens.
I value Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom, and I will fight passionately for the right of Scottish MPs to have a say in matters that affect Scotland. The point that was made about the Barnett consequentials is very important. We lack clarity, and we need clarity in this discussion.
When it comes to legislation in Northern Ireland, we have different types of devolution. For example, an important issue in Northern Ireland at this time of year is the question of parading, which is a non-devolved matter. We are in ongoing discussions between the political parties, and we hope to come up with a new system for dealing with parades. We need it badly, but it will be this House that will legislate on the new system. What if we follow the logic of the argument that is being made? As it is a matter that affects only Northern Ireland, only Northern Ireland MPs would be able to vote on it. That is muddled thinking. I am not suggesting that that should be the case, but how do we define what is and is not devolved? Parading is a non-devolved matter, but elements of the legislation would be devolved. Policing is a devolved issue, as is justice, and those things impact on parading, so where do we draw the line? That is my difficulty with the Government’s proposal.
The Democratic Unionist party recognises that the issue needs to be addressed. There have been comments about the need for generosity on the part of the English, and I recognise that the question is important to people who live in England and needs to be addressed, but this is the wrong way to do it. I agree entirely with Edward Miliband, and the DUP supported the concept of a constitutional convention. The Union is too important. The integrity of the United Kingdom is too important to be left to a debate on Standing Orders in this House. That is not how we should be dealing with these issues, and I say that as a passionate Unionist.
All I am saying is that it places you, Mr Speaker, as the Speaker of this House of Commons, in an invidious position. You will have to adjudicate on these matters daily and I do not think that is how we should deal with the question of how to handle English laws. It requires a much wider constitutional debate and this is not the appropriate way to defend and protect the integrity of the United Kingdom. It raises too many questions and, frankly, plays into the hands of those who want to go down the road of separation. Will we look back in a few years’ time and rue the day that this happened?
I do not for a moment believe that the Leader of the House is acting out of any other motivation than a desire to address this issue, and to do so from a Unionist perspective, but I cannot agree with the method that he is suggesting. We need to go back to the drawing board and to find a way forward on which we can all agree. That is why there is a need for greater discussion and I would welcome more engagement with the Leader of the House on these questions.
This proposal raises many issues about how the matter will be handled in the future. For example, a lot of legislation for Northern Ireland and other parts of the kingdom is dealt with by Orders in Council and statutory instruments. We need to tease out how all that will be handled. Points have been made about the Barnett consequentials and this is important, because, as Mark Durkan mentioned, we have a crisis in the Northern Ireland Executive over welfare reform. We have full legislative devolution on welfare reform, but the difficulty is that the Treasury has made it clear that we must implement welfare reform as it applies in the rest of the United Kingdom or we will not get any more money. How do we handle such issues in this House? How do we, as Northern Ireland MPs, have an influence on that issue in this House? I cannot see the answer to that in the Government’s proposals. That is why I think that there is a need for a deeper and wider discussion on these issues. This is too important to be left to a one-day debate on Standing Orders in this House. That is why today the DUP is joining others with whom we might not see eye to eye on constitutional issues. We want the best for the United Kingdom and, frankly, this proposal is far from the best.
I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing this debate, which was badly needed. I do not want to rehearse all the issues that have been raised about how we got ourselves to this position, but it seems to me that it was inherent in the devolution settlement of 1998 that the questions we are now discussing would have to be addressed. The truth is that we have ducked them consistently and for a long period. Indeed, we have done more than that and have created over time legislation that is often incoherent and difficult to understand, particularly in the Welsh context of devolution, and legislation that did not meet the needs.
The problem we now have is that there is a ghost in the room as well. We will have to move towards using Standing Orders because we do not wish to have a measure carried out in this Chamber through the ordinary legislative process, which is justiciable. That raises the whole question of whether we are moving inevitably towards a written constitution. The House has consistently set itself against that, but we are asking our unwritten constitution to stretch more and more to respond to complexities for which it was never designed. I do not believe that it will in the long term be able to cope. However, that is the reality of our position and it requires a sea change in opinion in this House if we are ever to get ourselves through it. It also requires good will. Forgive my having to say this again to SNP members, but one of the problems with these debates is that the question of their good will towards the United Kingdom in general is rather in doubt and for that reason, achieving a sensible dialogue is made much more difficult.
What does my right hon. and learned Friend think cannot be achieved by an Act of Parliament that can only be achieved by a written constitution in this regard?
I would like to make progress. I know that the hon. Gentleman is interested in this question, but I want to get on to my main points.
My concern, and this is why I raised it yesterday, is that the only way in which my party will honour its vow to the electorate is by proceeding by way of amending Standing Orders. We certainly should not underestimate the enormity of that change. It is a profound change and needs to be properly debated. At the moment, I have serious anxieties about whether there is time available to carry out that scrutiny. I know that the Government have set aside a day next week, but it does not seem to me that that allows the opportunity at present to table the necessary amendments, to consider the 22 clauses and changes one by one so that Members of this House can make an informed assessment of whether they want to support some and not others, and to have the level of debate that will be required if this is to be implemented.
The point has been rightly made about the Barnett consequentials. I have said on previous occasions that I fully accept that, in view of how we carry out our funding in the United Kingdom, many measures that might appear only to affect England and Wales have a consequence north of the border and a legitimate interest for Scottish Members to vote on. I wish to see that preserved. I happen to think that the Barnett formula is due for review and well past its sell-by date. I very much regret that, following the referendum last year, we seem to have reaffirmed something which even a Committee of the Scottish Parliament had indicated was becoming increasingly unworkable and not in anybody’s—including Scotland’s—interests.
But that is where we are. We have to work with what we have got. If we are to proceed, the changes to those Standing Orders must be properly scrutinised, and we must do it in a way that commands confidence both here and among the public. I have to say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that I do not think we are there. I hope very much that before the close of today we will hear that sufficient time is to be allocated to do justice to these proposals. We can then have a proper debate and reach outcomes which, though they may be far from perfect—I acknowledge that—nevertheless are not so imperfect that I feel rather ashamed of our having perpetrated them. I very much hope that we will take the opportunity in today’s debate to ensure that we can have that proper debate next week.
I am strongly in favour of a distinct English voice in so-called English-only legislation, but I am totally, implacably against the proposals before us today. There are four reasons for that.
The first is that the proposals create two classes of Members of Parliament for the first time in our history: English Members of Parliament and everyone else—
Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish. That is a fundamental departure from what we have seen in British constitutional arrangements since time immemorial. The proposals do this by giving a veto to English Members. The political and constitutional result will be that a great deal of resentment is created throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. The proposals are fundamentally anti-United Kingdom. They create division and discord. We should be pulling together, not pulling apart.
Secondly, the proposals do not understand the reality of asymmetrical devolution in modern Britain, and do not understand the new relationship that exists between the nations of the United Kingdom. That relationship is more important than ever before, but the proposals do not acknowledge that the largest part of our Union is England, with 85% of the population. What happens in England inevitably has a huge impact on what happens in the rest of the United Kingdom, especially with an asymmetrical devolution arrangement. I am a Welshman and proud of it. I am British as well, but I recognise that legislation determined in England has a huge impact on Wales, and Welsh Members should be involved in the determination of that legislation.
The border between English and Wales is porous. It is not a hard and fast border. What happens in England has a huge impact on what happens in all parts of Wales, particularly in border areas and particularly in north-east Wales. There is often cross-border movement, with people from one part of the country going to visit hospitals in another part of the country. Therefore what happens in the English health service, for example, affects people in Wales, and there should be some facility to allow us to make that point.
I am all in favour of dialogue and of different opinions being taken into account. What I am against is people effectively being vetoed out of any possible arrangements. That is very harmful.
Let me give another example of how the proposals could deny Wales a legitimate voice in the deliberations of this House. We may well see in the near future legislation for a new runway at Heathrow. It could be decided by a planning application or by a hybrid Bill. If such a Bill comes before the House of Commons, it will have a huge impact on the people of Wales. We will be strongly in favour of an extra runway at Heathrow. It will have a huge and positive impact on Wales, yet we will be excluded from any say or deliberation on that. That is fundamentally unfair. There would be an English veto against us if we promoted something that would favour Welsh interests, when it legitimately should do so.
My hon. Friend identifies an important point, which is the determination of what is an English issue? The point that he has just made shows that something that may appear on the surface to be an English issue actually has a great effect on Wales.
Members will have a debate, but their voice and their vote will be worth a heck of a lot less. They will be made second class, and the right hon. Gentleman cannot get away from that reality. He is creating second-class Members in this House and fuelling English nationalism.
The third reason why I am fundamentally opposed to these arrangements has been admitted—the proposals do not take account of the funding arrangements that exist within the United Kingdom, especially the Barnett consequentials. Decisions will be made in this House which have a huge bearing on Wales and other parts of the UK, and Welsh Members will not have a full participatory role. That is morally wrong.
Finally, I am against these proposals because they are complex, incoherent, unclear and obtuse. I am particularly concerned that there is no process of consultation of the House of Lords, yet there is a new procedure for dealing with amendments from the other place—amendments that might well be worthy of consideration. They will be subject to a new voting procedure but will not be fully debated.
As other Members have said, I am extremely concerned about the new and onerous responsibilities that will be placed on Mr Speaker. One of the great strengths of this Parliament and of this House of Commons is that we have as the Speaker someone who is objective and impartial and has the confidence of the whole House. It is a huge mistake to drag the role of the Speaker into deliberations about what is English-only legislation or clauses, because that is effectively politicising the role. That is something that the House and democracy will live to regret.
Therefore I am extremely concerned about the proposals before us. I am extremely worried about the way they are being rushed through this House. I urge the Conservative party, in the interests of democracy and in the interests of the United Kingdom, to think again, please.
I am grateful to be called in this debate. I am unusual in that, having represented North Wales for some time and having seen devolution in action in the Welsh Assembly, I find myself over the border, representing an English constituency where the voices of my constituents cannot be heard in the way that my constituents in Wales were heard. I would have had a great deal of sympathy for the Opposition, but these arguments were known at the time of the asymmetrical devolution settlement.
My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve spoke powerfully about the impact of an Act and why it is so important to introduce these proposals through Standing Orders. We saw with the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Act 2014 how powers given away from this place by Act were changed by judicial law making. That effectively changed the constitutional settlement in Wales and made it a reserved powers model, expressly contradicting the provisions of the Bill. Furthermore, that substantially delayed the impact of legislation and changed the settled will of this House through judge-led law making.
It is for those reasons that many Members on the Government Benches have considerable concerns about a written constitution. I hear the cries for a constitutional convention, but the opportunity was there in 1999 and the vital question of English votes for English laws was not addressed, and it should have been. To paraphrase what my right hon. and learned Friend said in another debate, “If not now, when?”
We need this change. English voters are increasingly resentful. Research shows a consistent message that the people of England do not think that it is right that MPs from Scotland should be allowed to vote in the House of Commons on laws that affect only England. That research is from the National Centre for Social Research. [Interruption.] Does Owen Smith wish to intervene?
I was simply saying that the hon. Lady really ought to have listened to her hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg, who effectively said that English Members need to be far more generous, considering the size of England compared with the other parts of the UK, and not legislate on the basis of imagined resentment.
These are proper findings established by the National Centre for Social Research. What I am saying is that changing the Standing Orders is an appropriate way to do this. I heard the powerful and appropriate speech from my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg, in which he made some very relevant points. He was arguing against an alternative English Assembly, and I agree with him entirely. The matter should be dealt with in this Parliament. This Parliament should put in place the processes to ensure equality—[Interruption.] No, we do not need a referendum, because we have just had a general election in which the majority of the British public voted for these measures. The people of the United Kingdom have spoken in support of English votes for English laws.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that intervention. I will reply with the comments of Professor Robert Hazell of the Constitution Unit. He has expressly endorsed the process of introducing English votes for English laws through the Standing Orders. There is clearly a disagreement in academic opinion in the country.
The concern is that, if the matter came forward in the form of a Bill, rather than by Standing Order, the processes of this House would be subject to endless challenge in the courts, which clearly must be avoided. That has been seen clearly elsewhere.
I am going to make some progress.
The Presiding Officer in the Welsh Assembly is very capable of deciding and certifying whether or not a matter is devolved. I have great confidence that the Speaker of this House would be able to do the same without any suggestion that that role has been politicised. I find it extraordinary that it is suggested that the role of Presiding Officer in the Welsh Assembly, or indeed in the Scottish Parliament, is politicised, as legislative consent motions and matters of legislative competence are dealt with regularly. I have no doubt that once the changes in this House have been allowed to bed in, the same process will apply here, with the full confidence of the Speaker.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to address the House on the occasion of this debate on English votes for English laws, which is an issue that will have a substantial impact on the constituency that I represent—the one and only West Dunbartonshire. I congratulate Mr Carmichael on bringing this emergency motion to the House—well played, sir!
Before I proceed, I wish, with your approval, Mr Speaker, as I make my first speech, to address not only you but, directly, the communities of the great burgh of Clydebank, the ancient burgh of Dumbarton, and the mighty Vale of Leven. Knowing the constituency as well as I do, and knowing that that community expects the very best of its Members of this House, I would like to acknowledge my predecessor, Gemma Doyle, who carried out that role with dedication and conviction. I wish Gemma all the very best for the future.
Since taking a seat on these green Benches—forgive my very sore throat, Mr Speaker—I have heard Members from various parties stress the importance of engaging with the population of these islands. Well, we seem to have had a profound failure within three months in the presentation of these proposals by the Leader of the House. A number of Members have spoken of our need to lead. I believe that this is the wrong approach and that it has failed this House miserably, given that an engaged population in Scotland—a physically engaged population—has returned my 55 hon. Friends, as well as myself, to this House. They are engaged and dynamic and have brought us in force to this House of Commons.
My perspective on how we should lead and how we should engage is about the failure of the political process of this political state. It is not our job to lead; the communities who elect us should dictate the terms of our presence and the policies that we bring forward to this House. I invite you to come north to the 59 constituencies of Scotland—the greatest, of course, is West Dunbartonshire—if you want to see an engaged population. The people of Scotland and of my community have gained a new-found confidence in themselves and in the country that is Scotland. That sends a strong message to those in this House, on both sides, about who should lead and who should follow.
I am deeply honoured to represent my constituency. It is home to three of the greatest communities of the industrial age and also inextricably linked to the horrors of war and devastation and the legacy of conflict. Its story is not often relayed in Chambers as grand as this.
Clydebank is my home town. It gave birth, along with Dumbarton and the towns of the lower Clyde, to the greatest ships in modern maritime history. My grandfather worked on the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth. My father, a coppersmith by trade, worked on the Queen Elizabeth as well as the QE2—and, by rights, I should have followed suit. Not to be outdone, our close neighbours in that ancient burgh of Dumbarton built the world-famous Cutty Sark, which lies not far from this House. One of the last tea clippers to be launched, it was heavily involved in expanding overseas trade and sailed to all corners of the globe.
From the towns of Clydebank and Dumbarton, we go to the villages of Duntocher, Gartocharn, Old Kilpatrick and Bonhill, not forgetting the people’s republic of the Renton, as well as the Faifley. My constituency contains a great deal of history unmatched by many others. Although it is not commonly known in these parts, the Vale of Leven takes great pride in having a part of it in every corner of the globe through having produced and exported “Turkey red” dyed and printed cottons.
It is often said that politicians have people in their lives who they see as heroes; I have none. I see heroes as mystical creatures of fantasy who are to be found in the pages of comics wearing their underwear on the outside. Other than heroes, however, I have those who inspire me such as the members of my family who survived the Clydebank blitz—people such as my father, my late mother, and many others.
On the matter of the vote before us, critically, Mr Speaker, this proposal places you directly, and those who come after you, in a precarious position. It denigrates the position of the Chair of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Finally, I am no Unionist or home ruler, but I will stand shoulder to shoulder with Members on all Benches to ensure that your integrity and dignity, Mr Speaker, and those of the people who come after you, are maintained as we work as politicians in this House.
I expect Mr Carmichael to begin no later than 3.43 pm.
I speak as a Scot who represents a seat in England, who regards his nationality as British and who is a staunch Unionist. It is because I am a staunch Unionist that I support the measures under discussion. This issue is not new. As my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg has said, it has been around for more than a century. It is four decades since Tam Dalyell brought it up and two decades since devolution legislation went through this House. It is time we had an answer to the West Lothian question. This issue goes with the grain of public opinion on both sides of the border. All the opinion poll evidence north and south of the border shows support for English votes on English laws, and I congratulate the Government on introducing the measures.
I only have time to make one substantive point. I grew up in Scotland in the 1980s, when the devolution argument was coming to its fore. At the core of the argument was the question: what legitimacy did the United Kingdom Government have to legislate for Scotland on matters on which Scottish Members disagreed? Devolution addresses that. Why cannot that question also apply to England?
I would have a lot of sympathy for the argument rehearsed in today’s debate if we were discussing excluding Members from debating and voting on bits of legislation, but that is not what is being discussed. All we are doing is inserting into legislation that applies only to England the same principle of consent that applies elsewhere in the country. That is fair. It is a modest proposal.
I do not have time to give way.
I would not support measures that excluded Members, for the very good reasons that have been expressed, but my constituents also want that consent so that measures that apply only to them will not be unduly influenced by Members from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. This country has a flexible constitution and it should evolve to take account of the new realities. That is fair for my constituents. It will strengthen the Union. Doing nothing will endanger it.
If there were any doubt about the need for this debate, it has surely been dispelled by the way in which it has been conducted and by its content. Several issues have come to light. First, the Government are going to create two tiers of MP: that will be the inevitable consequence of their double majority. Secondly, English Members of Parliament will have a veto, but, according to the Leader of the House, a veto will not be afforded to the Scottish Parliament, because the Government insist on the continuation of the Sewel convention.
The most important issue, and that which causes most concern, is the politicisation of your role, Mr Speaker, because you will be put in the position of having to arbitrate on these questions and then not have to give any reasons for your decision. Surely that means that we will be left to speculate on the Chair’s reasons, and such speculation cannot be sensible or, indeed, healthy in a political forum. We will be excluded not from debate, but from decisions. That is no way to run a Parliament.
Antoinette Sandbach said that she was acting on the resentment of her constituents. I do not doubt that that resentment is real, but I invite her to reflect on whether that is really the proper basis on which to proceed with changes of this sort. What she is supporting will merely reinforce that resentment, rather than address the underlying reasons for it.
I am not going to burst into song, but if I were I would turn to the late great Johnny Nash, who said:
“There are more questions than answers
And the more I find out, the less I know”.
I am afraid that that is where we are.
Order. The Question is going to be put anyway. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had finished his speech at any rate.