[Relevant documents: English Votes for English Laws: Revised Proposed Changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and Explanatory Memorandum.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of English votes for English laws.
This is, as I promised in the business statement last week, the first of two days of debate on the subject of English votes for English laws. It gives me the opportunity to explain once again the Government’s proposals and to listen to views from across the House. We committed last week to have two days of debate . We will have the second day when the House returns in September. I decided that for practical reasons it was not sensible to have a debate over two days with a large gap between them, so today’s debate is on a motion for the Adjournment. We will continue after the recess with the second day of debate, when the substantive motions will be put and debated. As I committed to the shadow Leader of the House, we will make provision for amendments to be tabled for that debate. It was always the intention that that would happen. The appropriate motion will be passed ahead of that debate to enable her and anybody else who wishes to do so to table amendments for discussion during that day’s debate.
I commend my right hon. Friend for amending the timetable on this matter, which is serious and important for the interests of the English, the Scots and the Union. Before the next debate, will he publish a list of the measures in the Queen’s Speech that he thinks will be affected in terms of who can vote for them?
I am happy to do that. We have already indicated previous Bills that would have been affected by this measure, and we continue to work on that. The certification process that will exist in future has not existed in the past, and there is a fundamental difference between territorial extent as indicated in a past Bill that, for example, might refer to England and Wales as a single jurisdiction but be applicable to England only. I am happy to ensure that what my right hon. Friend asks for happens. In the current Session, I am aware of only one Bill that is likely to be entirely English-only, which is the proposed buses Bill. Many other Bills will be partly English—or English and Welsh—only. I remind the House that, notwithstanding any future certification by the Speaker, every Member of Parliament will vote on every Bill that passes through this place, and no one will be excluded.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his clarification about voting after what will be the next day’s debate on the 22 pages of changes to the Standing Orders that the Government propose. Last week in the emergency debate, I asked whether the Government would propose to allow not only amendments to be tabled but more than one or two votes to be taken, so that the will of the House could be tested on them. Under the old process that was originally suggested that would have been in doubt. Will the right hon. Gentleman be a bit clearer about which procedure we will use when we debate the Standing Orders?
First, I never intended to have a debate where amendments were excluded; that was never suggested or proposed by the Government. The number of votes that are called by the Speaker or Deputy Speaker is a matter for them, and it is not for me to limit the number of votes. We intend to allow amendments to be tabled to this measure, as in any other debate of this kind.
May I suggest a novel solution to this problem? When the Scottish National party decides to vote on matters that relate only to England and that have been devolved to Holyrood, I suggest that the Government introduce a Bill to bring those powers back from Scotland to Westminster. If the SNP wants those matters to be voted on in Westminster, surely we can help facilitate that and solve the problem once and for all.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and he will no doubt argue that when we come to review these and other matters related to the Scotland Bill. Scottish Members of Parliament probably do not need additional areas to be covered at Westminster, to contribute to debates here. Since they do not have, as part of their daily duties, the task of representing their constituencies in areas such as health, education and transport, they have more time to focus on other matters in the Chamber.
I thank the Leader of the House for extending the amount of time in which we can consider this issue. I commend him for that; he did not have to do it, but he listened to the House. Will he also listen to the House in a more measured way and inform us today that there will be no votes at all on this matter until the Procedure Committee and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee have had a chance to issue a report that all Members can read?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding the process that I have put in place. The measures that we have tabled before the House were clearly and straightforwardly set out in our manifesto as something that we intended to proceed with. I have always intended the Procedure Committee, and indeed the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, to play a role in that. I have set out a process—which I discussed with the Chairs of both those Committees—in which as we go through a 12-month period leading up to a review, both Committees look carefully at how the process is taking place and working. They will comment on that process to the House, and we will study those comments carefully as we review proceedings. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Procedure Committee intends to discuss these issues before we next meet for debate, and its initial reactions will undoubtedly be available to Members before that time.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that those few lines in our manifesto have now morphed into what I believe are 30 pages of changes to the Standing Orders? When he conducts his sensible approach to a review and the delay that he is building into this matter, will he take the opportunity to consider some of the other proposals that have been made? For example, my simple amendment to the Standing Orders comprises only seven lines and was cleared by the most senior members of the Clerk’s Department in the last Parliament.
My hon. Friend is a distinguished lawyer and expert in these matters. I have no doubt that as we review these processes we will consider the views set out and options placed before us by Members from across the House. I certainly give that undertaking. Given the manifesto commitment and the fact that the House will want to see how these processes work in action, it is sensible to consider the matter carefully over the next 12 months, hold a review and take stock at that time.
May I suggest a parallel procedure to the one recently suggested by the aggrieved Tory Back Bencher? When an amendment to the Scotland Bill is voted for by 58 out of 59 Scottish MPs but voted down by Members such as the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), that power should be immediately transferred to the Scottish Parliament. Will we reach an agreement on these things?
As ever, the right hon. Gentleman is ingenious in his arguments, but I simply say that we are, and remain, a United Kingdom Parliament. Matters related to devolution in Scotland are debated and voted on by the whole House of Commons. When we debate matters related to additional responsibilities for Members representing English constituencies—as we are doing today—those measures are debated by Members from the entire United Kingdom. That is right and proper, and it is the way that a United Kingdom Parliament should operate.
Over the past 20 years, we in this House have done precisely that with the creation of the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Irish Assembly. The issue that we are seeking to address is the fact that, as an MP representing a Welsh constituency just over the border in north Wales, the hon. Gentleman cannot vote on education matters related to his own constituency. He can vote, however, on matters that relate to Chester just a few miles up the road. We are seeking to address that oddity.
The problem with that argument is that we keep hearing about the respect that was shown to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish people, but the right hon. Gentleman seems to ignore the fact that the SNP had 56 MPs elected to this Parliament on a platform of delivering home rule to Scotland. Conservative Members have vetoed every reasonable amendment that we have tabled to ensure that we deliver what the people of Scotland have demanded. Is it absurd that you are observing a veto on the people of Scotland, while we cannot vote—
I get the point that the hon. Gentleman was making. This is a simple matter. During the Scottish referendum campaign, the United Kingdom Parliament and Government made an offer to the Scottish people of additional devolution. That offer is encapsulated in the Scotland Bill, which is currently on its passage through the House. SNP Members would like more powers than are set out in the Smith commission report and the Scotland Bill. They are perfectly entitled to want that, but if it is the will of the United Kingdom Parliament not to proceed with those measures in Scotland, they will not happen. That is the way that this Parliament works.
We hear the word “respect”, but it is simple: my constituents think that respect goes both ways and they respect the Scottish people’s right to have a Scottish Parliament, the Welsh people’s right to have a Welsh Assembly and the same in Northern Ireland. All they want in return is respect for England and for the people of my area, whose voice is watered down by people voting on matters affecting Yorkshire and Lincolnshire that we cannot vote on in Scotland. That is all we want: respect.
This is a live and real issue, but it is a mark of the respect and affection in which we hold the Scottish nation, the Scottish people and Scottish Members of Parliament that we are not seeking in these proposals to exclude them from voting on measures in this place. We are not saying that there will be votes purely of English MPs and that we will leave Scottish MPs out; they will vote on every piece of legislation in the way that they do now. However, it is surely not unreasonable to say to them that, if a matter affects only the English or only the English and Welsh and will change matters in those constituencies, English and Welsh MPs should have the decisive say.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. In putting right an obvious injustice to England, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is doing something that will strengthen the Union. That is why it should be supported by all Unionists and why it is opposed by so many Opposition Members.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I think this is purely about fairness and I find it disappointing that the Scottish National party—and not purely the SNP, because Labour appears to take the same view—which believes in fairness for the people of Scotland and in the devolution of responsibilities, which has already happened for the Scottish Parliament, seems opposed to a relatively limited measure affecting the English, which does less than some people want. It is disappointing that the belief seems to be that Scotland should get more but England should not have a small measure to counterbalance that.
My right hon. Friend is being too generous to Opposition Members, particularly the Scottish nationalists. After all, they have long espoused the need for devolution to England, and merely to ensure consent for procedures that impact only on England or England and Wales is the tiniest modest step in that direction. They espoused that view for years and now, opportunistically and cynically, they try to suggest that it is something else.
I hope that the Scottish National party, which is made up of a group of people I have grown to like and respect, will not seek to use this matter to pursue a different agenda to do with the separation from the Union. I hope that they would not say that we should not be fair to England purely to whip up concern in Scotland that would encourage support for a second referendum.
Further to that point, my right hon. Friend is right. We have learned to like and respect the Scottish nationalist Members since they came here, but is it not clear that this is quite an imperial project? MPs in this Chamber who represent the Scottish National party do not think or speak for themselves; they do exactly as they are told by Edinburgh.
Does the Leader of the House accept that how this matter has been dealt with has stoked the fires of nationalism? He has admitted today that only one Bill is likely to be affected in this way. Does he really fear that the hordes from across the border will pillage his programme in the next year, so he has to rush this thing through without proper consideration?
The hon. Gentleman talks about proper consideration and these proposals were, of course, published late last year. They have been subject to extensive statements to the House. They were in our manifesto and they are now subject to extensive debate in the House. They are a relatively modest step that, in my view, provides a balance of fairness across the Union. While we are in this place, there is inevitably a degree of rhetoric. This is an important part of saying to the people of England that, as we devolve more powers to Scotland and to Wales, England is a part of that.
I will make a little bit of progress, and then I will give way a few more times.
I have already made the point that we will provide a business motion to ensure that there will be a full opportunity for any amendment selected to be debated and voted on. The Deputy Leader of the House and I are consulting and will continue to consult colleagues from across the House to answer questions of detail. My door is open to hear their views. I think that I have now had meetings with all the different political groups in the House, and I will continue to be available to talk to them.
I have had a number of conversations with the Chair of the Procedure Committee about our proposals. I talked to him back in May, before the new Committee was formed, to ensure that he was aware of what I was thinking. We now have a Committee and I intend to write to it to set out the process and ask whether it will keep track of how the new rules work in practice to review their operation once Bills have reached Royal Assent under them. I know that members of the Committee will contribute to debate and discussion about these matters over the coming months; but in addition, I have been invited to address the Committee and give evidence at the start of the September sitting, which I will happily do. I will be very happy in due course to talk to the other Committees involved.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again; it is gracious of him. He mentioned that day two of our proceedings on this matter will be sometime in September and he has not announced when. It is clearly quite important for Members of Parliament that, when we come back for the September sitting, there is a little bit of time between the evidence he gives to the Procedure Committee, and perhaps other Committees, and our consideration of the proposals. Will he give us some reassurance that there will be enough time and that the debate will not happen very quickly as soon as the House returns?
I am cognisant of the hon. Lady’s point. She would not expect me to announce the business in advance, but I take note of what she says. I can assure her that we will have a sensible process, and of course I will be available to hear comments from Members while the House is sitting and when it returns.
The other point raised with me, apart from the question of timetabling, was Members’ ability to vote on legislation that might have implications for the block grant, the so-called Barnett consequentials. There has been some discussion about how the House makes decisions on the block grant and how the Barnett consequentials work. This House approves the Government’s spending requirements each year through the estimates process, and we did that last night. The Government publish our spending plans, broken down by Department. The cash grants to the devolved consolidated funds that in turn fund the spending of the devolved Administrations are included in the relevant estimate: Scotland Office, Wales Office or Northern Ireland Office. Some of the individual departmental estimates are debated each year. The choice of these debates is a matter for the House through the Liaison Committee.
The decisions on the estimates are given statutory effect in a Bill each summer. The whole House will continue to vote on these supply and appropriation Bills. Through those means, decisions on the block grant funding to the devolved Administrations are taken. The block grant total each year is based upon a number of factors, including the calculation of Barnett consequentials, or the impact of individual spending decisions in different parts of the UK.
There are no readily calculable Barnett consequentials arising from individual Bills, because there is no direct relationship between any one piece of legislation and the overall block grant, even when the Bill results in extra spending or savings. An education Bill for England does not change the Department for Education’s budget outside the estimates process.
The two processes are separate. Decisions relating to departmental spending, including the block grant and the outcome reported to the House, are taken first in spending reviews and then in the annual estimates process. It is up to Departments to operate within the limits of the Budget allocation agreed. Any costs associated with legislation they take through Parliament must be borne within a Department’s overall budget.
We have listened to Members’ concerns and I understand the need to clarify the position relating to expenditure, so I want to be crystal clear. In order to assist today’s debate, I have republished the changes we propose to make to the Standing Orders of this House, with some small but important clarifications. They make it absolutely plain that Members from across the entire House—all Members—will approve departmental spending, which, as I have said, sets out the levels of spending for the devolved Administrations, reflecting Barnett consequentials. All MPs will vote on the legislation that confirms those decisions.
In addition, we have clarified that where legislation involves an increase in a Department’s expenditure, as voted on by the whole House in the estimates process, all MPs will continue to vote on that specific decision. All aspects of public spending will continue to be voted on by the whole House.
I am one of those who have raised very firmly with my right hon. Friend the question of the Barnett formula. The handling of the House’s procedures is as much about perceived fairness as it is about actual fairness. He is right to say that most Bills do not have large carry-over implications for funding, but occasionally they might and under such circumstances the Bill’s money resolution becomes incredibly important. I make this point speculatively—I have not come to a conclusion on it myself yet—but perhaps my right hon. Friend should allow the House to debate such money resolutions so that if, for example, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) wanted to object to a particular measure because of its money implications, he could then do so.
I have listened carefully to my right hon. Friend. Money resolutions will also be voted on by the whole House. There will not be a decisive English say. I take note of my right hon. Friend’s comment on the timing of debates. Mr Deputy Speaker, I suspect that you and your colleagues in the Chair would regard comments about a money resolution as in order in a debate on a Bill, but if that proves to be a problem I am very open to looking at whether we can find another way to ensure that money resolutions can be debated.
It would be helpful to the House if I took the Leader of the House back to an example of where he is wrong. If the House decides to raise tuition fees in England, that would not affect public spending in that year, but an automatic consequence of such a decision would be that direct public expenditure to universities would be lowered and loan funding would probably be raised as a result of having to compensate students. These things have an impact through Barnett consequentials, so unless the Leader of the House can reverse his previous advice and tell me that a tuition fees Bill would not be included in the procedures, what he has just told the House is not correct.
That is not right, because a money resolution attached to a tuition fees Bill would be a matter for the whole House. The right hon. Gentleman is right to mention tuition fees, because the issue of changes to tuition fees in England does not apply in Scotland. During the years of Labour Government, the most pronounced example of Scottish votes affecting English constituencies was when Scottish votes carried an increase in tuition fees.
It is none the less the case—because we do not distinguish between Scottish MPs, even Conservative ones, and their votes—that an increase in tuition fees for English students was carried by Scottish Members of Parliament, even though the impact of that change did not apply in Scotland.
The Leader of the House is being generous with his time. The Scottish National party is the only political party in this House that has not voted for increasing tuition fees for English students—we voted against that. Regardless of what happens in a financial year and the money resolution, the impact of a tuition fees policy is to lower direct public spending and increase loan expenditure. That was the automatic result and aim of that tuition fee policy, which is why we voted against it and why we should still be entitled to vote against it if it is ever brought back to the House.
That is precisely why, should such a circumstance arise, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will still be able to vote against it on Second Reading, Report, Third Reading and the money resolution. It is entirely reasonable to say that if English Members of Parliament face an increase in tuition fees that applies to their constituents only, they should have a decisive say on whether that increase should happen. If the Scottish Parliament chooses to raise or cut tuition fees in Scotland, that is surely a matter for Scottish Members of Parliament in Edinburgh to decide one way or the other. The difference is that at the moment English Members of Parliament do not have the decisive say. Under these proposals, they would have the decisive say.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way. I think he has been gracious enough to accept that throughout this process he has benefited from a range of views in this House and from a range of views within Parliament. What I cannot understand at this stage is why he does not think that, in this one nation Parliament, any proposal would not benefit from greater scrutiny by parliamentarians right across this House at Committee stage, which is the most crucial.
That is precisely what I have done. I have said, “Let us put this in place. Let us road test it. Let us see how it works. Let us let the Procedure Committee crawl all over it.” A number of operational issues will arise from a change like this, so let us have a proper review at the end of the first Session, when we can see what has happened to Bills that move to Report. We can then understand the implications.
Going back to what the right hon. Gentleman said a couple of minutes ago, does he not accept that if a Bill here has the effect of reducing or removing an area of public spending, that will have an impact on the Barnett formula? It will have an effect on Barnett consequentials. If he is saying that Bills by their nature do not have spending effects, is he telling us that Ministers will never argue against any amendment in future by saying that it would cause a drain on the public purse and add to public expenditure? Will he stop using that argument against amendments?
I have tried in recent days to identify any Bill that has a public spending impact outside the estimates process. The officials who have looked at this for me have identified no such measure. The point is that the estimates process is what sets our public spending envelopes. It is what sets the budget for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It is what sets the departmental budget for the Department for Education. It is what consequentially sets the budget for the Scottish Government, and for Wales and Northern Ireland. All those things will remain a matter for a vote of the United Kingdom Parliament, as, indeed, every Bill will be voted on by every single Member of Parliament.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Listening to some on the Opposition Benches, it seems that they believe the West Lothian question was a rhetorical one. This proposal is trying to find an answer to it, the genie having been let out of the bottle through the devolution settlements. Will he accept the support and congratulations of my constituents in North Dorset, because he and the Government are trying to find a fair and just way to solve a problem that has been ignored for far too long and is clearly and palpably unfair?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the support he gives to the measures. I think they are measured and reasonable. If we are moving towards greater devolution across the United Kingdom, I simply do not accept that it is sensible or reasonable to say to the English, “You have no part in that.”
I am a proud Unionist. The voices of proud Unionists on the Opposition Benches say to the Leader of the House that there is a profound risk in his proposals. The risk is, first, making a differential between Members. Further, he tells us that he has looked, with the Clerks, at what might happen and that we can all deal with that after a year. We are arguing for a careful review before this is implemented, because it sounds to me as if, for example, English voters—
I got the gist, Mr Deputy Speaker. The dilemma for the right hon. Lady is this: she and her party are now fundamentally an English party with a few Welsh MPs. They have constituents who, like mine, want a balanced devolution settlement where there is a degree of fairness for England. That is what we are doing. This is a sensible package of measures that provides a balance within this place and gives a decisive vote on matters that affect only English and Welsh constituencies, but does not remove from any MP in any part of the House the right to vote on any single measure that appears before this House.
On the composition of Bill Committees, is the Leader of the House saying that Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Members would not be allowed on England-only Bill Committees? What about the Chair, who is chosen by the Speaker’s Panel of Chairs, if they were to come from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland? Not only do they have one vote; they have the casting vote. How would the right hon. Gentleman deal with that?
In my view, there is no issue with any Member chairing any Committee, since by convention a casting vote is cast in favour of the status quo. In my view, that would not change, and I see no reason to exclude any Member from either side of the House from chairing any Committee.
A question was raised about England-only Bills. We are not talking simply about England-only Bills, but about Bills that are substantially or in part applicable only to constituents of one group of Members—either English-only or Welsh-only Members. That will be a part of the process. It is not purely a question of having one England-only Bill in this Session. A number of measures will be coming before the House that apply entirely and exclusively to the United Kingdom—local government devolution is a case in point.
We intend that only very few Committees will be England-only; almost all will remain United Kingdom Committees, as now, as will almost all the statutory instrument Committees. It will be a matter for individual political parties whom they assign to Committees.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way; he is being generous with his time. May I help him out? In the past when this was discussed, it was suggested that it could be trialled, if it had to be trialled, on a single Bill. He tells the House that he has identified that Bill in the current programme. Instead of going forward with the full range of changes and all the infrastructure required for the Speaker’s Office, why does he not try it out on this one Bill? That would be a meaningful trial.
I am afraid I do not think that it would be a meaningful trial at all. We have a system that will apply to England-only Bills, to England and Wales-only Bills and to partial elements of Bills. It is important to try it out for a Session on things affected and then to have a review.
It will not just apply to the single Bill; it will also apply to all the certified secondary legislation. It will require significant administrative infrastructure being put in place for the Speaker’s Office. If, after a year, we decide that this is not the way to go, what happens then?
I do not think we will decide after a year that we want to stop it altogether. We may decide to make changes to how it works or that things could be done differently, but I am not suggesting we would stop having any kind of a say for the English in 12 months. I am saying we will want to review how this works under the procedures of the House in 12 months and to take views from different sides on how it could, or whether it should, be different. I am not suggesting that in 12 months we should simply say, “Actually, we don’t think there should be fairness for the English at all.”
First, may I thank the Leader of the House for giving Parliament more time to discuss this matter? The whole House should thank him for that. For clarification, will he say whether the changes to Standing Orders cover secondary legislation?
Yes, they do. Any secondary legislation certified as England or England and Wales-only would be subject to a double majority vote, but importantly there will be no change to the Committee structure. We will continue to have UK Committees, but the final say on the Floor of the House would be subject to a double majority.
Before I give way, I have a question for the hon. Gentleman. It has been the SNP’s practice to stay away when a measure is England-only. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), the SNP spokesman on this, said a little while back in evidence to the McKay commission:
“We look at each bill, as we get the business for the week, we assess it for the Scottish interest. If there is none or if it’s insignificant, we take no interest…We have never had the problem. 12 years since the setting up of the Scottish Parliament, we have had the self denying ordinance and found it about the most easiest thing possible to do and we do not see what the fuss is.”
My question to SNP Members is this: since this only codifies in the Standing Orders of the House what they claim they already do, what is all the fuss about?
I am delighted to try to assist the Leader of the House in that task. There is a very simple answer, which would take away a lot of the angst. If we want fairness and English votes for English laws, the solution is very simple: bring forward legislation for an English Parliament. That is what we would consider as fair. The point that the right hon. Gentleman has to address is that we were all elected on 7 May with equal rights, so why is that—
On that note, I shall seek to bring my remarks to a conclusion. I have been as generous as I can in giving way.
Let me finish with this thought. The hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) talked about equal rights, so let me remind him that in a typical day in this place, most people representing England and Wales are dealing with inquiries from constituents about the health service, education, transport and so forth, while in Scotland all those things are not the responsibility of SNP Members—they are the responsibility of their counterparts in the Scottish Parliament. We already have Members of Parliament with different jobs to do. We are simply ensuring a degree of fairness in this place.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Does he accept that this issue is not just about votes on legislation, but about debates? Surely it would be reasonable for us, as a UK Parliament, to be able to debate issues affecting all parts of the United Kingdom, thereby removing the restriction on debating devolved matters. This morning in Westminster Hall, SNP Members were speaking about housing supply in London.
That may be a current issue for one or two of them, having moved down from Scotland to be here, but my hon. Friend makes an important point. We do have an odd imbalance, yet no one on the SNP Benches has been able to explain to me—nor have those on the Labour Benches now lining themselves up against these proposals—why it is right and proper to continue with a situation in which an MP from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland can vote on education in my constituency but not in their own constituency. That seems to me to be a flaw.
I am grateful. One person he has not mentioned in detail so far is the Speaker of the House of Commons. There will be moments when controversial issues arise in relation to the certification of an England-only Bill and the parties are in dispute. What consultation has the right hon. Gentleman undertaken with the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers on this matter?
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am not sure whether it is appropriate to discuss in this House conversations that have been held with the Chair. Suffice it to say that consultations and discussions have taken place, as the right hon. Gentleman would expect. I have every faith in the Speaker’s ability.
I look forward to seeing my right hon. Friend in September. In advance of that meeting, the Committee will speak to the Speaker’s Counsel, Parliamentary Counsel, the Clerk of the House and perhaps to former distinguished Clerks, so we shall have lots of questions to put to the Leader of the House when we see him in September.
It is not that SNP Members do not recognise the issue for constituents living in England—we absolutely recognise it, which is why we welcomed our Parliament—but in view of all the issues that have been raised, does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that we might as well do the work and have a permanent solution rather than a hotch-potch, which is what this is? You need a Parliament for England.
I understand the hon. Lady’s point. We have considered the issue very carefully, and we do not want to fragment this House of Commons. We put proposals in our manifesto, on which we were elected. We should and will stick by that manifesto. Ultimately, it is all about fairness. We intend to provide more powers to Scotland and more powers to Wales, and we intend to devolve to Northern Ireland powers over areas such as corporation tax. Ultimately, we need to be fair to the English, and that is what this is about.
I rise to contribute to what has now thankfully become a general debate on the Government’s proposals for what they like to call “English votes for English laws”. I am pleased that they have at least seen a bit of sense in retreating from their original intention of making us vote on those complex and controversial proposals today.
Let me begin by emphasising, for the avoidance of any doubt, that the official Opposition recognise that, in the light of the ongoing deepening of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is important for us to evolve a mechanism for ensuring that the views of English Members of Parliament are heard clearly on English matters. Believing in that simple aim, however, does not mean that we can support the proposals that have been put before us today, because, as currently written, they are deeply flawed. We do not think that the Government’s proposals are either wise or viable. Indeed, they are likely to put the Union at risk by creating an English veto rather than a voice, possible gridlock in Parliament, and two classes of MP.
The hon. Lady is right in saying that these are not the McKay commission proposals, and that the Government dismissed those proposals. Has she had a chance to look at the diagram that the Leader of the House has so helpfully distributed? In box 3, in a circle that is half orange and half green, there is a letter P, which apparently refers to
“Further Ping Pong, if required”.
Has the hon. Lady any idea how many of the Bills that the Leader of the House is presenting will be subjected to the ping-pong procedure under his proposals?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the diagram. It looks more like a plate of spaghetti than a way of legislating sensibly. As for his question, how often that “ping pong to the power squared” would actually happen would depend on how much disagreement there was between the other place and this place. I think that we in the House of Commons must think very carefully about quite how complex some of these legislative processes become if there is contention.
Does the hon. Lady accept that, notwithstanding her valiant efforts, those of members of her party, and those of the 56 nationalist MPs who are here to discuss an English-voting subject—[Interruption]—it is simply an issue of consent? English MPs, or English and Welsh MPs, give consent. It may have to be written into many pages of Standing Orders, but it is as simple as consent. The hon. Lady knows that that is true.
I think it is a lot more complicated than that, and I think the hon. Gentleman should be a bit more wary about waving his red rag at the bull, because he is causing dissension rather than trying to achieve consensus. That is not the best way to behave when we are dealing with the Standing Orders of the House, although the hon. Gentleman appears to be enjoying himself.
On the subject of ping pong, am I right in thinking that an all-England Committee would send the Bill to the other place, where Members from all nations and regions would change it, and it would then come back to the entire House of Commons to be voted on. If so, what exactly would we have achieved?
I may have to be corrected, but my understanding of the process is that if it is an England-only ping-pong, the English will have a veto on it. So there could be a majority in both the Lords and the Commons in favour of something being in a Bill, but it could be vetoed by a minority.
On that point, I wonder whether my hon. Friend can help me: Lord Thomas of Gresford in Wrexham, who has never won an election in his life in north-east Wales, will vote on these matters in another place, while I, who have won elections on six occasions in north-east Wales, will not be able to do so.
My right hon. Friend, who has the unique distinction of missing out by one vote from being selected in Wallasey before I was, is a very experienced winner of elections and the point he makes is absolutely spot-on.
What the Government are suggesting is all in direct defiance of the advice given by the McKay commission, which the Government appointed and whose advice they have inexplicably ignored for reasons they have not chosen to share with us.
Does the right hon. Lady accept that, given the nature of the devolution settlement, the fact that these matters were not dealt with in the last 20 years and the fact that there is going to be a further Wales and Scotland Act, now is the time to look at English votes for English laws?
I thank the hon. Lady for inexplicably promoting me to the Privy Council; perhaps she could have a word with her friend the Prime Minister and see whether she can make that happen, because she is probably very influential. What I am trying to argue is if we are going to do this to give an English voice, it has to be done in a cross-party way with consensus, not in a partisan way that is clearly designed to assist only one party in this House.
I am going to make a bit of progress; I will give way later, but I am only on page 2 of my speech. [Interruption.] It might get longer if hon. Gentlemen provoke me.
Labour Members consider that this issue should have been properly dealt with as part of a much wider process involving a constitutional convention to examine a range of issues in a more holistic way. A genuine attempt should have been made to come to a cross-party agreement between the parties represented in this place, and with wider civil society. Proceeding in this consensual way, rather than in the blatantly partisan way the Government have chosen, would have hugely increased their chances of introducing a successful and sustainable change. No such attempt has been made. The Leader of the House has already attempted to suggest that it has, but I do not mean a cobbled-together Cabinet Sub-Committee established months before a general election that failed to come to any consensus even between the governing coalition parties; I mean a genuine attempt to reach cross-party consensus, in which all points of view are heard and properly tested and a mutually agreed way forward is pursued.
I am not unsympathetic to the hon. Lady’s desire to look at this issue in the round, but it seems to me that it is incumbent on the Labour Opposition to explain their position, because some of us have been banging on about the unworkability of the devolution settlements ever since they first went through this House. The problems we are facing today were inherent in the failure to address that at the outset. Is it not also the case that the problem we now face requires goodwill, and while I do think I accept the hon. Lady’s goodwill, I am afraid I do not entirely accept any goodwill from SNP Members, who do not seem to me to actually desire to resolve this issue, rather than use it as an instrument to—
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for accepting my goodwill, at least. We are in a more complex position than we needed to be in because of the way in which the Government have chosen to proceed on this difficult issue. In my view, cross-party consensus leads to more sustainable and long-lasting solutions.
No; let me finish the point I am making.
I would also say in passing that the Union has always been asymmetrical and there have always been anomalies. The issue of English votes for English laws came to the fore when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister and the nationalisation of the steel industry was scuppered by Northern Irish MPs voting against nationalisation, even though there were no steel plants in Northern Ireland. That is what first led to Harold Wilson worrying about the issue. A certain amount of asymmetrical anomaly will be inherent in any Union when 85% of it is English. We must bear that in mind constantly.
Would my hon. Friend consider seizing this agenda by convening all the parties and all the people in civic society who want a constitutional convention, and would she consider doing it now rather than waiting until the next Labour Government are in office?
There is great merit in my hon. Friend’s arguments. I might be able to consider doing that after the deputy leadership contest is over and I have a bit more spare time. The argument in favour of a constitutional convention, whether convened by the Government or not, becomes greater by the day.
What we have witnessed here is an unseemly headlong dash by the Government to try to rush these complex and partisan changes through the House before the summer recess. Their aim has now, thankfully, been foiled by a mixture of outrage on both sides of the House and a brewing rebellion on the Government’s Back Benches. Last week’s emergency Standing Order No. 24 debate demonstrated that the unease at the Government’s behaviour was widespread. Indeed, they ended up in the absurd position of having to abstain on a vote supporting their own chosen process. The Leader of the House himself beat a hasty retreat, fleeing the Chamber before his Whips abandoned any pretence of trying to win the vote.
So, thankfully, today’s debate has turned into a general one, and we have been issued with new draft changes to the Standing Orders to consider. Even they were late arriving, however. They were not published on Monday, as the Leader of the House promised at business questions last week; they were actually made available at lunchtime on Tuesday. I can assume only that the delay was caused by Government disarray, because the changes that have been made are minimal, and they certainly do not address the points about accounting appropriately for Barnett consequentials that were worrying some Conservative Members. Nor do the Government appear to have considered changing or reconsidering any part of their plans in the face of reasonable doubts and questions. Instead, they have turned up the volume by provoking a huge row over their proposals to wreck the Hunting Act 2004, which the Leader of the House so extraordinarily withdrew by means of a point of order yesterday.
The Leader of the House was in such a shambolic state yesterday that he could not work out whether the Government’s proposals on hunting were anything to do with EVEL. Let me help him with that. The Government have a small majority, and their attempt to change the Hunting Act failed yesterday because some Tory Back Benchers agreed with us and the public that the killing of animals for pleasure had no place in a civilised society.
I found out about the nature of the Government’s proposals at quarter past six the night before the Leader of the House made his statement to the House. That was three and a half hours after I was originally meant to see him to be confronted with the proposals. If there had been a real attempt to reach cross-party consensus and to move forward on the basis of agreement, we would not be where we are now.
It is one thing to ask the Government about detail, but we have failed to hear any detail at all from the Labour Opposition. Labour had 13 years in government to consider this matter and has had five years in opposition, but after 18 years Labour has provided no detail at all, even on the suggestion that it might get to its fabled constitutional convention.
There is the constitutional convention and a lot of the issues of powers also—[Interruption.] Because the hon. Gentleman represents the Government, and it is for them to put forward legislation in this place and for the Opposition then to deal with it. I do not know whether he knows his constitution, but that is how it is meant to be. If we had been the Government, we would be dealing with this. His party is the Government and therefore we are dealing with their proposals. That is what I am trying to do.
The hon. Lady is making a reasoned case, but she should think again about things being secretive. The Leader of the House has listened, we are going until 10 o’clock tonight, we are having all the summer and then we are coming back again, so what she says is unfair. On the constitutional convention, would she have said that we should not have proceeded with the Scotland Bill and should have looked at things as a whole?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Scotland Bill is the result of an all-party agreement made in the middle of the independence referendum by party leaders. It was called the “vow” at the time and it was led by the Prime Minister, with whom I know the hon. Gentleman has a love-hate relationship. A vow was made to the public of Scotland that that had to be delivered, so it is a bit difficult to say that we were not going to deliver it until after a constitutional convention. But evolving devolution and the settlements evolving at the moment surely make the case for us to have a more holistic look at how we deal with a range of issues, including the fact that the other place is now 900 strong. We read today that the Prime Minister has tried to get another 100 peers appointed to the other place, while we are trying to see the size of this place shrink. A constitutional convention should be taking a serious look at a range of issues so that we can balance our governance arrangements once more.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, to be fair to them, the last Government did begin a process of consultation, establishing the McKay commission to look into the whole issue? It took a great deal of evidence, and produced an interesting and, in many ways, sound report, but this Government have chosen to put that in the bin and make a set of half-baked, partisan proposals.
That is part of the problem: we have never had an explanation from the Government as to why the very sensible, well-debated, well-researched views of the McKay commission have been completely disregarded.
We appear to have a Government in a hurry to offend and to govern by provoking grievance and division, which is no doubt why they laughably refer to themselves—
I have already given way once to the hon. Gentleman and it is important that I now get on to make the rest of my speech, so that other people can contribute to our debate.
The proposals before us risk exacerbating strains on the Union. They are shoddy, and conceived in a highly partisan fashion, and therefore they are deeply flawed. They are much more aggressive in their handing over of powers to English MPs than the McKay commission decided was wise, yet the Leader of the House has not explained why he has chosen to ignore the advice and the warnings coming from a commission that the Government appointed. Wherever they have had to exercise a judgment, the Government have opted for more powerful and less nuanced powers for English MPs. They have fallen short of advocating an English Parliament, perhaps because England forms 85% of the whole Union and any English First Minister would probably be more powerful than a UK Prime Minister, but they are certainly incubating a proto-English Parliament within this supposedly Union Parliament.
I am interested to hear that comment. I agree with the hon. Lady that creating an English Parliament would be unworkable, and yet the message from Scottish National party members is that we should create an English Parliament. If there is already one area of meeting of minds, the Labour party must be starting to work towards a solution, because I think that she is beginning to accept that something must be done about English votes for English laws.
In all three statements or speeches that I have made in the past three weeks, I have begun by conceding exactly that point. I have done it not for show but because it is what we believe.
The proposals mean that, if a Government do not command a majority in England, it is doubtful that they could actually govern. The complete lack of effective consultation with any other party outside of Government on some of the controversial aspects of these proposals makes them partisan and divisive when they should have been accomplished on a cross-party basis. When it comes to making changes of such constitutional importance and technical complexity, it is only right that they should be scrutinised effectively.
The Government’s proposals fundamentally alter the constitution and the operations of this House, as well as impacting on the other place. In those circumstances, it is appropriate to set up a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the proposals in greater depth. I call on the Leader of the House to do so.
Joint Committees of both Houses have a strong tradition of effective cross-party scrutiny of complex issues of constitutional importance, both legislative and non-legislative. For example, the highly regarded Cunningham Committee looked at the non-legislative issue of conventions between both Houses. The report was noted with approval in both Houses in 2007, and has stood the test of time and sets a clear precedent on which the Government should now proceed.
The hon. Lady is being most generous, especially as she did not intend to be—to me in particular. She is focusing entirely on process, and process is an important part of this matter, but she has not given the slightest hint of a suggestion of what the Labour party thinks should be done about it, even though it was the author of the original mess many, many years ago. She needs to give us more than just process; otherwise we will doubt her goodwill
The hon. Gentleman uses his usual charm. He can take it now that I will not be giving way to him again for the rest of my speech. Part of coming to cross-party agreement is that one does not have a completely developed plan that one wishes to force on everybody else—it is called compromise. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman does not understand how that works, but that is not a surprising given his antics in the debate today.
There was particular concern expressed during last week’s emergency debate that the so-called Barnett consequentials had not been properly taken into account in the very prescriptive definition of what an “English only” Bill, or part of a Bill, actually is. It is not clear to me whether the changes to the draft Standing Orders adequately address that problem. The Government have not seen fit to address the point about cross-border effects short of Barnett consequentials made by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) in last week’s debate.
There are some dangers inherent in the Government’s proposals, which they would have been wise to avoid. Badly designed proposals on English votes for English laws risk not only legislative gridlock but making England, or the UK, ungovernable in some circumstances. As the proposals are currently drafted, there are three areas that give particular cause for concern, and I wish to deal with each of them in turn.
First, the proposals create an English veto, not just a voice, with all of the complications for our constitution that that entails. Secondly, the proposals apply not only to English laws but, much more problematically, to parts of Bills, statutory instruments, regulations, commencement orders and ministerial administrative actions, which, in our current system, are often achieved by statutory instruments. Thirdly, even more controversially and entirely without any consultation outside of the Government, these proposals have been widened so that they apply to Finance Bills.
The McKay commission ruled out a veto for English MPs. The Government have gone far beyond the proposals set out by McKay and have instead created a veto rather than strengthening the English voice. Not only do the proposals grant a veto on the UK Government in the Commons, but English MPs would be able to veto Lords amendments on English matters, curtailing the Lords’ ability to revise legislation.
The McKay commission recommended that the views of English MPs needed to be strengthened. In particular, it recommended the adoption of a principle that
“decisions at the United Kingdom level with a separate and distinct effect for England (or for England-and-Wales) should normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of MPs for constituencies in England (or England-and-Wales).”
That convention, along with the approach that the Opposition have suggested of considering an English Committee stage for English matters, is a much more proportionate response to the West Lothian question, and it would strengthen the voice of England.
Why, apart from to advance their own perceived partisan interests, have the Government chosen to go so much further? The proposed system for legislation is much more complex than our current system, as has already been pointed out, and it could quickly gum up the parliamentary works for a Government who lacked an English majority. It would also weaken considerably the accountability of any Government to the electorate for the delivery of their manifesto and their overall administrative record. It means that a majority of English MPs could stop a Government Bill in its tracks. The Government would then have to negotiate with them if they wanted to get the legislation through.
Secondly, the scope of the Government’s proposed English veto is very much wider than that envisaged by McKay. It appears to extend to secondary legislation of all kinds, including commencement orders, regulations and regular administrative actions such as the distribution of the English local government grant—an example that the Government have themselves chosen to highlight. The difficulty with that arrangement is that it would allow English MPs to exercise the powers of the Executive without being at all responsible for the consequences. If the Government’s proposed local government grant allocation is not passed, no money at all can be distributed. This could create an opportunity for English MPs to initiate a local government shutdown of the kind that intermittently strikes the US Executive, or to demand changes in the distribution that satisfy them at the expense of other areas.
I wonder whether there is another possibility. I am not saying that this Bill would be referred for the proposed procedure, but let us just imagine that Heathrow was being considered. If the Government had a larger majority among English MPs, it would take a bigger rebellion on Heathrow to affect the Government’s decision making. I wonder whether part of the reason why Government Front Benchers are so keen on this dog’s breakfast is that it would protect them from rebellions on their own Back Benches.
The Government, as currently constituted, have a majority of 12, or effectively closer to 16. With only English Members of Parliament they have a majority of 105. The partisan reasons for indulging in this are clear, but I think that the British constitution is more important than any partisan proceedings of one Government that happened to exist at one point in time.
The proposals on statutory instruments effectively bring into existence a new defacto English Executive, who appear to consist of the UK Government, but directed on some of their responsibilities by a subset of English MPs who are not meant to be in Government because they are from a party in opposition. That will create a chaotic and unprecedented situation that is hardly conducive to good or democratically accountable governance.
That position is repeated with Finance Bills. McKay was not asked to consider Finance Bills, and it is clear that the Government’s proposals are not thought through. In our system, a Government who cannot get their Budget though the House are essentially no Government at all. However, if these draft Standing Order changes are made, any Government who lacked an English majority could not govern. The Scotland Bill devolves certain substantial aspects of income tax. Budgets allow income tax to be collected, and that order has to be renewed annually. Under these proposals, it appears that English MPs, if they so choose, could block the collection of income tax, which is 25% of the Government’s revenue altogether. Thus the English MPs would have absolute control over English income tax, not the UK Government. Putting aside the potential for chaos that would cause, it seems to me that it is in danger of handing certain MPs power without responsibility.
To summarise, the Government’s plans are much more aggressive and wider in scope than is wise or proper. They are clearly conceived for partisan political reasons. Manifesto commitments to consult the Procedure Committee have been broken so far and are likely to be fulfilled only with days to go. The proposals, as currently written, create the potential for gridlock and chaos hitherto unknown in our constitutional arrangements. They create two classes of MP, and they are reckless with the future of the Union. I hope that the Government will not proceed with such haste but will, even at this late stage, think again and return with something more workable and less indifferent to the problems that this will inevitably cause.
I propose to speak very briefly as I have only one substantive point of principle to make.
I start by again commending the Leader of the House for taking on board the concerns of Members on both sides of the House and for the approach that he has taken. I have as much taste for political combat as the next man, but the tenor of this debate—I say this to my Unionist colleagues in all parts of the House—matters almost as much as the content in terms of not generating grievance and nationalist causes, shall we say, as a direct result of our attempt to stabilise our constitution.
That said, I do take issue with the Government over the approach of using Standing Orders. The simple argument made to me at the beginning was that this was to protect any change from interference by the courts. While I understand that, the same argument would have applied equally to the Bill that became the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, for example, yet that was capable of being drafted in such a way that the courts would not dare meddle in it, as they would not dare meddle in this. Whatever the legal position, the political position of our courts is that they would not interfere in something as fundamental as the balance of power between the parts of the Union. I take a very serious view of this, because it takes out of play, in a constitutional ruling, the House of Lords and the whole mechanism that we usually apply to these matters.
We are thus in the peculiar position of having a constitutional change to our House of Commons that is put in very quickly, with probably not enough consideration, and that a future Government can take out equally quickly. That is, in many ways, even more dangerous than the mechanism we have chosen.
That is one of the strengths of using Standing Orders. The very fragility of it means that, contrary to the constant use of the word “partisan” by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), it will need to have consensus across the House. At any election, any party would be asked whether it felt that it had become the settled will and the right way to run things, and if not, legislation could indeed be passed. The Leader of the House has said that when the review is conducted in a year or so, that is one of the options that would be looked at.
I am afraid that I could not disagree more. The simple truth is that we have made it down the centuries with an unwritten constitution that has existed because of the respect given to it on both sides of the House. That has fragmented in the past decade or two. I do not want to have a circumstance where the rules of operation adversely affect the democratic rights of our citizens. By the way, we have been talking all the time about the democratic rights, or standards, of MPs and whether we have one or two classes of MP, but what matters is that we have one class of citizen. I do not want that to be subject to the vagaries of any future Government.
I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has picked up on the issue of legal challenge. The reason we are having Speaker certification as opposed to legislation is to put the matter beyond legal challenge, so there will be no opportunity for the citizens he describes to challenge decisions that are made in this House. Surely he, as someone who takes an interest in this, must think that that is thoroughly wrong.
It is wrong, for the reasons I described. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I take the view that Governments should be subject to the law of the land and subject to courts. I am less happy with the idea that the courts could rewrite our constitution in a way that we do not see fit.
I was going to make this point later, but I may as well make it now because that is the purpose of debate. I must say that I have some slight anxiety about the justiciability of measures that we take in this House. I appreciate article 9 of the Bill of Rights, but we are certainly moving into rather uncharted territory and I do not think we can rule out legal challenges to decisions on the Speaker’s certificate.
The House will take that on board.
My other point about what the Leader of the House has done so far is to commend him on at least attempting to address the problem of the Barnett consequentials. This is very important for the point on which I will finish. The problem started in 1998. I guess that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) will remember—no one else in the House would have reason to do so—that in 1998 I argued for fiscal autonomy for the new Scottish Parliament, for a more federal solution and for proper treatment of the West Lothian question. All those things were self-evident in 1998 as long-term problems with the devolution proposal. I must say to Opposition Front Benchers, that our points were received with a completely implacable lack of understanding, let alone a lack of sympathy, from the primary driver of that, Gordon Brown.
The problem arises from the confusion in the Scotland Act and the Scotland Bill that is currently going through the House. The 1998 Act failed to create what, in my view, would have been stable fiscal autonomy for the current Holyrood Parliament. It would have done so if it had separated out the funding streams for the Scottish Parliament’s spending and the spending that emanates from this Parliament. If that had been done, we would have had very few, if any, Barnett consequentials.
We cannot of course solve everything. The right hon. Member for Gordon has quite rightly made the point about other impacts, such as in relation to tuition fees. There will be tax competition between the parts of the United Kingdom, and competition between policies of various sorts. We cannot resolve all that. We cannot necessarily give Scottish Members some sort of veto over England’s right to do the best for its citizens. This is not entirely soluble, but it would have been much more soluble if we had written the Scotland Act in such a way that it created a more rational structure than what exists in our kingdom at the moment.
All that gives us and the Leader of the House the problematic issue of how this can be done with utter fairness to all sides, because that is the test. I am afraid that the British establishment always seems to have a preference for fudge rather than clarity and for ambiguity rather than logic. We see that written through all this constitutional area, because the establishment does not want to address the problem. The establishment does not want an English First Minister who is more powerful than the UK Prime Minister. Yet if we went down a proper route of English devolution—if that is what it is—we would of course end up with an English Government who were a challenge to the UK Government.
The Leader of the House has now given us the summer to think about this. We can, I hope, deliberate about it at great length before we return in September, and I hope that he will take on board what he hears today. The only point of principle I will make to him is that the test for this is very simple. It is not whether this creates two classes of MP, but whether it creates two classes of citizen. The test is whether it deals with and removes any prospective grievance not from the Members on the SNP Benches, the Labour Benches or the Government Benches, but from the people we represent. It should take away any grievance for the English, the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish, not any grievance for the Labour party, the Conservative party, the SNP or the Liberal Democrats. The test he should apply is whether it puts our citizens first.
What a week it has been. It is hard to believe that we were all here, in practically the same places, just over a week ago considering this very issue, when the Leader of the House was forced to come to the Chamber to explain his position in a Standing Order No. 24 debate. He quickly withdrew the proposed Standing Orders that evening and, after bravely prevaricating and heroically retreating, he is back here offering practically nothing new.
I had a bit of hope last week when the Leader of the House withdrew his initial Standing Orders. I thought that we might make some progress and was hopeful that we could come back in a reasonable frame of mind to move forward. However, I am thoroughly disappointed at the way the Leader of the House has come back here. There is basically no change to the Standing Orders. All he has done is to offer a bit of clarification about departmental spending and the estimates, which we already knew about. He has not addressed the issues that concern us, such as the Barnett consequentials and long-term planning when it comes to legislation. He has not addressed the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) made about tuition fees and the long-term impact of such issues year on year.
The last time we debated these matters in the House, the hon. Gentleman said very clearly—I believe that the Leader of the House quoted him—that we should trust the SNP not to vote on English matters. However, this week there was a statement about the changes to the Hunting Act 2004, which your leader in Scotland had identified as an English-only matter. The hon. Gentleman asked us to trust the SNP. How does that position stand now?
I am almost grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that issue. I wondered how long I would be on my feet before someone mentioned the non-existent foxhunting debate, which was scheduled to happen but disappeared because the Government wanted to change the rules before they had the debate. What I said last week was that if something is in the Scottish interest, we will take an interest in it. We could not have garnered any more interest in foxhunting. I had hundreds if not thousands of requests from my constituents to come to the unitary UK Parliament to express their concerns on the issue. I make no apologies for saying that I would have voted proudly on that issue to represent my constituents’ interests.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman had many expressions of interest, but I receive many expressions of interest from my constituents about matters in Scotland. I am a member of the John Muir Trust and I get frequent letters from other members of the trust who live in England, expressing their concern about the Scottish Government’s actions in respect of wind farms on wild land, but I have to accept that that matter is devolved to Scotland. I say sincerely to the hon. Gentleman that I do not find his argument very credible.
We heard last week and we have heard in the run-up to this debate that there is massive unhappiness in this House about who is voting on whose issues. I want to come on to our concerns and difficulties. I hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but we are profoundly annoyed and upset that he and all the other English Members are voting down things that have been agreed in the Scottish Parliament and that are wanted by every party in the Scottish Parliament. Scotland sent 56 of us here and we are profoundly disappointed in the right hon. and learned Gentleman for voting those things down. It seems as though there are English votes for English laws, but also English votes for Scottish laws. When it came to foxhunting, we took the view that there was concern and interest among our constituents. We are saying to Government Members, this cannot go on.
I will not give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman again.
The situation cannot go on whereby English Members continually and consistently vote down the expressed desires of Scottish Members of Parliament, with no consequences or response. That is why we have taken an interest. I want to deal with foxhunting, because I imagine that a few other comments will be made about it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. I remember coming into the Chamber and seeing no Conservative Back Benchers present during Scotland Bill debates. There was one Parliamentary Private Secretary, but no Back Benchers. That shows the interest they took in our legislation. All of a sudden, when we take an interest in something that is considered to be English-only, there is fury. The proposal is withdrawn in a hurry, to be put back once the Government have changed the rules about how they deal with such matters.
It is worth setting on the record for the House that I am disappointed that Labour and SNP Members clearly have not read the detail of the proposals. These proposals would not have affected the debate on hunting, so will the hon. Gentleman please stop suggesting that they would?
I do not think I suggested that. I accept that. Why, therefore, was the vote on foxhunting withdrawn? All of a sudden the Scottish National party indicated that it would be taking an interest in it and the proposals were withdrawn. The Government have to win the argument; they cannot just decide that because the Scottish National party has decided to do something, that is it—been and gone. The Government have to win the argument in the House and it was shameful that they withdraw the proposals. They took us all the way to the top of the hill, prompting such great interest from our constituents, and now the proposals have been withdrawn.
I am looking round the Chamber and I see the usual suspects—those who take a real and deep interest in these matters—but I expected the Chamber to be full. Apparently, this was one of the most important issues during the election campaign. English votes for English laws was the issue that most upset the Conservatives’ English constituents in the general election campaign, and the slogan was, “100 days to deliver English votes for English laws”.
I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman’s speeches. He has a rather compelling manner. Would he similarly object were we to propose—for example, in relation to some power that had been devolved to the Scottish Parliament—that we should insist on going to Scotland, taking part in the debates there and voting accordingly?
That suggests the tantalising picture of the hon. Gentleman rushing up to the barricades at the Scottish Parliament, demanding his say on devolved Scottish matters. I would pay to see that. It would be great fun, and I encourage him to think about doing just that.
May I take my hon. Friend back to the Barnett consequentials issue, as that is our key concern, which the revised Standing Orders unfortunately fail to address? This is not so much about the annual financial estimates. The real issue arises when a substantial policy change in devolved areas impacts on funding—the block grants. If Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs lose the ability to vote on them, they lose the ability to influence their own block grants. That is the key issue that needs to be addressed.
My hon. Friend is spot on. That is our concern and the major issue that we still have with the revised Standing Orders. Decisions made in this House will affect the budgets of our nations and the public services that our constituents enjoy. For us to be locked out of the process is disgraceful. The fact that these mad plans have come back today has done nothing to satisfy our concerns.
There are still to be two classes of Members of Parliament. The Speaker will be placed in the most pernicious political position and will have to determine whether I and my hon. Friends can take part in a debate that might have massive consequences for my constituents. We still have not resolved any of the financial issues—we are not even close to doing so—and these proposals will progress without a proper debate and without proper scrutiny. It is shameful, the way that the Government have acted.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), I am enjoying the performance. I have constituents from Newark amateur operatic society in the Gallery, and the hon. Gentleman is giving what would no doubt be one of their finer performances. Will he acknowledge that he—or at least his party—has changed position with pretty shameless hypocrisy? Let me remind him of a comment that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) made to a magazine in 2008:
“If you’re asking me should people in England be able to run their own health service or education system, my answer is yes. They should be able to do it without the bossy interference of Scots Labour MPs.”
Surely that has Barnett consequentials.
I am delighted at the praise being heaped on me by English Conservative Members. It is not necessary, but I am grateful for it. I will come to the hon. Gentleman’s point because it is important, and I will suggest a solution that I am almost certain will not satisfy him. It is called, “Doing it yourself.” It is about getting a Parliament and deciding all those things.
I have already given way to the hon. Lady.
That was the most important issue for Conservative Members. Remember all the things that were said before the general election—the “jockalypse”, and the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) in the pocket of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon. They painted all those fears of mad Scottish nationalists coming down here and voting on their precious Bills, stealing their votes. That was what was presented. Then we come down here, and the first thing we do is get involved in this total and utter mess, this guddle, this disaster—I cannot even call it a dog’s breakfast as that would show disrespect to our canine friends’ favourite morning meal. It is such a mess and disaster. So we are where we are; we are back with this issue again and we must consider how to make some progress.
Let us get back to the fundamentals. Why are we doing this? I have detected two reasons from Conservative Members. The first is that they feel that it is unfair to have these nasty Scottish Members coming down and voting on their precious legislation—poor souls! They are only 85% of the membership of this House, and there has hardly ever been an issue where we have actually won a vote on the basis of Scottish issues. I cannot think of an example from the 14 years that I have been in the House. Poor guys. What a shame. All these Scottish Members voting on their poor legislation—I will come on to that.
The other point that I find really funny is that Conservative Members are doing this to save the Union. That is the killer. I heard several English Members on the radio today saying once again that they are doing this “to save the Union”. You know me, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am not in the Union-saving business; I am in the Union-ending business. If Conservative Members wanted to design a plan to ensure that—
As I said, I am in the Union-ending business. That is my job and that is what I believe in. Even I, however, could not conceive of a plan that would progress my vision against that of Conservative Members. Imagine what we have seen in the past few weeks: “Scotland stay with us. Scotland we love you. You are part of the family of nations. Don’t leave us! You are valued Members of this House.” What happens the minute we get to this place? We are given second-class status.
I am always very entertained by the hon. Gentleman’s performance. I imagine that he was a superb showman in his time. Will he explain one conundrum? He says that if this House votes on an English-only matter, that will also affect Scotland so Scottish MPs should be able to vote. He then says that it is okay to have an English Parliament voting on those same issues when no Scottish MPs are even present. How does that work? How is that possibly consistent?
It is almost difficult to try to explain ever so gently to the Leader of the House how it works. It is a solution that works across the world and it is called federalism. It is where we do our thing and English MPs do theirs. I know they are unhappy—I hear it again and again—and so we then come together in this Parliament, where we all have the same rights and same status. What is happening now is the creation of a quasi-English Parliament within the unitary Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is that solution that is totally unacceptable, gives us a second-class status and stops us being able effectively to represent our constituents. It is not on.
The power of the hon. Gentleman’s performance—I agree with colleagues that it is first class—is matched only, I think, by the fundamental dishonesty of the message. He knows that simply providing the simple consent of English Members of Parliament—with no Executive, no English Parliament—to measures going through this place means that his fox has been shot. He hoped for measures that would allow him genuinely to say that he and his colleagues were second-class MPs, but they will not be. They will be voting on everything, and we will simply have to give consent, too. He knows that that is right and he hates it.
I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at the explanation of what will happen as shown in the wonderful graphic displayed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon. This is great, isn’t it? It is like the line-up to the battle of Bannockburn—all we need is William Wallace in the middle to go over the edge. It is just ridiculous. I think it was the Conservative Chair of the Procedure Committee who identified that there are another four stages to parliamentary Bills in all this—God knows how we will get through a parliamentary Session with all the extra work that will have to be done.
We are excluded from two sections of the procedure and then we are back in and out. I am having difficulty understanding. I know that my right hon. Friend is better at looking at these things than I am, and he may be able to come to terms with this smorgasbord of traffic lights. The illustration shows that the second-class Members on the SNP Benches will not be able to participate in the extra Grand Committee stage for England. I do not know whether the Serjeant at Arms is going to get his little sword out and stop us coming in. I am not sure how will we be barred from participating. If we were to intervene or to try to say anything, would we be named or thrown out? These are some of the absurdities that are part of this dog’s breakfast of a proposal.
The hon. Gentleman is not one of the new Members of his party and he will know perfectly well that any Member can turn up in any Committee of this House and speak. It is simply a question of who votes. We will be delighted to have him sitting there when the English Grand Committee sits and even to have him intervene; he will just not be able to vote.
That is news to me. I was under the impression that we were to be excluded from the English part of the procedure. That will be fantastic—I will invite all my hon. Friends along to the debates that we will be excluded from voting on.
That situation is simply part of the absurdity. I was impressed by the shadow Leader of the House’s speech in which she quite rightly pointed out some of the other absurdities. Some stuff strikes me as really odd. Why are the Lords not excluded? I have some five peers in my constituency, and they will now have a greater role in some of this legislation than I will have as an elected Member.
We have an issue with the House of Lords, as some hon. Members may have realised recently. I do not think that the House of Lords has ever been held in such contempt by the Scottish people. The way the Lords imposed themselves on our democratic referendum was appalling and should not have happened. We see that place as nothing other than the repository of the donors and cronies of the UK parties, but those donors and cronies, who have never been elected, will have a say on parts of Bills that I and my hon. Friends do not. That is utterly absurd. Not only is it English iPads for English laws; it is English laws for English Lords. What we are hearing about just now includes some really weird things.
Enough is enough. Let us just get shot of this thing. We have talked about foxhunting, and I was grateful to the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) for her point. I think I explained why we have an interest in all this. We are doing what our constituents want. We have always said that we would stand up and represent them.
A few times in the debate, the impression has been given that we somehow do not represent our constituents on certain issues. I and my colleagues will represent our constituents on any issue they choose to write to us about or bring to us. We might not be able to vote or legislate on devolved matters, but I will speak up for my constituents on any issue they choose to bring to me.
Absolutely—that is what people have voted for us to do. They have voted for us, in the same way as people have voted for English Members, to come down here to represent their interests, and that is exactly what we will do.
I loathe foxhunting—I think it is barbaric—and cruelty to animals wherever in the world I see it. I do not want any succour to be given to the Tories’ toff friends, dusting down their red coats, getting out their silly little bugles and lustily shouting “Tally ho!” in the mirror as they prepare to savage and ravage poor, defenceless foxes in the name of sport. That appals me.
We are going to do that. The plan to water down foxhunting legislation in England has given us an opportunity to examine our approach and perhaps tighten it up. The hon. Gentleman is right: we should be doing that. I actually did not know that we have more lax laws than England. We are going to do all we can to ensure that they are tightened.
I am sorry to continue our earlier debate, but the Leader of the House said a moment ago that all Members are allowed to turn up to every Committee. That is not the case: the Scottish Grand Committee is restricted to Scottish Members of the House. It has not met for more than 10 years; none the less, that is the case. If the Leader of the House does not even know and has not mastered all these procedures, what hope is there for this total dog’s breakfast?
I say candidly to my right hon. Friend that I do not know what hope there is. He and I served on the Scottish Grand Committee back in the early 2000s, when it met for the last time, and it was not a model of how to consider the issues under discussion.
The Government are trying to create a quasi-English Parliament within the confines of the unitary Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It seems to me that they just cannot be bothered to do the work. They cannot be bothered to go around their nation, consult and have a dialogue with the people, work with partners, build up the conversation and then have a referendum, as we did in Scotland.
I ask the Leader of the House to imagine what would happen if we did not have a Scottish Parliament and we wanted to do this. We would just say to English Members, “Get out of the way while we have our Scottish Parliament here!” It is almost laughable to suggest such a thing, but that is exactly what the Government want to do—they want to create a quasi-English Parliament in the confines of our unitary Parliament. That is not on. If they want an English Parliament, they should go and create it and then deliver it.
Conservative Members are saying that English votes for English laws was the most important issue on the doorstep but, at the same time, that there is no demand for an English Parliament, so what they want is several servings of the biggest cake in the world and to have that Parliament here by changing the rules of the House of Commons. It is not good enough to try to use our Parliament—the Parliament that belongs to every citizen in the United Kingdom—as their quasi-Parliament. I appeal to the Leader of the House to look at the issue.
It is fantastic that the proposal is about saving the Union, but the Government could not have designed better plans to drive Scotland out of the Union. Their sense of victory when they narrowly won the referendum will be short-lived if they continue to pursue this proposal.
We did not vote on them, because the Tories withdrew them. I do not think I could have been clearer about why we intended to vote on foxhunting. We could not have got any more interest in it from Scotland—we were absolutely flooded with requests, not just from our constituents but from English constituents.
I have already given way to the hon. Lady and I want to make progress.
The Government’s attempt to politicise the role of Mr Speaker—the master of ceremonies in the House of Commons—is utterly appalling. It is shameful that Mr Speaker is going to have to make a very serious political decision as to whether or not we can participate and vote in debates. What a position to put the arbiter of our business in! I do not know of any other legislature in Europe or the world where the Speaker, the arbiter of the House, would be placed in such a pernicious situation.
I do think the hon. Gentleman might just reflect on the fact that the Speaker already has the power to issue certificates. Those could be construed as political if he so wished, but on money resolutions there are so many different cases. Why does the hon. Gentleman not accept that that could be applied in this case as well?
With due respect, I do not think the hon. Gentleman actually gets what is involved for the Speaker. It will be in his power to decide whether we are going to be excluded or not. He is going to tell us when our second-class status kicks in and when it does not. That is a dreadful position to put the Speaker in. It is not like deciding amendments or deciding on money resolutions; it is deciding whether Members of Parliament can participate in the House of Commons.
There’s a thought and a prospect! We already know that there could never now be a Scottish Prime Minister or a Scottish Cabinet Member for any of the devolved areas, such as Health or Education. John Reid, for example, would never have been able to do his job. I do not miss that, but this is how having two classes works its way through.
The other point is that the Speaker will be required to certify whether something is England-only for everything that comes through, including amendments and anything that has been amended in the Lords and come back. That will be a hugely onerous task for the Speaker. Does my hon. Friend agree?
My hon. Friend has been following these issues with a very keen interest. She has already brought to attention some of the great things about this: she actually discovered, in the response from the Leader of the House to a written question, that the Scotland Bill was a piece of English-only legislation! I am grateful to her for discovering that amazing fact.
Does the hon. Gentleman also accept that there is no mechanism to make representations to the Speaker before he makes his decision? Those of us who have interests in England but represent seats in Wales could not influence the Speaker’s decision beforehand.
That is another point. We can see how bad this is, placing the Speaker in such a position. Shame on this Government for placing our Speaker in such a position. Politicising the Speaker of one of the biggest and most powerful Parliaments in the world is a disgraceful thing to do. I really hope the Government rethink this.
What we have is a complete and utter shambles. The Leader of the House has managed to divide the House. There is no consensus. There is no agreement. He is imposing the Conservative will on all of us here. He is denying us full rights within this Parliament, consigning us to second class. He has done nothing to revise his plans. I appeal to him once again: take them away, and let us have a proper discussion on how we can go forward. If he is so interested in making sure that there are English votes for English laws, he should get his own Parliament. He should do the work and make sure he delivers it.
This is unacceptable. We now have a few weeks and months in which to look at this again. I appeal to the Leader of the House to get rid of this dog’s breakfast and come back with something that is reasonable and sustainable.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow the performance of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), which I think fully reflected the quality of the contribution of the Scottish nationalists to this debate.
English votes for English laws is a constitutional proposal of fundamental importance, necessary to deliver fairness for England and vital to safeguard the future of the United Kingdom. It is interesting to reflect that the hon. Gentleman said that he was not in the saving the Union business; he was in the ending the Union business. That might explain the impassioned way he put over so many of the arguments that he either had not researched or knew to be false. He made out that he would become a second-class MP and that his constituents would lose out, whereas it has been made clear that giving English and Welsh MPs the ability merely to consent to something will in no way diminish his right or that of other Scottish Members to vote and play their normal part at every stage other than in Committees where every last single provision of the Bill applies only to England and can pass the “has it been devolved” test. In an intervention on the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) said how complicated and onerous a task that would be, but it is a fairly simple question: has it been devolved to Scotland? If so, the issue is clearly outwith Scotland. We would then have to check whether it had been devolved to Wales, which, again, would not be an onerous task. It is something that the Clerks and the Speaker, who will be taking this decision on advice, do as a matter of course for every amendment and proposal.
In truth, despite all the efforts of the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), who is no longer in her place, despite the brilliant performance of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, and despite the complexity that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) outlined, we are simply talking about consent: this is an injection into the system to allow English MPs to give their consent. That is it. It is no diminution of the hon. Gentleman’s ability to vote on Second or Third Reading, or at any other stage of a Bill. He would love it if there were proposals that he could use to make his constituents feel that the Union was no longer working, that the rug had been pulled and that the English, and the Tories in particular, were creating an unfair settlement, but the truth is the exact opposite, and he knows it.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman did not bother to read the proposals or whether, when he did read them, he edited them to make them what he wanted them to be, but it was clear from his speech that he did not understand the processes we are talking about. Yet there he was ferociously condemning this appalling assault on our constitution. This is the mildest possible change to the procedures of the House simply to allow for consent. It is a tiny correction of the imbalance caused by the devolution introduced by the Labour party all those years ago. It in no way undermines or affects the interests of his constituents.
It is interesting to note, notwithstanding the ferocity and passion displayed by SNP Members here, on the instruction of Nicola Sturgeon from Edinburgh, that poll after poll shows that the Scottish people feel very differently from the hon. Gentleman. They recognise that strengthening the English voice is a simple matter of fairness.
Will the hon. Gentleman answer this question? In what way does injecting consent—not initiative or, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire said, any kind of English Executive with 85% of Members—into the system undermine his constituents’ interest in this place?
I do not think the Scottish people are that out of step with what we are saying. Not only did they give us 50% of the vote at the recent election, but an opinion poll out yesterday has us on 56% ahead of next year’s Scottish Parliament elections, giving us not 69 seats, but 71. The people of Scotland sent us here with a clear mandate