THE BLOG

This Government's Handling of 'English Votes for English Laws' Is Reckless, Dangerous, and Threatens the Future of Our Union

03/07/2015 15:41 BST | Updated 03/07/2016 10:59 BST

The Labour party was founded on ideals of co-operation and solidarity: a sense of common purpose, the idea of fairness and the understanding that we do better when we join forces. Those too are the principles on which our Union was built and which have kept it strong for 300 years. But there is a growing sense that our Union - and the principles on which it stands - are weakened and fragile.

With deepening devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is important to recognise that changes need to be made in Westminster too, and England's voice should be strengthened when it comes to English only matters. It is important that changes to our Constitution must be done with thorough consultation and on a cross-party basis.

However, David Cameron has proposed fundamental Constitutional changes, and is proposing to introduce them in two weeks' time, using a little known parliamentary procedure, which only requires a short debate and a vote in the House of Commons. This is no way to make profound constitutional change. It is an outrage the Government thinks it is.

Sir William McKay was commissioned by the Government to look at this issue, and he presented a balanced and considered report which provided recommendations to strengthen the voice of England on English matters, but also provided substantial warnings on creating two classes of MPs, and maintaining the prerogative of the UK Parliament - and the integrity of the Union.

But now the government is ignoring the recommendations and warnings of its own commission and going much further.

The proposals they outline today would give English (and in some cases English and Welsh MPs) a veto on legislation, whereby no law - whether primary, secondary or even public spending motions - affecting England alone will be able to be passed without the consent of English MPs. A new phase in the process means that the English MPs can accept or reject parts of a bill as they choose and these do not become law.

When asked today, Chris Grayling, the Leader of the House of Commons, couldn't say how his would prevent two classes of MPs being created, something that Lord McKay recommended against. They would include an unprecedented double majority requirement for some Lords Amendments where English MPs would get two votes and other MPs one, again going much further than what McKay, or their own manifesto, suggested. We could also be in the ludicrous situation whereby a Prime Minister from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland would be prevented from having a proper say on their own bill.The proposals would also apply to tax measures once further devolution to Scotland takes place, something that neither McKay nor the Smith Commission proposed.

No consultation, no legislation, no scrutiny, no thought as to how it may affect the Union or the workings of Parliament. In effect the creation of a new Parliament by the back door.

The divisive nature of these proposals are in stark contrast to David Cameron's one nation rhetoric. He has form on resorting to small politics when under threat and this smacks of a cynical attempt by a Government with an overall majority of just twelve to use procedural trickery to manufacture itself a very much larger one.

But it's more than that - it's reckless and dangerous. It's playing with fire and threatening not only the constitutional integrity of our Parliament but the future of our Union.

We believe these issues are real and they need to be discussed and addressed. But that can't be done in a piecemeal, top-down way, with politicians hastily agreeing plans in a dark room. Instead, there should be Constitutional Convention in which members of the public, civil society and elected representatives would sit down to discuss these complex questions and work out a set of proposals.

Angela Eagle is the shadow leader of the House of Commons and Labour MP for Wallasey