THE BLOG

The Futility of English Votes for English Laws

31/03/2016 11:54

The question I have been asked consistently since the Government withdrew its proposals to amend the Hunting Act in July in response to the SNP's decision to vote against the changes is why Defra did not wait until the implementation of English Votes for English Laws (EVEL).

The new rules are supposed to restrict the involvement of Scottish and Welsh MPs in Westminster on issues which are devolved to legislatures in their countries, and if Scottish MPs had been excluded from the vote on the Hunting Act the law would have been changed. The answer, I am afraid, is that those new rules are a misnomer, they do not restrict any MPs from voting on any Statutory Instrument which amends existing legislation, nor do they stop any MP from voting on the crucial final stages of any new legislation.

The futility of EVEL was emphasised a couple of weeks ago when the SNP did a similar U-turn on the Government's proposal to allow shops to open for longer on Sundays and equalize Sunday trading laws North and South of the border. EVEL did not stop SNP MPs voting down the Government's plans and inflicting a humiliating defeat.

As with the amendments to the Hunting Act this was about politics, not principle, with one SNP MP admitting "My default position is that we should do everything to maximise the Government's discomfort".

The day after Scotland voted to remain in the union David Cameron stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street and said: "I have long believed that a crucial part missing from this national discussion is England. We have heard the voice of Scotland - and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard. The question of English votes for English laws - the so-called West Lothian question - requires a decisive answer."

There are perfectly good arguments both for and against the involvement of Scottish and Welsh MPs in issues which do not directly affect their constituents, but what there is no justification for is claiming to have done something which you have not. Unfortunately the events of recent weeks prove one thing decisively: that the West Lothian question still has not been answered.

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