I first saw these proposed changes to Standing Orders on the Order Paper last Tuesday and, as any competent, capable parliamentarian would do, I decided to find out what they meant. I spoke to the Clerks and to the more senior members in my group. I also went to the Leader of the House’s office and asked his officials to produce an explanatory memorandum so that we could understand the changes that were being made and the reasons behind them. Having spoken to the Clerks, I realised that these were in fact fairly innocuous changes that were intended to tighten up the language.
I am against English votes for English laws. I do not like the way the arrangements have been implemented through Standing Orders. I do not think that that was the right way to bring forward such a significant constitutional change in this House. It has shown up at least one technical problem with the drafting. That is a concern, and it would not have arisen had we had proper scrutiny and primary legislation to make the change. I am against EVEL because of how it has been implemented. I am against the fact that significant decisions can be taken on things that have a major impact on Scotland’s public finances and on Barnett consequentials without Scottish Members being able to take a full part in the debate and have a full say in the votes. That is not right, and the change was not an appropriate way to implement EVEL.
We were reassured by the former Leader of the House, Chris Grayling, that Scottish Members would be able to have a full say in the financial processes and the departmental budgets in the estimates process, but the estimates process is utterly rubbish. It does not allow MPs in this House, whether Back-Bench Conservatives or anybody on the Opposition side of the House, to scrutinise departmental budgets. The only people who have a say over departmental budgets are those in the Treasury. The Treasury puts them forward in the form of estimates, which we are not allowed to debate. We were promised that we would still have our say under EVEL on all the financial implications through the estimates process. If the Government are to change EVEL, instead of the change they are making today they should make meaningful changes to allow Scottish MPs to have a say on things that have a financial impact on Scotland’s public finances.
My hon. Friend Pete Wishart said that income tax has been “properly devolved”, which is an interesting phrase, particularly in this context. The Standing Order allows for decisions around the main rates of income tax, which are wholly devolved, to be classed under EVEL. I do not like EVEL at all and I do not think that we should have EVEL, but if we are going to have it, it is probably sensible to have it on something that does not have direct impact on Scotland’s public finances.
Ian Murray mentioned the great repeal Bill, which is important in this context. The great repeal Bill cannot be subject to EVEL, and the Leader of the House should bring a further amendment to the Standing Orders or commit to suspend the Standing Order when we discuss the great repeal Bill, because it is not appropriate for Standing Orders relating to EVEL to apply during the great repeal Bill. Scottish Members should absolutely have a say at all its stages. We are being dragged out of the European Union against our will, and we should have a say in the great repeal Bill.