David Maddox: Evel plans stronger than expected

English votes for English laws (Evel) have for some time been dubbed “Tory votes for English laws”, reflecting the suggestion that the plan is to gerrymander the House of Commons and cut out MPs from parts of the UK where the Conservatives are not popular, particularly Scotland.

SNP's Pete Wishart, above, describes it as 'an assault on the rights of members of this House'. Picture: Contributed
SNP's Pete Wishart, above, describes it as 'an assault on the rights of members of this House'. Picture: Contributed

However, until yesterday morning nobody appreciated just how strong the proposals would be in effectively turning Scottish MPs into second class representatives and sating the demands from right-wing MPs such as former Welsh Secretary John Redwood for the “rights” of England to be recognised.

The set of proposals brought forward to address Tam Dalyell’s famous West Lothian question at the end of the last parliament by William Hague in the dying days of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition were markedly weaker than what was set out yesterday by his successor as Leader of the House, Chris Grayling.

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The most eye catching change will be the modernisation of the Chamber, in that iPads will be used to count votes and check that a double majority is reached.

But there are far more significant changes, such as the insistence on a double majority on the third and final reading on bills which are deemed to be English or English and Welsh in nature.

There will be a new stage before the final vote where an English grand committee can vote on and change a bill before the final third reading debate.

And, crucially, English MPs will be handed a veto on English-only matters.

While Mr Hague envisaged votes which were on English matters but had a financial affect on Scotland through Barnett consequentials as not being part of Evel, Mr Grayling has widened the definition considerably so a double majority will be required even if the measures being debated directly affect funding to Scotland.

The proposal is also in effect an extension of the Parliament Act 1918, which meant that amendments in the House of Lords on government manifesto pledges could be ignored without another vote by peers.

This ruling will now also apply to English-only matters before the House.

The effect of these proposals will be up for debate and the Tories have already pointed 
out that there is support for their Evel plans across the whole of the UK, not just in England.

But the changes will make it hard to form a government in Westminster that does not command both an English and a UK majority.

If a government has an overall UK majority but one which relies on Scottish MPs, then it may not be able to get through any changes to English education or health matters and could lose crucial Budget votes on the English and Welsh income tax.

Some will argue that this will also mean that it guarantees Gordon Brown’s place in history as the last prime minister from a Scottish constituency.

While the changes do not overtly block a Scottish MP from being prime minister, it is hard to see one being acceptable where English-only matters take such a prominent place in Westminster’s life.

While the Conservatives argue that the plan rights a historic imbalance, it could be that, as critics claim, the changes are a precursor to a break-up of the UK or a much greater federalisation of the country.