English votes for English laws

Following the result of the Scottish Independence Referendum, it became obvious that the United Kingdom needs a new devolution settlement. Devolution can be a sensible and effective constitutional arrangement if it gives each of the sovereign nations of the UK – England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland – control over their own domestic matters, such as health and transport, while leaving larger, national matters, such as defence, foreign affairs, and major issues of taxation, to a Parliament of the whole UK. This arrangement would allow us to accept, appreciate, and work with our nations’ differences, but also to keep, and benefit from, that which unites us.

Sadly, this is not yet the case. Whilst three parts of the UK have been given a certain amount of domestic control with their own Assemblies and Parliaments, this has not yet happened for England. Our devolution process is not at an end. We are yet to reach the balanced and fair quasi-federal United Kingdom that we need.

The current imbalance can be seen in the question I asked Gordon Brown in the House of Commons: ‘why it is that [you] should be able to vote in this place about education in Letchworth when I have absolutely no say on those matters in Kirkcaldy in [your] constituency.’

This imbalance can be solved with English Votes for English Laws. To implement this would complete the devolution process. Each of the four nations would be able to deal with its own domestic matters, with a Parliament of the whole United Kingdom for national, British matters.

This does not mean that I am in favour of an English Parliament. An English Parliament would be enormously expensive, and would leave MPs at Westminster sidelined.

Therefore, I think the solution is obvious: to ensure that MPs representing English constituencies can veto measures that have been voted on by Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs on issues in Parliament that have been devolved to those nations’ Assemblies.

It’s simple, and would ensure that English representatives can properly represent their electors by ensuring that they have the final say over England-only legislation. This is fair, balanced, and would put every British voter at the heart of decision-making.

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Read Sir Oliver's exchange with Gordon Brown here.

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Oliver recently took part in a BBC Radio 5live debate on this issue. See the press release here.

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In December 2014, the Government set out its proposals to deal with the English Question. Sir Oliver Heald MP spoke up for maximum devolution to England through ‘English Votes for English Laws’. He favours the system where only English MPs vote on English Laws at all stages of the legislative process in the House of Commons. This is Option 1 of the Conservative Party’s proposals in the Government’s consultation Command Paper, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/387598/implications_of_devolution_for_england_accessible.pdf

In the House, Sir Oliver called for England to be recognised as a nation in its own right – not just a clutch of regions – and, as such, it deserves to have authority over its own domestic affairs, just like the other three nations in the UK do. English Votes for English Laws would be a simple, effective, and cost-efficient way to do this.

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January 2015 - The Leader of the House of Commons, William Hague MP, has announced the Government’s plans for English Votes for English Laws. These plans would create a process whereby any Bill which affected only England would have to be agreed to by a Grand Committee of English MPs before going for its final vote in the House of Commons as a whole. Without the backing of this Grand Committee the Bill could not go forward, giving English MPs a veto on England-only legislation.

This arrangement allows the voice of England to be heard, without the expense and damage to the integrity of the Union that an English Parliament would bring.

These measures are unlikely to be put in place by the General Election, but the Government would like to provide time for the plans to be debated before then.

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12th March 2015 - Sir Oliver received an answer to a Written Parliamentary Question he had asked the Leader of the House. Find it below.

Q: To ask the Leader of the House, what his planned timetable is for introducing English Votes for English Laws.

A: [On] 16 December 2014, the Government published 'the Implications of Devolution for England' covering proposals on decentralisation within England and proposals on English Votes for English Laws. There is no agreed Government position on the timetable for the introduction of English Votes for English Laws.

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24th March 2015 - Sir Oliver presented a petition to the House of Commons, calling for English Votes for English Laws, along with 17 other MPs. Find out more here.

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27th May 2015 - In the Queen's Speech, Her Majesty announced the the Government would bring forward proposals for English votes for English laws. She said that the changes "will create fairer procedures to ensure that decisions affecting England, or England and Wales, can be taken only with the consent of the majority of Members of Parliament representing constituencies in those parts of our United Kingdom." We await for these proposals to be brought before the House.

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22nd October 2015 - The House of Commons has backed the Government’s English Votes for English Laws proposals by 312 votes to 270. These changes create a new stage in the Parliamentary process in which a grand committee of all English MPs must agree to bills, or parts of bills, that affect only England. It effectively gives English MPs a veto over England-only legislation.

I am very pleased with these changes. There are many issues that have been devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for years, but finally English MPs can now have a proper say on English matters. I look forward to seeing these new processes in action.

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16th December 2015 - So far, sections of three Bills – the Housing and Planning Bill, the Energy Bill, and the Childcare Bill – have been certified by the Speaker as relating to England only, as has the Charities Bill in its entirety. This means that after the Christmas Recess, the Grand Committee of all English MPs will consider whether or not to use their veto over these provisions. I am glad to see that the English Votes for English Laws procedure is working well in its early days.

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12th January 2016 - The English Votes for English Laws provisions have been used for the first time, in a debate on the Housing and Planning Bill. MPs representing constituencies in England formed a Legislative Grand Committee to approve the parts of the Bill which related solely to their constituencies, giving them an opportunity to veto England-only provisions.

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29th April 2016 - Following the Government’s announcement that a review into the how well the new English Votes for English Law procedure was working, here is a Written Parliamentary Question I sent to the Leader of the House on this subject. 

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April 2017 - EVEL working well in practice. No real objections heard.