“This proposal is absolutely disgusting. We, in England, through our MPs have no say whatsoever in the domestic legislation of the rest of the UK. EVEL was a step in the right direction although foundationally flawed now we are to lose even that meagre acknowledgement of our nationhood within the UK. Gove joins Blair, Brown, etc as Scots who would govern England. Campaign for an English Parliament” Priscilla Cullen – The CEP
Scottish MPs will be given the right to vote down English legislation in a major constitutional reform being considered by the government to rejuvenate the Union.
The Times has learnt that Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, has brought forward proposals to abolish English Votes for English Laws (Evel), the Commons procedure introduced after the Scottish independence referendum.
Under the plans, which were put to cabinet ministers last week, the requirement that bills, amendments and clauses of legislation affecting England alone be approved by a majority of English MPs would be abolished to make parliament work “for every part of the UK and every party in the UK”.
In an implicit admission that David Cameron’s government undermined the Union by introducing it in 2015, Gove said that the mechanism should be reviewed — a proposal that has provoked a cabinet backlash.
“Ultimately, it’s a convention which arose out of a set of circumstances after the 2014 referendum, where you had a coalition government and so on,” Gove said. “We’ve moved on now, so I think it’s right to review where we are on it . . . My view is that the more we can make the House of Commons and Westminster institutions work for every part of the UK and every party in the UK, the better.”
The mechanism, which was suspended in April last year, has long been criticised by the SNP and Scottish Conservatives for creating “two tiers” of MPs.
Senior Tories fear that it could undermine the legitimacy of any government elected without a majority of English seats and impose a barrier to a Scottish MP becoming
The change would give SNP MPs, and in some cases their Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts, the right to vote on English legislation in areas devolved to their own parliaments, such as justice, schools and the NHS.
Gove, who leads the government’s efforts to maintain the Union, said: “We have been throughout Covid operating without English Votes for English Laws. And I think that’s worked well, and I think that we can reflect on the lessons of operating without the need for English votes for English law.” He added: “But obviously it can’t just be a unilateral decision by any individual, it has to be considered one that is put forward and accepted by the Commons as a whole.”
The proposed repeal has nonetheless been formally opposed by two cabinet ministers who fear that it would leave future Tory governments vulnerable to English laws imposed against its will.
In a sign of divisions within government over the potential impact of the change on English MPs, Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, and Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, both objected to Gove’s proposals when ministers were consulted.
Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, supports the change and The Times understands that no other cabinet ministers refused consent when the plans were sent to ministers last week.
Tories in Scotland believe Evel has given the SNP “a stick to beat” the UK government with even though it has never changed the outcome of a Commons vote. Tory Scottish MPs have pushed for its abolition since 2017.
Acknowledging the nationalist criticism that the mechanism had reduced the power and prestige of Scottish MPs, a Whitehall source said: “Abolishing Evel would reaffirm the fundamental constitutional principle that we are one United Kingdom, with a sovereign parliament comprising members elected on a basis of equality, representing every community in the land, able to make laws for the whole kingdom.”
Abolition would be another blow to the legacy of the Cameron years.
He proposed it as an answer to the so-called West Lothian question. It was widely condemned as tone-deaf and opportunistic. The reform was implemented after he won a majority in the general election of May 2015.
What is English votes for English laws?
It is the mechanism, introduced in 2015, by which Commons votes on legislation affecting England alone require a majority of English MPs to pass. It is deeply controversial, particularly in Scotland.
Why was it introduced?
English votes for English laws (Evel) was a long time in the making. In 1977 Tam Dalyell, then the Labour MP for West Lothian and an opponent of devolution, raised the discrepancy by which Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs could swing votes affecting England alone — without English MPs having the same right on Scottish issues.
It became known as the West Lothian question, and was asked more frequently after 1999, when MPs from the nations retained the right to vote on English matters, while English MPs had no devolved assembly of their own and could not vote on policies devolved to Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont. After the 2014 independence referendum, David Cameron proposed Evel.
Has it been a success?
Whitehall sources think not. Their criticism is threefold. The first is that Evel has never changed the outcome of a vote, though that is mainly because since 2015 the Conservative Party has not had enough Scottish MPs to swing a vote in the event of a rebellion from its English cohort.
The second is that the process is convoluted. As well as entire bills, individual amendments and clauses can be designated for votes under Evel. This can add up to seven stages to the legislative process.
The third is that the government has managed fine without it since April last year, when it was suspended to streamline procedure during the pandemic.
What other arguments are there for repeal?
The SNP’s opposition. Ministers believe Evel boosted the nationalist cause by denuding its MPs of the power to vote on all Commons legislation.
When Evel was introduced, Nicola Sturgeon complained that many English laws had a significant impact in Scotland, particularly given the Barnett formula, which allocates funding to Holyrood based on spending in England.
Some Tories fear a scenario in which a government comes to power without a majority of English seats, most likely a minority Labour administration supported by the SNP. With Evel, gridlock would be inevitable, and some Conservative thinkers fear their party would reposition itself as a party of English nationalism, hastening the end of the Union.