Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am very grateful that so many Members of your Lordships’ House will speak in this short debate. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for being willing to answer it. The fact that so many Members have put down their names to speak in this debate indicates and strongly reinforces the case for this House taking an effective part in the debate on what is certainly a constitutional issue. This debate does not constitute such an opportunity: much more is needed, and I will return to that at the end of my remarks.
I want to put four points to the Leader. First, the Green Paper presented by Mr William Hague in December 2014 entitled The Implications of Devolution for England said unequivocally, on behalf of the Conservative Party:
“We therefore believe the arrangements for England or for England and Wales should also be put on a statutory footing, even if they are implemented in the first instance through changes to Standing Orders in the House of Commons”.
It appears that the Government are retreating from that approach, and that the reason is that they fear that the statutory route may be justiciable. Is it the Government’s view that the fact that the legislation might be justiciable is a satisfactory reason for not making these important constitutional changes in the proper way?
Secondly, in questions following the Statement that the noble Baroness repeated to the House on 2 July, she said:
“It is important to understand that English MPs cannot overrule the whole House, and the whole House cannot overrule English MPs”.—[Official Report, 2/7/15; col. 2218.]
In reply to a question I asked, she said:
“It is not about having a veto. It is about trying to find the right way forward”.—[Official Report, 2/7/15; col. 2220.]
Yet the Government’s Statement said:
“Our plans provide for an English veto at different stages of the process”.
Will the noble Baroness now acknowledge that the Government’s proposals do indeed provide for a veto for the first time by a restricted group of Members of Parliament?
Thirdly, Mr Hague’s Green Paper listed three options for approaching this issue. The second was the proposal of the 2008 democracy task force, chaired by the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, which recommended that stages at which English, or English and Welsh, Bills could be amended should be confined to English, or English and Welsh, MPs, but that the whole House would vote on Third Reading. The Mackay commission included a similar option. Yet the Government have rejected that. Why have these simpler proposals, which do not involve a veto, been rejected by the Government? So far they have given no explanation.
Finally, it must have become absolutely clear from the attention that these proposals have received, and the debates on them that have taken place, that this is an important constitutional issue. It is not just a simple matter of technical changes to Standing Orders in the House of Commons. Is it not the duty of the Leader to ensure that your Lordships’ House can make a proper contribution on these constitutional matters?
Yesterday, the opposition spokesman in another place suggested a Joint Committee of both Houses. That would be a good way in which this House could make its contribution on these issues. I do not expect that the Leader will be able to give the Government’s response to that proposal today—although it would be welcome if she could do so. If she cannot, I give notice that I propose to table a Motion for debate before the Recess that would give your Lordships’ House an opportunity to vote on whether this House would wish to take part in such a Joint Committee.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for initiating this debate. Seeking answers to what we now call the West Lothian question is nothing new. The Government of Ireland Bill of 1893, the so-called “In and Out Bill”, provided that Irish MPs would vote only on “imperial” legislation. The Speaker’s Conference on Devolution in 1919 proposed that grand councils of MPs from England, Scotland and Wales should consider Bills that affected their particular part of the United Kingdom. Harold Wilson in 1964 raised the issue in respect of Northern Ireland. He queried the logic of Northern Irish MPs voting on legislation where Stormont held concurrent powers; and he asked the Attorney-General, Sir Frederick Elwyn Jones, to devise an “in and out” solution.
The attempts normally flounder when it comes to devising an effective means of implementation. There are problems of definition and process. I make two points. First, the Government’s proposals do not provide for English votes for English laws. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, they provide for an English veto of English laws. Secondly, context is important. Given other constitutional changes, implemented or proposed, there may be a case for looking at the proposals as part of a constitutional convention—I would argue for a convocation—looking at, and ensuring that they fit with, what is happening to other parts of the constitution.
In the same vein, I should say that the advantage of having a proper Bill that undergoes pre-legislative scrutiny by both Houses, and is debated and passed in both Houses, would cover all the unanticipated and unanticipatable consequences of such a narrow construction of the question. If we do not at the beginning take care to examine all those consequences, we shall regret it and have to come back to this question again and again in a very messy way. The best thing to do is to follow proper procedures, use the strength we have in the two Houses and come to a proper conclusion on what is the most important constitutional question for the United Kingdom.
My Lords, it is a pretty pathetic self-regulated House that cannot even allocate appropriate time to such an important issue as this. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that there is every difference in the world between giving English MPs a voice and giving them a veto. That was, of course, what the McKay commission, to which I gave evidence, identified at the very outset. I simply do not understand why this Government have ignored the advice of the McKay commission.
I endorse absolutely the suggestion that this is an appropriate issue for a Joint Committee of both Houses because it clearly affects the process by which all of us examine legislation at both ends of the building. That would be the traditional way forward, and I hope that the Leader of the House will give us an assurance that that will be looked at seriously.
In the mean time, I suggest that this issue has much wider implications for our constitution. I have constantly heard from the other side of the House suggestions that we have been far too ad hoc and piecemeal when looking at issues of this sort. Surely this is the time for the Government to commit themselves to a convention. But we must have some agreement about the purpose of a convention because the Scottish convention, at the outset, already had a clear remit, with agreement from all participants. That is one of the reasons why the Scottish nationalists and Conservatives did not agree to that convention. We should, at the outset, have agreement on what we should be doing.
There are considerable constitutional implications to the proposed veto, to which my noble and learned friend, with his experience of Scottish devolution, will refer in a moment. This is not a minor issue for one end of this building.
My Lords, we should not doubt the gravity of the situation we will face if the Government do not revise their procedures on this issue. This is not, as the noble Lord has just said, a run-of-the-mill controversy.
The proposal is a hybrid form of English devolution new to our constitution and it is being done by bypassing the statute book and amending the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. It simply will not do. The claim is that none of this affects the House of Lords and we can carry on just as we are. Well, we cannot. In the Commons debate on 7 July, the Leader of the House, Mr Chris Grayling, said that,
“those with long experience of the workings of this House, including Members of the other place who have worked in positions of authority in this one, are all united in the view that changing Standings Orders is the right way to proceed”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/7/15; col. 195.]
Mr Grayling must have misplaced my telephone number. It is not the right way to proceed, and others whose expertise I respect obviously do not think so either.
Magna Carta gave us the right to oppose the arbitrary exercise of power, and we must not shirk our responsibilities. If we fail, we say goodbye to our bicameral Parliament and undermine the union. We passed Acts of Parliament devolving power to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the European Community by not playing around with Standing Orders. England deserves no less. The West Lothian question has become the Westminster question and the Government are shirking it.
What troubles me, too, is the manner in which the Government seek to involve the Speaker in all this. The definition of geographical boundaries is not as straightforward as it might seem. There are cross-border issues and an England-only Bill needs to be defined.
Pushing a Speaker into the political cockpit to determine and define legislation is the worst possible idea. It is a recipe for discord and I believe that it threatens both Houses and the union. The Government need to think again, and do so sharply.
I am delighted and pleased to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, will table a Motion for debate next week. I trust that it will carry the heaviest possible weight in this House.
My Lords, I have two minutes to deal with 21 pages of amendments to Standing Orders. That works out at six seconds a page. I should like to ask my noble friend five questions, if I can get to five. First, will she confirm that if we had this EVEL in place, it would not make a whit of difference to the vote on fox hunting because it requires a double majority?
Secondly, why have the Government not adopted the time-honoured convention, as we did at the time of Irish home rule and as we have done with Northern Ireland, and reduce the number of MPs in Scotland commensurate with the degree of power being transferred to them?
Thirdly, does my noble friend agree that if you want English votes for English laws, you need an English Parliament? I wish to retain a United Kingdom Parliament in this building.
My next question is: why, in the revised Standing Orders, has the Finance Bill suddenly been included? It will be subject to EVEL. As the Government propose to give setting income tax on earned income to the Scottish Parliament, that means that no Government—the House of Commons is about voting means of supply—will be able to get the largest slice of their income tax without having a majority within the Parliament of non-Scottish Members. That is a huge constitutional change that has been put in at the last minute, with the House of Commons having 24 hours to consider it.
Fifthly, on the changes that have been made to the Standing Order proposals in the other place, the Government have not dealt with the issue of the Barnett consequences of decisions being made in Scotland not being able to be voted on by Scottish MPs. Their answer is that there will be votes on the estimates. When I was Secretary of State, for example, it was decided to privatise water in England, so we lost the funding from the Barnett consequences of that. That is the point being made by the nationalists.
Lastly, will my noble friend take account of what everyone in this House who has thought about this seriously thinks, which is that we need a Joint Committee of both Houses, if not a constitutional convention, to sort this out before we end up playing into the hands of the nationalists, fragmenting the union and ruining the United Kingdom Parliament?
My Lords, I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, about the effect that EVEL will have on the Barnett formula.
Let me explain, and I am most grateful to John Kay for pointing this out. If English MPs decide that English schools will receive an additional service paid for by an additional charge on English taxpayers, this rise will be reflected in the Barnett formula, irrespective of whether Scottish MPs want this additional service or not. That is how the formula works on devolved matters. Equally, if English MPs decide to cut a service, this, too, will be reflected in the Barnett formula, and if Scottish MPs want to maintain that service they will have to find the money from elsewhere. This is because the Barnett formula is based on United Kingdom-wide expenditure throughout the country.
I understand that when this was raised in the devolution discussions it was agreed that it would be settled on the “no detriment” principle. This means that compensation would be agreed on the basis of mutual good will. Bearing in mind the debate yesterday in the House of Commons, and the Scottish nationalists’ attitude towards the Government’s proposals on fox hunting, are the Government confident that this good will exists? If not what will they do? Will they leave the Barnett formula alone? Will they rewrite it? Will they go in for hypothecation? In the absence of good will, any of those would be very difficult. This is just one more example of the difficulties that we have over these territorial matters. They are best settled with a constitution or a proper Bill that goes through both Houses.
My Lords, the Leader of the House told us on 2 July that this issue was fundamentally a domestic one for the House of Commons. Might I very respectfully disagree with her for three reasons? First, as my noble friend Lord Butler said, this is fundamentally a constitutional problem. It is simply that one of the possible solutions to that problem has been presented in terms of changes—extraordinarily complex changes—to Commons Standing Orders.
Secondly, the amendments made by this House will be subject to certification by the Speaker of the Commons, so what we send back may influence the outcome. For example, it will be possible for this House to turn an English-only provision into a UK-wide one, thus avoiding certification and possibly affecting the outcome.
Thirdly, although I hope I am wrong, I see a possible hazard to Article 9 of the Bill of Rights. For the first time, a Speaker of the House of Commons will be asked to certify something that is a matter of law, whether it is within the legislative competence of devolved institutions to make provision for this or for that. This is wholly different from Parliament Act or money Bill certifications.
The Speaker and parliamentary proceedings would be better protected by ministerial certification along the lines of a Human Rights Act certification of a Bill. The possibility of any inroad by the courts into the exclusive cognisance of Parliament is emphatically a matter for both Houses. I should say in passing that those who argued for this to be done by legislation rather than by Standing Orders are going down a very dangerous road. In my view, nothing would bring the courts into Parliament faster than making this arrangement explicitly justiciable through legislation.
My learned predecessor, Sir William McKay—like the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, I gave evidence to his commission—recommended in effect an English legislative consent Motion. That was a very shrewd recommendation because LCMs are animals well known to science. An advisory LCM would have avoided any charge of creating two classes of MP. It might have been possible for the McKay solution to be a first step, later ratcheted up if necessary. It is much more difficult to ratchet down, and of course expectations may already have been raised too high.
We are too tightly constrained for time today and this does argue for a full debate before long. I thoroughly agree that a Joint Committee is emphatically the right way to tackle a major constitutional issue, which is rightly of such interest to both Houses, as it might offer the possibility of some informed consensus, which, at the moment, is rather far to seek.
My Lords, until this week, we had a statement of principle from the Scottish National Party that its Members would not vote on or be involved in purely English or English and Welsh matters. That was effectively, in practice, English votes for English laws. I suppose that it might, in time, have become an accepted constitutional convention, as these things sometimes do in Britain. However, the SNP has abandoned that principle, as we know, and that makes other action necessary.
Polls for the McKay commission and others showed overwhelming support for English votes for English laws in principle. Most recently, Populus polled 10,000 people over the age of 50 for Saga plc on Scotland’s position in the UK. Of those polled in England, 75% supported the principle that English-only laws should be decided by English MPs—the principle that the SNP has now ditched.
The West Lothian question has, as we have heard this afternoon, been avoided, evaded and kicked about for far too many years. Of course we need to debate it, as has been said by all who spoke this afternoon, and a Joint Committee is certainly a good way to do that. However, we need to move and be seen to be moving towards a decision. The English need it to happen.
My Lords, those of us who have been enthusiasts for Scottish devolution were among the first to recognise that the asymmetric devolution that we have has resulted in a very serious English democratic deficit. That needs resolution—I think we are all agreed on that—but EVEL is not the way forward, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has ably argued. It is yet another quick fix from the constitutional quick fixes that we have had and which have resulted in the current mess.
What we need is a plan B—another way forward—but the Government have no plan B. I do not think that the EVEL proposal in the House of Commons is going to survive. Anyone who listened to the Tory rebels in the debate last week will know that it has a very serious problem ahead. The plan B should include a coherent, comprehensive look at this, which is why I have argued, as others have argued, again and again, for a United Kingdom constitutional convention. That has growing support in this House and the other place.
When it was raised previously, there was an interesting answer from the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, the Minister of State at the Scotland Office, in reply to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, in which he said that if the Government are not going to do it, someone else could. Some of us have taken him at his word and we now have movement in that direction. Tomorrow, for example, the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will propose exactly that. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has made the announcement, I can also tell the House today that the all-party group on devolution and decentralisation will announce next week the setting up of a high-level panel to take evidence and make recommendations on the way forward towards a constitutional convention. If the Government are not going to wake up and do it, someone else has to. I would welcome a Joint Committee and hope that that happens. However, if it does not, we in the all-party group have taken the initiative and some action will be taken by parliamentarians to show the Government the way forward.
My Lords, this document with a very long title could just as easily be called, “Future Processes of the Sovereign Parliament”. This House is part of that sovereign Parliament. If this is not our business, what on earth is?
I simply adopt what my noble friend Lord Lisvane said, because there is no time to go into it further. But we should also be very alert to the possibility that, as we shimmer and shilly-shally through this process—disgracefully if we do, but as we look as though we might—we could end up with a constitutional aberration of the Speaker of the House of Commons finding himself the subject of litigation. That would destroy our constitutional arrangements.
My Lords, in 1997, Tom Nairn published a book called The Break-up of Britain, which hugely influenced my generation of academics. It has not broken up. One reason is that the economic facts of life have favoured the union, but the other reason is the existence of an effective imagined community in the devolved regions of the United Kingdom, still in favour of the United Kingdom. I agree with much of what has been said about the constitutional difficulties of this moment. I gave evidence to the McKay commission and I have a small flame in my heart for the gentle tweak that he offers.
The Government are right that the status quo is sustainable. I absolutely accept the sincerity of the Government’s belief in and support for the United Kingdom—I have no doubt about that—but the battle is beginning to be lost among young people in favour of that imagined community. The key point here is the Government’s mode of address, and how one best sustains the imagined community, which still exists for the United Kingdom. We cannot assume that that effective imagined community is going to persist, and the style of current debate in many respects is corrosive.
My Lords, there is some consensus that this issue needs to be addressed, but also an equal consensus that the mode of addressing it will lead to some very unsatisfactory outcomes. It is an example, as has been said, of a piecemeal approach to the constitution, but it is an issue to be dealt with by a constitutional convention.
In the Statement accompanying the White or Green Paper—whichever colour it was—in December 2014, the right honourable William Hague referred to the Prime Minister’s Statement on the morning after the referendum, when he said that,
“a new and fair settlement for Scotland must be accompanied by an equivalent settlement for all parts of the United Kingdom”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/12/14; col. 1265.]
I do not think that this is proper equivalence.
The point was made about the concerns that certification could bring the Speaker into the courts, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said; I do not think that people would particularly want that. Much of the work of my former department in the office of the Advocate-General was to consider when Scottish Parliament legislation was passed, whether it was within the competence of the Scotland Act, and much time was spent between officials, lawyers and my old department and Scottish Government lawyers in determining whether a legislative consent Motion was required for a particular piece of legislation. It is not easy, and it is possibly an unfair burden to put on the Speaker, however well advised he will be by lawyers, and it could lead to litigation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, it is a veto, and if a veto is going to be given to what might be described as a sub-set of the House of Commons, that is not Parliament. If it is okay for English MPs to have a veto, is it not okay for democratically elected Members of the Scottish Parliament also to have a veto—in other words, for Section 28(7) of the Scotland Act 1998 to be repealed? That leads to some very important, fundamental issues about the sovereignty of Parliament.
I do not believe that it will have no effect on your Lordships’ House. It may be that we do not need to have any Standing Orders changed here, but it will have an effect. If this House passes an amendment to a Bill, which goes to the other place and which, in a double vote, is actually approved by the House of Commons but not approved by English Members of the House of Commons, we will be in an anomalous situation where a piece of legislation has been passed by both Houses but will not be sent to the monarch for Royal Assent. That is a fundamental ABC of constitutional law.
I do not think that this has been thought through. I welcome the response from the Leader of the House to some of the important issues of concern that have been raised in this debate.
My Lords, this is the debate the Government did not want. We are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, for taking the initiative and providing this opportunity to try to ensure that the Government understand why there are so many concerns about how their proposals affect our work and our role in legislation.
There is widespread recognition that there is an issue to be addressed; we have put that on record previously and we have heard it today. But the Government’s proposals go way beyond the McKay report and the Hague report, so their assertion that this change has been fully debated and considered has to be dismissed. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has been emphatic, and I quote her directly when she addressed your Lordships’ House in a previous Statement. She said, “We are not affected”. But in the same Statement, she also said that the Speaker of the House of Commons would have to certify amendments passed by your Lordships’ House. As we have heard, that creates potential for legal and constitutional difficulties. The situation is clearly more complex than the Government are suggesting. The short but substantial speeches we have heard today have expressed serious and well-founded concerns. These have been exacerbated by the Government’s initial attempts to evade appropriate parliamentary scrutiny by issuing a multi-page amendment to Standing Orders in the other place, with no debate here. That is wrong.
We will fail in our duty as a scrutinising Chamber if we fail fully to investigate the implications this legislation and these changes could have for the governance of our country. If, after hearing from the experts here today, the noble Baroness still believes that there definitely will be no impact on the work of your Lordships’ House, she has nothing to fear from an investigation by a Joint Committee of both Houses. However, I and many other noble Lords do not share her confidence on that point.
Surely it is better to interrogate this issue now and be reassured that there is no impact, or to identify and plan for any possible impact. What a dereliction of duty it would be if, in six months, a year or two years’ time, there is a constitutional difficulty the resolution of which we have given no consideration to. That is a recipe for constitutional chaos, and it reinforces calls for a constitutional convention.
We support the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and I look forward to a considered response from the noble Baroness that I hope will address the concerns raised by noble Lords. I hope she will be able to agree to the request from the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for a Joint Committee of both Houses.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for tabling his Topical QSD and for the debate this afternoon. It has been a typically thoughtful debate on the Government’s proposals for English votes for English laws. The contributions made have shown the depth of expertise in this House on constitutional matters. I will say something in a moment about more time for debating this matter, because it is an issue I have been reflecting on since I repeated the Statement last week. Before I do so and respond to some of the specific issues that have been raised, let me remind the House of the Government’s proposal to address this important issue of English votes for English laws.
We sincerely believe that the proposal is sensible and pragmatic. Importantly, it builds on the views of the many different and important groups who have discussed and debated this matter over many years. Each time the different groups have come together and examined this important issue, we have tried to learn and to keep refining further. We propose that where a measure affects England, or England and Wales only, it cannot proceed without the consent of both the House of Commons as a whole and English, or English and Welsh, MPs. Neither side can push through a change without the agreement of the other. This gives a strong voice for English and Welsh MPs, while protecting the fundamental rights and responsibilities of all MPs in the House of Commons.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, who referred to my answer to him when I repeated the Statement last week, English MPs cannot overrule the whole House and the whole House cannot overrule English MPs; neither side can force something through without the consent of the other. That is a very important aspect of our proposals.
The Government’s proposals seek to make these changes while keeping the process as close as possible to the existing procedures in the House of Commons. MPs from across the United Kingdom will continue to vote at Second Reading, in most Committees, on Report, at Third Reading and when considering Lords amendments. In response to the question about the Barnett formula, asked by my noble friend Lord Forsyth and the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, we have clarified the draft Standing Orders to make it plain that Members from across the United Kingdom will approve spending plans which set out the level of funding for the devolved Administrations. On the point my noble friend Lord Forsyth made about Finance Bills, it is worth clearly acknowledging that most taxes are rightly UK-wide, so the Finance Bill will be voted on by the whole House. Any taxes that are devolved in Scotland will be subject to the consent of MPs from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the whole House. By doing this, we set out a balanced way to deliver fairness within the union. The noble Lord—
On the income tax point, can my noble friend not see that a large proportion of the Government’s revenue coming from income tax on earned income will be subject to a veto by English, Welsh and Irish MPs? Therefore, a Government would not be able to get its means of supply unless it had a majority in part of the House of Commons. That is a huge change, which has been added at the last minute as an afterthought.
No, it has not been added as a last-minute afterthought. What is made clear in the proposals that have been brought forward and published this week is a clarification of what was originally intended.
The noble Lord, Lord Butler, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and others asked why we have not brought measures forward on a statutory footing. Standing Orders are the usual means by which procedural changes are made in the other place. But my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons has confirmed that we will review the way forward in 12 months’ time, once the first Bills subject to the new procedures have reached Royal Assent. We have not ruled out legislation being considered at that point. I note the comment from the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, that legislation would risk bringing the courts into Parliament. That is something we clearly wish to avoid. But more importantly, by approaching these modest changes in a modest way, via Standing Orders, we will allow them to be tested properly, in real time, with legislation. As my right honourable friend the Leader of the Commons said, we will put them to review in a year’s time, reviewing them properly then.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, raised some questions about the role of the Speaker, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace. Clearly the noble Baroness knows far more about what is involved in being the Speaker of the other place than I would ever dare to consider. It is, as she will know, the responsibility of the Speaker to make impartial judgments in a political environment. We believe that giving the responsibility to the Speaker to certify the legislation that the Government bring forward is more appropriate than inviting the Government or the usual channels to do so. That is a much more appropriate way forward.
As to the complexity of the decisions that will have to be made on the extent of the Bills, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, is right: these are sometimes technical decisions but we make our existing processes work when it is necessary for decisions to be made on legislative consent Motions, and I am confident that the same can apply in this case.
As I said when I repeated the Statement last week, it is important to acknowledge that while we are clearly interested in English votes for English laws, the changes that are being brought about apply only to the other place. Our role as a revising Chamber, the part we play and the powers available to us remain just as they are now and our procedures do not change. Noble Lords have suggested that none the less there could be implications in practice for this House. That is something in which I, along with all noble Lords, will take a very strong interest as these changes are rolled out in the House of Commons, and if any issues were to emerge, I would consider it very properly my responsibility to ensure that we have an opportunity to contribute to the review process that has been promised in a year’s time. But we must be careful, as I say, to respect the right of the other place to consider its procedures, in the same way as we would expect it to do when we consider our own.
All that said, of course I appreciate the strong desire among noble Lords for a debate here to inform proceedings in the other place at this early stage. I can just hear some noble Lords making those comments from a sedentary position. As I say, I have been reflecting on this and I think that it is right that we provide some additional time. My noble friend the Chief Whip and I have been looking at this and I propose to arrange a further debate after the Summer Recess in September, in government time and without a time limit, because I recognise that time has been tight today. While I urge noble Lords to keep in mind that ultimately these are matters for decisions in another place in so far as they affect its procedures, I am happy none the less to ensure that we provide that time for a debate so that we can contribute in the way that I feel is most appropriate.
Perhaps I might just say what I need to say in response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, about a Joint Committee. He gave me notice of this proposal only shortly before the debate so I have not had time to consider it in any great detail. I do not think there is a formal government position for me to offer on that proposal at this time. But we do have a Constitution Committee of this House. There is a committee of a similar kind in the House of Commons. I believe that the time has come for us to make some progress on actually implementing English votes for English laws.
As I say, this has been debated many times over many years. We are and have been in pursuit of a perfect solution and I put it to your Lordships that I do not think that there is a perfect solution to this question—but there has to be a way forward because it becoming more and more urgent. The people of England feel the need for us to address this unfairness and this imbalance. What we are proposing as a Government is a way forward that we consider is sensible, pragmatic, fair and proportionate. Doing it through Standing Orders, as I say, allows for it to be tested in practice and then, after a year, for it to be reviewed again, and if it is necessary to make changes then, I am sure that that is something that we would want to make happen at that time. But I really believe that the time now is to continue.