Backlash against SNP as Tories make fresh Evel bid

Full-scale Commons debate, from which Scottish MPs could be excluded. Picture: PA
Full-scale Commons debate, from which Scottish MPs could be excluded. Picture: PA
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FURIOUS Tory MPs have vented their anger at the SNP for thwarting changes to the hunting law south of the Border as Parliament became embroiled in the latest round of the debate on English votes for English laws (Evel).

In a backlash against the Nationalists’ decision to break their own rule on abstaining from English-only matters, Tory MPs lined up to call for the government to press ahead with plans to introduce Evel.

I look on these proposals with genuine horror

Alistair Carmichael, Lib Dems

In an early intervention in the debate, Shipley Tory MP Philip Davies called for powers to be repatriated to Westminster if the SNP decides to vote on English-only matters.

Intervening in the speech from Leader of the House Chris Grayling, Mr Davies said: “Can I suggest a novel solution to this problem?

“Can I suggest that when the SNP decide to vote on matters that only relate to England that have been devolved to Holyrood, that the government introduce a bill to bring those powers back from Scotland, back to Westminster?

“Surely we can solve this problem once and for all.”

In a tetchy debate, the comment drew an angry response from the SNP benches where Nationalist MPs expressed annoyance over the way English Tories vetoed changes they proposed to the current Scotland Bill.

Former first minister Alex Salmond, now the MP for Gordon, said: “Can I suggest a parallel procedure to the one recently suggested by the aggrieved Tory backbenches?

“And that is when we have an amendment to the Scotland Bill which is voted in favour of by 58 out of 59 MPs, but voted down by members like the one who has just spoken, then that power is immediately transferred to the Scottish Parliament. Are we going to reach agreement on these things?” The amended proposals for Evel from the UK Government will mean that the Speaker will have to decide which bills and votes affect England or England and Wales only.

Mr Grayling said that his advice suggested that only a bill on buses would be affected in the current Parliament.

If a bill is English-only it will have an extra amending stage with only English MPs involved and then require a double majority of both English MPs and all UK MPs to pass.

The debate yesterday, the first of two days in Parliament devoted to the issue, saw Tory MPs make clear that they thought the proposal is the minimum required despite complaints from the SNP, Labour, Lib Dems, Plaid and Northern Irish parties that it will lead to “two classes of MP”.

Tory Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart accused SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of exercising an “imperial” control by coming down to London to tell her MPs how vote.

Mr Stuart complained that he wanted an Evel change which was “more ambitious” and described the controversial proposal as “modest” which “simply means English MPs have to give consent on matters that only affect their constituents”.

The SNP’s Angus MacNeil later told Mr Stuart the proposed changes may offer his party a “huge lever to break the Union apart”.

Another Tory MP, Antoinette Sandbach, a former member of the Welsh Assembly who now represents a seat in Cheshire, accused the SNP of “trying to dictate the sort of devolution that England wants”.

There was also evidence to suggest that the SNP decision to vote on hunting in England and Wales had converted some waverers in the Tory party to support Evel.

Former Welsh secretary David Jones, who had expressed scepticism, said: “Farmers in my constituency are bemused that the SNP want to tell them what to do about pest control.”

Meanwhile, Leader of the House Mr Grayling rejected Lib Dem former Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael’s suggestion that the changes were trialled with a single piece of legislation.

Mr Grayling also appealed to SNP MPs to not use Evel as “a means to separate Scotland from the UK”. But Mr Carmichael said the Evel plans fill him with “genuine terror” because they are stoking up nationalist sentiment from both Scottish and English MPs. He said: “I am in the business of saving the Union and that is why I look on these proposals with genuine terror.

“Because these proposals and the language that they have already brought into our debate are a genuine risk to the continuation of the United Kingdom.”

Pete Wishart, the SNP’s Commons business spokesman, said Mr Grayling’s proposals were a “dog’s breakfast”, a “complete and utter shambles” and the product of a Commons Leader who “can’t be bothered to do the work” of going out to the country and talking to voters about what they actually want.

He said he was “thoroughly disappointed” in the new draft brought forward, telling MPs there was “basically no change” to what was on offer.

Mr Wishart said: “For us to be locked out of this process is absolutely disgraceful. The fact that these mad plans have come back today still has done nothing to satisfy our concerns when it comes to this.

“There are still to be two classes of MP. The Speaker of this House will be placed in the most pernicious political situation where the Speaker will have to determine whether I and my colleagues can take part in a debate that might have massive impact and consequences on my constituents.

“We have still not resolved any of the financial issues – not even close to it. We are still in a situation where this is going to proceed and progress without a proper debate, without proper scrutiny. It is shameful the way this government is doing it.”

SNP MP Philippa Whitford said: “It is not that the people on these benches do not recognise the issue for constituents living in England; we absolutely recognise it and that’s why we welcomed our parliament.

“But for all the issues that have been raised, does the Leader of the House not recognise that, actually, you might as well do the work and have a permanent solution than what this is, which is a hotchpotch – you need a parliament for England.”