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I thank the Leader of the House for consulting me and my colleagues. I doubt neither his sincerity nor his Unionism. That said, while he might mean well, his proposals neither deal with the problem they diagnose—even the supporters of these changes to Standing Orders will accept that—nor do much to prevent the growth of other and worse defects in our constitution. I commend, but will not go into the details of, the Procedure Committee’s excellent report. I think there is much in it that the Government could sensibly pay heed to.
I want to set out my party’s principled objections to EVEL as it is currently configured. We do not think for one moment that English voters and votes on English matters should be treated unfairly. English voters have the right to be treated fairly. Our profound fear is not what this does to or for England, which in truth is very little, but what it potentially does to the fabric of our Union. This point has been raised by several colleagues. Quite frankly, our Union does not need any more rending.
The unanswered questions, even only partially listed, are depressing in their extent and significance. Why has it been done by Standing Orders? If this is such an important matter, it surely needs more time and scrutiny. If England needs justice, surely she needs justice secured. How is that done by “here today potentially gone tomorrow” Standing Orders? It is all very well to talk of pilot schemes and reviews, but why is there nothing like a sunset clause, which we discussed, built into the proposals? We are told that this is a critical democratic need for England, yet at the same time something of no great constitutional significance, because it will, we are assured, be used a mere handful of times a year.
Where is the crisis that requires this? The Government have a majority and can pass every law they have support for. What credible piece of business can be imagined that the Government would not bring into law with a UK majority under the traditions and practices that have served this House and all its Members equally for centuries? Let us cut to the chase. If England needs and deserves an English Parliament, let us have an English Parliament. Let us stop twisting the Union Parliament into what it is not. This kind of ad hoc, half-hearted approach does not work in the long run.
I could go into detail about how the Speaker’s Office will be bogged down in procedural nightmares of certification, about the dangers of judicial review of
Parliament’s proceedings in relation to certification and all of that, but I do not have time. Others have alluded to the problems posed by these changes to Standing Orders.