Standing Orders (Public Business)

Part of Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:02 pm on 7th March 2017.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Leader of the House of Commons), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 5:02 pm, 7th March 2017

I am happy to confirm that we believe conclusively that English Members should of course be responsible for all of their own measures, and we agree that it is up to English Members to determine their own legislation and their own policy. We have a very elegant solution for that, and I think the hon. Gentleman knows exactly what territory we are getting into with that. English votes for English laws is simply the wrong way to do that. As a package, it has been utterly divisive in this House and has been supported by absolutely no one other than the Government themselves, so I think it should be reviewed. I shall come on to that later, and I will allow him to come into the debate again if he thinks it necessary.

Let me address what is before us now. When it comes to these changes to the Standing Orders, we need to recognise the fact that the Scotland Act 2016 devolved to the Scottish Parliament the right to set the main rates of income tax—and thank goodness for that. This was agreed between the party of Ian Murray and my party in the Smith Commission, and we are grateful to know that the rates of income tax are now a responsibility for the Scottish Parliament. That is a good and positive thing, which we very much welcome.

We see the motion as a recognition of our legislative authority on rates of income tax and as a tidying up exercise. If anything—I am loth to concede this to the Leader of the House—it is helpful in clarifying the new arrangements on Standing Orders relating to English votes for English laws. That is why I am surprised that Labour has decided to have a real debate and conversation tonight about EVEL. I am always happy to debate EVEL. I am just surprised that Labour has chosen this evening to conduct such a debate.

The changes take account of the fact that there might, in future, be resolutions or pieces of legislation relating to main income tax rates that are specific to England, or to England, Wales and Northern Ireland but not Scotland, because those matters have been properly devolved. It also makes changes to ensure certainty on who are and who are not Scottish taxpayers. The hon. Member for Edinburgh South will remember the tortuous conversations we had on trying to identify who are and who are not Scottish taxpayers. The changes will clarify that a touch and are therefore reasonably helpful in that regard.

There is much about English votes for English laws that SNP Members do not like. You know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that our issues with EVEL are many and manifest. No one understands what on earth is going on. We just had a Legislative Grand Committee. The bell went off, the Mace went down and the Mace went back up again, and not one Member from England had got to his or her feet to contribute. I have the House of Commons record for contributions in Legislative Grand Committees. In fact, I have spoken twice as much in LGCs as all the English Members put together, yet we were told that EVEL was an absolute necessity, a burning issue that concerned and consumed the shires of Englandshire as they were revolting about me and my hon. Friends coming down and voting on all their precious legislation. And what do we get when they actually have the opportunity to discuss this? Absolute and utter silence! That is why we say again that English votes for English laws are unnecessary. They are burdensome to this House and cumbersome to the way we do business. More than anything else, they divide this House on the basis of nationality and geography. It is on that basis that we profoundly disagree with the whole idea of English votes for English laws.

Now that is all well and good—I am looking at you, Madam Deputy Speaker, getting edgy and tetchy about where I am going with this—but in our view this is not the place to have this debate. I am surprised at Labour’s lack of understanding about what is being pitched by the Government. As the Leader of the House says, this is a technical change to Standing Orders. I understand that the Labour party will press the motion to a Division. I will support Labour on that as I will oppose English votes for English laws at any opportunity, but I know that the Leader of the House finds it very curious that Labour has decided that this will be a matter of principle on which to vote this evening.

English votes for English laws is an absolute disaster. This is nothing to do with the Leader of the House, bless him; this is all about his predecessor’s charge to bring this forward to the House without any due regard to its impact on our business. It is wrong. It does not work. The House does not require it and it does not satisfy anybody. It does not satisfy us in Scotland. It certainly does not satisfy English Members, who have not contributed one peep to English Legislative Grand Committees. This is an opportunity for the Leader of the House. Yes, go ahead with the technical changes. There is no real issue from us on them, but he will not get the support of the House on EVEL. He has seen all the reviews and reports and it manifestly does not work. It sits awkwardly with the idea of a unitary UK Parliament, where every single Member should be equal. This may be the wrong place to have that fight, but on EVEL we are in the trenches and will support Labour this evening.