- English votes for English laws, soft version: English Commons legislation is voted on by English MPs only in an English Grand Committee. At third reading, it can be passed only with the support of a majority of English MPs and a majority of the Commons as a whole. This was the view of the McKay Commission.
Case for: The right of MPs with non-English seats to vote on English laws is lessened – and the solution avoids having “different classes of MP” which “could provoke deadlock between the UK Government and the majority of MPs in England”, (in the view of the Commission).
Case against: The right of MPs with non-English seats may be lessened, but it is not ended. They can still block English laws agreed by English MPs.
- English votes for English laws, hard version: MPs with non-English seats are barred from voting on English Commons legislation at all stages – second reading and third reading as well as the Committee stage. Sir William Mckay himself believes that, since new powers are to be devolved to Scotland, the proposals that he originally made are now out of date and need a “fairly hefty tweak, more a kick than a tweak.” The hard version of EVfEL could be such a tweak.
Case for: The right of MPs with non-English seats is ended.
Case against: The solution produces “different classes of MP” which “could provoke deadlock between the UK Government and the majority of MPs in England” (in the view of the Commission). Furthermore, laws passed by English MPs of one political colour may be administered by a Government of a different political colour. (Labour Ministers implementing the laws of Conservative MPs being the most likely example.) This is highly problematic.
- English Parliament, soft version: MPs with non-English seats are barred from voting on English Commons legislation at all stages – second reading and third reading as well as the Committee stage. Furthermore, there is a new English Executive (that’s to say, English Ministers, complete with a First Minister for England) to administer laws passed by English MPs. This is the solution set out on this site last week by John Redwood.
Case for: Laws passed English MPs of one political colour are not administered by a Government of a different political colour. England gets its “place in the sun”.
Case against: There are “different classes of MP”. New English Ministers are created – and the taxpayer must meet the bill.
- English Parliament, hard version: Non-English seats are removed from the Commons altogether. Members of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly travel to Westminster to speak and vote on “federal” business – such as foreign affairs and defence. Perhaps the new English and federal Parliament is moved from London to the midlands or the north, as Tim Montgomerie suggests (£).
Case for: Avoids having “different classes of MP”.
Case against: Members of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly have no mandate to vote on “federal” business, and may not want to do so.
- The Stormont solution: Between the creation of Stormont and its abolition, a deal was struck. Northern Ireland MPs voted on the business of the rest of the UK in the Commons, but in return it was under-represented there: its MPs represented a disproportionately large number of constituents. The same model is now applied to Scotland. Its MPs continue to vote on English business, but their number is scaled back. This solution was championed during the last Parliament by the IPPR.
Case for: Avoids having “different classes of MP”.
Case against: The injustice to England (and the other two UK countries) arguably remains. And Scotland might not be happy to see its MPs wield less power per voter on “federal” business than those from other parts of the UK.
- Do nothing.
Case for: None, other than viewing all other options as simply too much trouble to get entangled with.
Case against: The injustice to England remains.
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Some issues arising:
- It will be argued that MPs already have different powers: MPs from England can vote on English business, but MPs from Scotland cannot vote on Scottish business. This was part of the point of the original West Lothian question – put in 1977 by the then MP for that seat, Tam Dalyell, as follows: “For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on British politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”
- In the event of all bar the last solution, how is it to be decided what is English business and what isn’t? Redwood believes that the question is a red herring, at least as far as an English Parliament is concerned: It would “handle exactly the same issues as the Scottish Parliament. These will be the current list of Scottish powers, augmented by the new powers they are to receive.”
- Were some of the options outlined above to apply, what happens to the Lords? Would it become a revising chamber for “federal” business only? For “federal” business plus English business? Should peers who once sat for from Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Commons seats have a say in England’s affairs?
- Would a written constitution be needed for the “harder” options, such as the hard version for English votes for English laws? If not, could decisions made on what constitutes English business and what does not end up before the courts in any event?
- What’s the timing and means? Commons votes before or after the next election? Legislation – but if so, when?
Warning: this is far from a complete guide to all the options that could be considered at David Cameron’s Chequers summit today – or to all the questions and issues that arise. But it does give a sense of an important point: none of them are straightforward.
For the record, ConservativeHome’s preference is for the hard version of an English Parliament – or, to use a more British-friendly form of words, “devo-max for parts of the UK”. We also believe that only a constitutional convention will have the authority and acceptability to unpick these knots.