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English Votes on English Laws — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 1:50 pm on 2nd July 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 1:50 pm, 2nd July 2015

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons. The Statement is as follows.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s plans to provide fairness for England in our constitutional arrangements. I am proud to be a Minister in a Conservative and unionist Government. As an administration we are passionate supporters of the union, and we are taking a whole range of measures designed to strengthen it and to secure its future.

To achieve that goal, we are committed to delivering a balanced and fair constitutional settlement for all the people of the United Kingdom. One of the first things this Government did after the election was to introduce legislation to give new powers to Scotland, with legislation devolving more powers to Wales and Northern Ireland following closely behind. We are giving the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that stronger voice within the union, and it is only right and fair that we do likewise for England. With the Scotland Bill already at Committee stage, I think it is important to make a start on that process now.

In 1977, when the then Labour Government first proposed a devolved assembly in Edinburgh, the veteran Labour MP Tam Dalyell posed what has become the great unanswered question of our constitutional arrangements. Why was it right that after devolution English MPs would lose the right to vote on key issues affecting his constituency in West Lothian, while he would continue to vote on those same issues in their constituencies? Since devolution was actually introduced in the 1990s, the West Lothian question has been very real and has remained unanswered. It is right that we strengthen our union by extending the powers of the devolved assemblies, but it is also right now that we ensure real fairness to our constitutional arrangements. It is that process that we will begin today.

Our proposals build on careful consideration and debate. I am indebted to the work of my predecessor as Leader of this House, William Hague, to Sir William McKay and the work of his commission, and to colleagues from across the House who have contributed their views and expertise.

These are matters about which there are different views and concerns across the House. The proposals that I am setting out today are designed to make a real start in addressing those concerns. They will give English MPs, and in some cases English and Welsh MPs, a power of veto to prevent any measure being imposed on their constituents against their wishes. No law affecting England alone will able to be passed without the consent of English MPs. They will give English MPs a power of veto over secondary legislation and on a range of English public spending Motions on matters that affect England only. They will give the decisive vote over tax measures to MPs whose constituents are affected by those changes once further planned devolution to Scotland takes place.

Many laws are of course common to England and Wales, which share a legal jurisdiction. The devolution settlements in Northern Ireland and Scotland are much broader than in Wales, where key areas like policing and justice are not devolved. So it is right that we extend this principle to Wales too: no English and Welsh law will be made on matters devolved to Scotland or Northern Ireland without the agreement of English and Welsh MPs.

I am today circulating an explanatory note for Members to set out how the new procedure works, but in summary it is this: to establish if a matter is covered by this new procedure, you, Mr Speaker, will be asked to certify if a Bill, or elements of it, are devolved in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, and are therefore to be treated as England only, very much in the way that you currently certify if a matter is a financial one and therefore a matter for the Commons only.

In considering such measures, we have endeavoured where possible to keep our proposed new process as close as possible to the existing parliamentary procedures, with all Members from across the United Kingdom continuing to vote at Second Reading, in most Committees, at Report and Third Reading, and when considering Lords amendments.

The key difference is that our plans provide for an English veto at different stages in the process. There will be a new stage of parliamentary consideration before Third Reading in which English, or English and Welsh, MPs will be asked to accept or veto English and Welsh provisions that meet that devolution test. For England-only Bills, Committee-stage consideration will be undertaken by English MPs. This will give them a voice in shaping the content of laws that affect their constituents. All other Committees will be unchanged.

There will be no changes to procedures in the House of Lords. That House will retain the right to scrutinise and amend Bills as it does now. The two Houses will continue to agree the text of Bills, as now, through the exchange of messages or ping-pong. The only difference is that there will be an additional veto when Lords amendments are considered in the Commons. All MPs will vote on them but, where they affect England or England and Wales only, they will need the support of a ‘double majority’ in the House of Commons, with both English and UK MPs needing to support an England-only amendment for it to pass. This new double-majority system will use a new system for recording votes in the Division Lobbies. In future, votes will be recorded on tablet computers, so it will be possible to give the Tellers an immediate tally of whether a measure has a majority of English MPs as well. I am grateful to the clerks, who have arranged a demonstration for Members of this new double-majority voting process that forms part of the Government’s proposals, which can be viewed between 1 pm and 2 pm today in the No Lobby.

Much of the important law-making that we do in this House is through means other than full programme Bills. Other key votes determining the distribution of spending will also be covered by these changes, such as on the revenue support grant in England and police grants in England and Wales. Overall spending levels will remain a matter for the whole House.

The rules governing the votes and procedures that I have described are set out in the Standing Orders of this House, and we propose to make English votes a reality through changes to these. We will table a Motion in the coming days but the text of the changes that we propose to the Standing Orders will be made available in the Vote Office to Members after this Statement and will be published on gov.uk.

Explanatory notes and a guide to the process will also be made available to ensure that Members and all those with an interest have the full details of what we propose. In addition to today’s Statement, there will be a further opportunity to consider the proposals when they are placed before the House of Commons for full debate and decision shortly before the Summer Recess, as I indicated earlier, on 15 July.

There will of course be views about the operation of the proposals in practice, and I should inform the House that I have written to the newly re-elected chair of the Procedure Committee, my honourable friend the Member for Broxbourne, to signal that I intend to invite his committee to undertake a technical assessment of the operation of the new rules. We will also involve Members on all sides of the House in assessing the new system and what else we might need to do to strengthen the fairness in our constitutional arrangements. I see today’s announcement as an important first step in getting this right, so we will hold a review of the new process once the first Bills subject to this process have reached Royal Assent next year. There will be a clear opportunity to assess the workings of the new rules and consider whether, and in what ways, they should be adapted for the future.

Today we are answering the West Lothian question and recognising the voice of England in our great union of nations. This change is only a part of the wider devolution package but is a vital next step in ensuring that our constitutional settlement is fair and fit for the future. I commend this Statement to the House”.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords 1:59 pm, 2nd July 2015

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement—and what a Statement. This is an issue of major constitutional significance. Action to ensure that the voice of English Members of Parliament is heard loud and clear has to be addressed. Indeed we recognise that, with the deepening of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the need to ensure that the views of English MPs are heard is clearly important. Both the McKay commission and the former Leader of the House of Commons, William Hague, in his Command Paper reported on this issue. But what is proposed by the Government today goes far beyond what has previously been considered and reported to Parliament. These are far more wide-reaching changes, with far deeper implications, but with no proper analysis of how they will work in practice. I find some irony in the opening lines of the Statement describing the Government as both Conservative and unionist. The credibility of claims to be unionist is fading fast.

We could be forgiven for thinking that on an issue of such constitutional importance, on detail that has never even been seen, let alone considered or debated, before today, and on an issue that has such profound implications for how Parliament operates, there would be an opportunity to wisely consider legislation. Should there not be a Green Paper, a White Paper, or possibly even a Bill that would be debated in both Houses—proper effective scrutiny to ensure that any proposals not only address the fundamental principles but, equally importantly, how this could work in practice? But no; this issue, if the Government get their way, will be done and dusted within the next couple of weeks, with no consultation or any scrutinising debate in your Lordships’ House. How? This will be done merely by amending the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.

The Government have today published 20 pages of amendments to the Standing Orders of the other place. The implications of these changes are hugely significant. Given that, the noble Baroness has to address the question of why there has been no consultation or expert scrutiny outside the immediate narrow circle of the Government. Can she tell me when such constitutional proposals have been dealt with merely by amending the Standing Orders of the House of Commons? Twice in the Statement she referred to making a start on the process. This is not just a start. It will be done, dusted and finished within two weeks? With the Government’s obvious fear of any genuine scrutiny in what most of us consider would be the normal, most sensible and practical way in which to make such significant changes, the noble Baroness will have to convince your Lordships’ House that this does not have the whiff of political expediency about it.

We will all want to reflect further on the detail, given that many of the specific proposals are new and have not been considered previously. For Bills that the House of Commons Speaker certifies as England-only in their entirety, the proposals appear to be fairly clear. However, today’s Statement goes much further than that. It outlines a process of sorts where a Bill contains some proposals that are considered to be either Welsh or English. There is not time today to go into all the complexities and complications of how that would work in practice, but it is sufficient to say that there will most certainly be complexities, complications and, of course, potential for chaos. Legislation rarely divides itself neatly into geographical areas. So if the Government are no longer talking about individual Bills but apparently individual clauses in Bills, this surely creates significant scope for additional complexities—and indeed risk.

With the proposals being published only this morning, the full implications of how this will affect the work of your Lordships’ House cannot yet be fully clear. In this Chamber we press votes only when necessary. We try to effect change by working with the Government with debate, discussion and presentation of the facts. However, on issues that will be defined as English, an amendment passed by this House will be subject effectively to a double lock. Will that mean the Government will be less willing to engage on English-only issues, because in this Parliament, and generally, the other place has a majority of Conservative MPs in England, so that whatever we say or do, they could vote your Lordships’ House down?

The Statement refers to using a procedure to identify English parts of a Bill as similar to that used for certifying financial privilege. Many noble Lords will recall that Peers from across the House have had several heated exchanges over the years with the Government in recent years over their refusal to engage with amendments passed by this House and ask the Commons to reconsider—and the issue raised has been financial privilege. Does the noble Baroness have any concerns about how these proposals will affect your Lordships’ House? Unless the Government already have a blueprint or precedent of how it can be made to work in practice, should not some thought and debate have gone into these proposals?

When William Hague presented his Command Paper to Parliament, he clearly did not envisage such proposals as those being brought before us. He was clear that there were a number of serious issues to be addressed, consulted on and decisions taken. Today’s Statement bypasses any such process. Mr Hague considered how a constitutional convention could be established and the kind of issues that could be addressed. The noble Baroness would have heard in Questions today the calls from right across this breadth of your Lordships’ House on how a constitutional convention could assist the Government, Parliament and the country. Laws rushed in rarely get it right.

Finally, we have concerns at the way in which this has been announced, and that has been reflected in other measures brought before us. This has been done without consultation or apparent thought for any possible unintended consequences. It is hardly reflective of the significance of the Government’s proposals. Yesterday, I spoke in your Lordships’ House of our concerns about the Government’s approach to the Childcare Bill and our recognition of the wider implications of the Government’s approach. The Constitution Committee, even since the beginning of this Session, has described a trend since the last Parliament,

“towards the introduction of vaguely worded legislation that leaves much to the discretion of ministers”.

This, the committee states,

“increases the power of the Executive at the expense of Parliament”.

On this issue, we are told that an assessment will be conducted in 12 months’ time by the Procedure Committee in the House of Commons. But what about your Lordships’ House? Again I have to ask the noble Baroness: has she given any thought to the implications for this Chamber? Will we get any opportunity to assess any impact that it may have had on the way in which we work? We have to do better than this. If we do not do it properly, the potential risks are enormous.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. We very much welcome the fact that it is being repeated in our House, given that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said, it clearly raises wider issues that go far beyond the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.

The Statement was right to reflect on the long history of this issue, the so-called West Lothian question, and there is general agreement that we are beyond the stage where the best way to answer that question is not to ask it. There is an issue there that needs to be addressed. This is the Government's attempt to give a clear and comprehensive answer to the “English question”. The Prime Minister, when he first mentioned this on the morning after the referendum—when I very much regret that he switched mode from Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to leader of the Conservative Party—made the comparison between the position of Members of the Scottish Parliament in relation to Scottish devolved issues, and English MPs. But, of course, Members of the Scottish Parliament are elected by a system of proportional representation. I am not holding my breath in the expectation that the Government will ensure that any committee of the House of Commons will also be convened on a proportional basis. We have already seen at the outset a breakdown between the comparisons that were being made.

The Statement boldly claims:

“There will be no changes to procedures in the House of Lords”.

I echo the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Is the Leader of the House absolutely sure about that? For example, the new procedures in the Commons may well affect the overall management of the parliamentary business timetable. Ping-pong may well have to be a more measured process where an English-only or English and Welsh-only Bill, particular clauses or amendments are concerned. Will she join me, at an appropriate point, in asking the Procedure Committee of your Lordships’ House to look at any implications of the changes to the Standing Orders of the other place? In addition, when your Lordships’ House amends a hitherto English-only Bill to affect Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland constituents, how will the Commons deal with that when the Bill returns here?

There is also the issue of defining an English-only Bill or provision. I recall the Bill that introduced top-up tuition fees for English universities being taken through the other place. It is often held up as an example of a decision being swayed only by the votes of Scottish MPs. I was the Higher Education Minister in Scotland at the time, and I had to bring in legislation in the Scottish Parliament months later to address the consequences of that Commons vote. It is not always easy to identify a Bill with impact only in England, or only in England and Wales.

The trial period for the 2015-16 Session is welcome. Will the review then examine the provision’s success or failure? What happens if there has been only limited or no experience of its operation? The “double majority” and “English veto” introduce significant new constitutional departures, and it is important that we examine these in some detail. Of course, as the Prime Minister said, taking the comparable position—putting England in the same position as Scotland—Members of the Scottish Parliament do not have the last word if Westminster chooses to override it. Section 28(7) of the Scotland Act 1998 makes it clear that Westminster has not lost the power to legislate in regard of Scotland. However, what is being proposed here is in effect an English veto, by a Committee comprised solely of English MPs, and that is not Parliament. Parliament’s rights are being inhibited.

The question we must ask is, if what is sauce for the English goose is sauce for the Scottish gander, should the Scottish Parliament be able to veto any provision in a UK Bill that relates to devolved matters in Scotland, in the same way that this English Committee can veto any matters relating to England? When we go down that road we open up a very interesting set of issues—which may well take us toward federalism, which I would not object to. Again, however, has this been fully thought through? I hope that the Leader of the House can answer that.

The Statement refers to making a real start on the task of how, when and in what format Ministers intend to take this forward. Will there be an opportunity for this House to have a much wider debate on these issues, and in particular how they will affect proceedings in your Lordships’ House?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, first, as I said in the Statement I repeated, much has been done already to devolve more power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We in this Government firmly believe that it is now time to address this unfairness in England, which has existed for too long. The proposal that has been put forward by my right honourable friend the Leader of the Commons today for English votes for English laws is a pragmatic and proportionate solution to this issue, which is very much wanted by the people of England and which will address the unfairness they perceive. It is very important for us as a House to understand from the start that the changes to procedures that are being brought in through this measure are changes to procedures in, and only in, the House of Commons. This House’s procedures are not being changed by what is being introduced in the House of Commons.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said that what is being proposed today goes far beyond what was proposed before. I disagree with that. It is a very straightforward, pragmatic, proportionate response. We have simplified beyond what was in the Hague proposals, which were there for people to comment on. When my right honourable friend Mr Hague was still Member for Richmond and leader of the other House, he was at pains to ensure that a cross-party approach was adopted to consider how to address this issue. It is worth noting that when the Opposition in the last Parliament were invited to participate in that process, they declined to do so.

The noble Baroness also suggested that it was necessary to pursue this by legislative means and to introduce some pre-legislative scrutiny. As I say, this issue has been around for a long time: it has featured in my party’s manifestos for at least the last three elections. In the last Parliament the coalition Government asked the McKay commission to look at this issue, and it came forward with various recommendations. Therefore, there has been a long period of discussion and consultation.

The noble Baroness then made some points about amendments by the House of Lords and asked whether these would be, as she described it, subject to a double lock. I must emphasise—as I will continue to do during this debate—that the way we do our work in this House will not be affected by the new processes being introduced in the House of Commons. We will still have the same powers we have now, and we will amend Bills in the same way we do now. However, when our amendments go to the other place for the Commons to consider, there will be a certification process by the Speaker, consideration of those amendments will be done together in a single way, and then there will be a vote in the House of Commons. If the measures in question are certified as England-only or England and Wales-only, when the Commons divides and decides what to do, the Government will be required to listen to and seek the agreement of both the House of Commons as a whole and the English MPs, or the English and Welsh MPs if the measures apply to England and Wales. It is important to understand that English MPs cannot overrule the whole House, and the whole House cannot overrule English MPs.

The noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, asked whether the House of Lords should review these procedures once they have been in play for some time. As my right honourable friend the Leader of the Commons indicated in his Statement, the Commons Procedure Committee will review those procedures once the Bills that will be affected by them in this Session have received Royal Assent—therefore, in about a year’s time. Because our procedures are not affected, it would be unnecessary for our own Procedure Committee to carry out a review of these proposals in this House. However, clearly, when these proposals are in operation, if anything comes to light that we feel it is important to feed into the review process, I expect that we would want to do so.

Finally, I will address a point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace—although I speak to the whole House—who questioned whether what is being introduced for English MPs in the House of Commons via English votes for English laws is comparable to devolution in Scotland. It is vital that we are clear that this new measure ensures that the power and authority that all MPs in the House of Commons have right now as regards their role in Parliament is not diminished in any way. English MPs are being given a voice for the first time on matters that affect only their constituents, and their constituents want to see that happen. Therefore, this is not about taking power away from anybody, but about making sure that for the first time, when Parliament is considering matters that only affect English MPs who represent English constituencies, English voices are the ones that get heard, as they rightly should.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 2:18 pm, 2nd July 2015

My Lords, the noble Baroness has offered no justification at all for the Government introducing major constitutional change by way of using their majority in the House of Commons to alter the Standing Orders of that House and that House alone—thereby sidelining this House, for which she should speak—and in the process annexing vast power for a majority of Conservative Members of Parliament in the southern part of England to impose their preferences on urban and northern communities where they have no representation. How is that fair?

On the matter of the duty laid upon the Speaker to certify that such measures would apply exclusively to England or England and Wales, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, advised us, that will not be a straightforward matter. He cited the question of tuition fees, but the Statement envisages that there would be a veto, to be exercised by English MPs only, on decisions about the distribution of resources within England, or rates and thresholds of income tax within England. But let us suppose that there were lower rates of income tax in Newcastle than in Glasgow, or that a Government wished to stuff the northern powerhouse with gold: that would have a very important bearing on the fortunes of the Scottish economy. The Speaker would be asked to make not simply a judgment of fact or a technical judgment but a political judgment, and that would not be fair.

Finally, the Leader of the House of Commons says, rather grandly and rather absurdly, “Today, we are answering the West Lothian question”. Does that mean that the noble Baroness can give us an assurance that this Government will have no truck with proposals for an elected second Chamber or a federal second Chamber?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not answer all the questions that the noble Lord has asked; I think that he extended them beyond the number that we would normally have time for. He suggested that I had somehow played a part in annexing powers. I cannot stress enough to the noble Lord and to the House that the way in which we operate, how we do our business and the powers that we have are not affected by the changes happening in the other place. We will continue to be able to do precisely what we do now. The change is taking place in the Commons. When we seek to amend a Bill and it applies specifically and only to England, clearly it is right that the English MPs have a voice. However, as I have said, the House of Commons as a whole will retain its voting rights.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Statement and the Government’s decision. More than 10 years ago I took a Bill through this House to do this but it fell to earth in the Commons, so I welcome this announcement. Does my noble friend agree that it is an affront to representational democracy that the Scottish Member of Parliament for, say, Glasgow Central would be allowed to vote on domestic matters in the constituency where I live—Dorking—on housing, education, highways, agriculture and planning when she could not vote on those issues in her own constituency? I happen to remember when Enoch Powell, in responding to Tam Dalyell’s incessant speeches, dubbed this the West Lothian question. I am very glad that after 40 years we have been able to find an answer to it.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I am very grateful to my noble friend. He described exactly the issue that we are trying to address here. At the moment, a lot of people who live in England feel it is unfair that Scottish Members of Parliament are able to contribute to decisions on matters that affect only people in England. That is what we are trying to address with our pragmatic and proportionate approach to giving MPs in England a stronger voice.

Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench

My Lords, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Baker, welcome the fact that the Government are grasping the nettle of the West Lothian question. If the result of the election had been a Labour Government with a Conservative majority in England, this question would have become very urgent. As things are, with a Conservative overall majority in the House of Commons and a Conservative majority in England, there is not the same urgency about it, and there should at least be time to have a thorough debate about the Government’s proposals.

The noble Baroness said that the result of these proposals is that the majority in the House of Commons will not have a decisive say on only English and Welsh questions over English and Welsh Members, and vice versa, but surely that is not correct. As things stand in these proposals, the English and Welsh Members of the House of Commons will have a veto in the House as a whole on Bills that affect only England and Wales. The Conservative Democracy Task Force, which I advised in 2008, proposed an alternative way of dealing with this, which was that on England and Wales-only Bills, English and Welsh MPs should be able to vote on amendments but the House as a whole should have a vote on the Third Reading, thus preserving the supremacy of the House of Commons overall. Would that not be an equally effective but also simpler and less divisive way of dealing with this question than the proposal for an English and Welsh veto, which seems to be both provocative and possibly unconstitutional?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I shall try to explain why I do not quite accept what the noble Lord has said. First, once an England-only Bill or a Bill with provisions for England and Wales gets through its Report stage, there will be a grand committee where the relevant MPs from England or England and Wales consider what was agreed on Report. If the English and Welsh MPs do not accept what the House wishes to do and the matters concerned affect only their constituencies, they will have the option of disagreeing. However, there will be a process whereby the whole House will then reconsider the legislation. The point is that these two groups of MPs will be seeking to reach agreement. If agreement cannot be reached between the relevant MPs and the House as a whole, the matter will fall. However, this is about agreement or consent. It is not about having a veto; it is about trying to find the right way forward.

I say to those who are concerned about whether Members from Scotland will have a proper role in this process that this is designed to ensure that they continue to be included, as they should be, in matters that are considered in the UK Parliament. Therefore, I do not accept the description that the noble Lord has given.

Photo of Lord Reid of Cardowan Lord Reid of Cardowan Labour

My Lords, lest anyone should think that I believe this is a question that should not be addressed, I want to make it clear that I think that it should be. I have long thought that. Indeed, I thought that it became an inevitable question to be addressed when the Prime Minister, a week before the referendum—I declare no interest, because I was not consulted and nor was anybody else in Scotland as far as I can see—unilaterally decided that he would offer more powers to the Scottish people if they voted no. I am sure that that was done out of principle rather than panic. There was as much consultation on that as there has been on this issue, but it made the addressing of this issue inevitable.

I want to make three very quick points. The first concerns the House of Lords. I think that the noble Baroness’s assurances on this carry all the weight of her predecessor’s assurances that, if this Chamber became elected, it would not affect the House of Commons. It was an assertion without any evidence historically and without any rational foresight of the future. Historical dynamics will make sure that if this change goes through, it will have implications for the House.

My second point concerns the manner in which this issue has been addressed. The Minister said that we were answering the West Lothian question. I have to say to her that this is not an answer; it is a guess, and it is not even an educated guess. It is not an answer based on wide consultation, deep discussion, analytics or any form of rational analysis of the likely outcome.

The third thing I would mention is the practicalities. The explanatory notes say that the Speaker will decide what is an exclusively English matter. They allude to the fact that the Speaker already makes such decisions on financial matters. However, the two are not comparable. It is much easier to make a decision on a financial matter, and indeed it is much easier to make a decision on a matter that should be devolved to Scotland, because there is a Bill and there are references, and it is a small nation, whereas England represents 85% of the MPs, probably 85% of the legislation and 80% of the income. This matter is much more difficult.

For all those reasons, I urge the Government to think again about addressing not the question but the manner in which they are dealing with it. This is not a trifling issue and, with the best of intentions from the Government’s point of view, it would be very easy to end up with the worst of all worlds. To paraphrase WB Yeats, I urge the Minister to tread softly on this because she is treading on the union, and many of the attempts by people who thought that they were great defenders of the union have ended up having the opposite effect.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

On the noble Lord’s final point, I genuinely believe that if we leave matters as they are without seeking to address the “English question”, we will actually be weakening the union. This is something that we have to address. As to the noble Lord’s description of this as a guess, there has been an extraordinary amount of debate on and consideration of which process to adopt to take us forward in addressing the West Lothian question. I refer to what happened in the last Parliament. It is now becoming increasingly urgent that we get on with doing something—as I say, for all of us who believe in the union, this is urgent—and therefore the Government have come forward with their proposal. My right honourable friend the leader of the other place has made it clear today that, in about a year’s time, there will be a proper review of the way in which this is operated, using Bills that are actually happening. Rather than continue to debate and consider options and not get anywhere or make any progress, let us follow this proposal and then come back and have a look at it.

As to the role of the Speaker, I would make two points to the noble Lord. When considering whether to certify a Bill as being for England only or for England and Wales, one thing the Speaker will be required to do is consider whether this is a matter that has already been devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The onus will be clearly on the Government in their drafting of Bills, but I believe that the requirement placed on the Speaker is a reasonable one and we will follow our responsibilities in ensuring that we play our part in making this work.

Photo of Lord Elis-Thomas Lord Elis-Thomas Plaid Cymru

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement in this House today and I warmly welcome it. There is nothing new here. Those of us who have operated devolved legislation recognise nothing here except the development of such legislation in relation to England. Does the Minister agree that the definition of legislative competence that has been pursued in the devolved legislatures is exactly what the Speaker of the House of Commons is being called on to follow in deciding whether a Bill is for England? Does she also accept that we already have the territorial competencies and applications set out in every Bill that goes through both Houses of Parliament, and that we are, at last, dragging the House of Commons towards electronic voting, which obviously, as a former Member of that House, I also support?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I do not want to comment on the processes of voting in the other place, but I do not think that they are getting as far as electronic voting. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his warm welcome of what the Government are bringing forward today and agree with the points that he made in his contribution.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, anyone who believes in the integrity of the union will recognise that what is being proposed has profound implications. All I would say to my noble friend—who has presented the Government’s Statement entirely properly—is that this House should have an opportunity to debate something that has profound institutional implications for the future of the union. Even if we had to sit one day later in July, surely we could have a proper debate. There is a great deal of expertise and experience in this House and it would hardly damage what is being proposed if it were thoroughly examined and scrutinised in the way that legislation is in your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My noble friend is a very experienced parliamentarian, but I really am not sure that I agree that, at this stage, this is something that requires this House to debate it. Before rising for the summer, the House of Commons will have a debate on changes to its own Standing Orders. Presumably, it will divide and decide on that. As I say, the procedures and powers in this House will not change. If that were to be the case, and something were to be different in the future, I would clearly reconsider the answer that I have given to my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Constitutional and Political Reform)

My Lords, I wonder whether the Leader will reconsider what she has just said. It may be true—we cannot tell yet—that these proposals will not affect the powers of your Lordships’ House. However, they are clearly going to affect the practice and process of the way in which we operate—there cannot be any doubt about that. She said that the proposals were only giving English MPs a voice, but the Statement makes it clear that that is not what they are being given—they are being given a veto. I beg her to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. There are very important implications for the whole of the way in which Parliament is going to operate. Will she please clear up one other point? She says that there will be an assessment of the way in which this is operated after the completion of this Session. There seems to be a discrepancy between the Statement, which refers to a technical assessment of the operation of these new rules, and what she is saying. It is not just a technical assessment we need; it is a full political assessment of its impact on the way in which Parliament operates.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The Statement refers to a technical assessment by the Procedure Committee in the other place, but I also know that the committee will look at how this works over the next few months and there will be a proper process of review in that way. I feel that there is not really much more I can add to what I have said already to the noble Lord and to the House. It will be different in the House of Commons. I am not suggesting that it will not be. However, we will receive Bills here and then do our work in exactly the same way as we do now. We will not be constrained in any way. It is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that giving English MPs a voice on matters that are relevant only to their constituents is something that the public at large feel is right. That is what we are trying to deliver.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, why is this being done in such an enormous hurry? If a question has been unanswered for 38 years, why is it suddenly to be disposed of in two to three weeks? Surely it would be most regrettable if an important question appeared to be dealt with by sleight of hand.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I do not think that the noble Lord will be surprised to hear that I completely reject his description of what is going on. As he himself acknowledges, this issue has been around for a very long time. In the course of the last few months, we have decided to give even greater power to Scotland. There is also a Bill for Wales coming along very soon, and more powers, I hope, for Northern Ireland. In our manifesto at the last election we were very clear about what we intended to do and how we were going to address this imbalance, which has to be addressed. We feel that we have a pragmatic and proportionate solution to address this matter. That is what we feel the English people really want and that is what we want to deliver for them.