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The Big House... From the Inside

13/07/2015 11:53 BST | Updated 10/07/2016 10:59 BST

Evil EVEL?

The government seems intent on pushing through as much difficult legislation as quickly as possible.

The Referendum Bill on the UK's membership of the European Union has long since left the House, together with the European Finance Bill. On the 22nd we expect the second reading of a very controversial Welfare Bill, after this week's ferocious Emergency Budget. And the other day we had a Statement from the Leader of the House on EVEL.

EVEL, what's that I hear you say, or probably not. Well, 'English Votes for English laws' of course! This is Mr Cameron's answer to the age old 'West Lothian' question,

Why should Scottish MPs (and their Welsh and Northern Irish confederates) be allowed to vote on matters that are only relevant to England, whilst English MPs cannot vote on Scottish matters (since they are before the Scottish Parliament of course)? Does this not create an unfair veto?

Some would answer that English MPs have a permanent veto over purely Scottish legislation before Westminster, for example the recently done and dusted Scottish Bill. 58 of the 59 Scottish MPs wanted it strengthened, to no avail. For us in Wales, it would be Welsh language bills, or the totemic decision to flood Cwm Celyn in the early 60s - forced through in the teeth of the opposition of all but one of Wales' MPs.

And what if England voted to leave the European Union whilst Scotland and Wales chose to stay? Well, off we would jolly well go chaps. Would this not be an English veto on the democratic will of the two nations?

Some shrewder and more conservative unionists might say that the minor West Lothian inconsistency is the price of keeping the Union. Giving little David a slightly different power keeps him loyal to the English Goliath.

The Government's argument is that their proposal is merely a matter of common sense and essential to ensure fairness for England. (And which by pure chance keeps their backwoodsmen happy.)

The SNP claim that it is a brazen attack on Scottish rights and that it creates two classes of MPs.

For my part I had looked through the Guidance Notes before the announcement from the Leader of the House. ('Do your homework!' as Plaid Cymru's top economist Eurfyl ap Gwilym instructed the wretched Paxman as he wiped the floor with him).

On the second page it states clearly (and is underlined) that English MPs only would vote on any purely English matter. Therefore (innocently) I quoted this and asked the Leader of the House could he give historical examples of any bills that he himself would consider to be 'English only'. I added, constructively, that this would be of assistance to the House.

After swallowing he ventured

'a small number... four only during the last session ... education ... the majority of scrutiny committees will not change ...'.

A more subtle Leader might I think have avoided answering. For, as far as I can see nearly all bills (even English education bills) have some spending attached. And where there is spending along comes our old friend, Barnett consequential spending for the Scots, The Welsh and the Northern Irish.

So there we leave EVEL for now.

A necessary and wholly reasonable development.

A brazen attack on MPs rights and duties.

Or something of an empty gesture. (Move along there folks. There's nothing to see.)

Or possibly a somewhat empty gesture, which may slightly redraw MPs' powers, but will certainly poke others (the SNP in particular) in the eye.

A longer version of this column appeared in Welsh in Y Cymro on the 9th of July.

Translation by Gwenno Hywel.

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