John Redwood is a former Secretary of State for Wales, and is MP for Wokingham.
Seeking justice for England in our lopsided constitution is no evil. Since I started my campaign called speaking for England, I have received plenty of support from all over the UK, including Scotland. There has been practically no opposition, since most people realise that Labour’s one-sided devolution at the end of the last century left unfinished business. Now the Scots have made clear their wish to have a lot more home rule, it is time to tackle the unfairness to England as well.
We do not want just English votes for English laws – unhelpfully called EVEL. There are not that many just English laws. We want English votes for England’s needs – EVEN. In a world in which the Scottish Parliament gets to vote on how all the money for Scottish local government should be allocated by Council and function, surely English MPs should have the same power over the lump sum that the UK Parliament has voted for English local government? As the Scottish Parliament makes all the decisions on the NHS in Scotland once the overall budget has been set by the UK Parliament, shouldn’t English MPs alone make similar decisions for the English NHS?
A minority of my Conservative Parliamentary colleagues worry that English votes for English needs in Westminster will somehow be provocative to the Scots and therefore unhelpful to the Union. Let me reassure them. Most Scottish people think it right that England should make more of her own decisions as Scotland moves towards much more Home Rule. They do not want their MPs at Westminster wasting their time over the allocation of money to Oxfordshire or Hampshire Council, or deciding who should be the Chief Executive of England’s NHS. They want their MPs concentrating on getting the best possible financial and administrative deal from Union funds and Union departments for Scotland.
As we move towards a world where the SNP may have more votes and voices at Westminster, if present polls persist, it is important to reflect the new reality in the architecture of the UK Parliament. It would not be fair or reasonable if the limited concession to England was to allow English MPs to do all the work on English bills at the committee stage, only to see a Union majority against us at the very end of the passage of the Bill vote down what the English majority wanted. That would be a recipe for resentment, without giving the Scots anything they legitimately want or usually ask for.
I want the Union to survive. To do so we now need justice for all parts of the UK in a new settlement. It also means that believers in the Union have to end appeasement of separatist movements by offering additional special powers to the parts of the country that are most disenchanted, and now find a new settlement which meets with the support of the largest possible majority all across the country.
I expect William Hague to recommend English votes not just on laws but on other matters. I expect him to accept advice that this can be done simply by an amendment to the Standing Orders of the Commons, obviating the need for delay and legislation. I urge him to accept that the only version of English votes for England’s needs that works and offers us what we have been promised is English votes at all stages on an England issue. Let’s have a simple and straightforward decision, followed by an early debate and vote in the Commons.