Standing Orders (Public Business)

Part of Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 7th March 2017.

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Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down 5:17 pm, 7th March 2017

I am delighted to have this opportunity to raise my voice in opposition once again to the procedure known as English votes for English laws. The acronym EVEL seems very appropriate from my point of view, if I may say so. It is deeply divisive, demeaning and humiliating for MPs from Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish constituencies to be told repeatedly that this is the United Kingdom, given that although when the Prime Minister took over the reins of power from David Cameron on 13 July last year she spoke about wanting to bind together the parts of the United Kingdom, the continued use of EVEL certainly does not do that.

I have a very high regard for the Leader of the House. In a previous role he was a spokesperson for Northern Ireland—a spokesman, rather; I will allow him to be a spokesman—and he will therefore be very sensitive indeed to how divisive English votes for English laws and its continuation in this House is, particularly after Brexit. None of us in this House should be under any illusions as to how the circumstances in Northern Ireland have changed. That is evidenced by the Northern Ireland Assembly election on Thursday. A reduced number of MLAs was returned—90—and the Democratic Unionist party, which dominated for so long, now has a majority of just one over Sinn Féin, the republican party. Sinn Féin’s vote went up dramatically. I am not speaking for Sinn Féin—I am speaking as a Unionist—but I am reflecting to the House the seriousness of the situation. With the greatest respect to the Prime Minister, for whom I have great respect, her first call of duty yesterday morning should have been to Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, to reassure the people there that it was firmly within the United Kingdom. That opportunity has now passed.

It behoves this Government to look at ways and means of binding together a very disunited United Kingdom post-Brexit. With the greatest respect to the Leader of the House and to the Government, the continuation of the procedure known as English votes for English laws is counterproductive. It unnecessarily drives a wedge between MPs in this House. The Conservative Government have a majority. Indeed, they increased it in a recent by-election, and their new Member was greeted with great applause last Wednesday. I congratulate Trudy Harrison on her election.

I urge the Leader of the House and his Government to take a long, hard look at the consequences of perpetuating the procedure of English votes for English laws, not just through the issue before the House tonight but when the great repeal Bill comes before the House. He will know that I asked him, in a written question, whether Standing Orders—including the EVEL procedure—would be applied to the great repeal Bill, and I had a perfect parliamentary reply. It told me virtually nothing, except that the great repeal Bill would be the subject of Standing Orders.

The Government can no longer turn their eyes away from what is happening in Northern Ireland. They must take seriously the consequences of last week’s Northern Ireland Assembly election. One way of doing that successfully would be to bring back equality and respect in this House for all Members who stood at the general election on the same day. I stood in the general election in Northern Ireland. I did not explain to my electorate who returned me—because I did not know that I would have to—that my vote would be disregarded when the Government decided to apply English votes for English laws. This is wrong. Let us please wake up to the consequences of Brexit, and to the consequences of perpetuating the divisions within our country by using EVEL when it is wholly unnecessary to do so.

The only kind words that I can add are to commend those who provided the explanatory memorandum to the motion on the Order Paper. The motion is so threadbare that it is impossible to understand what aspect of Standing Orders we were to debate, so I commend the officials who drafted the explanatory memorandum. I would have liked the Leader of the House to take the opportunity to do so as well. Perhaps he will do so in his closing remarks. Without that explanatory memorandum, no one—but no one—would have been able to understand what we were voting for without a crystal ball. That is inappropriate. We need to understand what we are going to vote on. My message is loud and clear to the Leader of the House, whom I respect, and I expect him to come back at some stage, having considered—with his boss, the Prime Minister—how we in this Parliament are going to bind up the wounds that undoubtedly exist throughout this country.