This House of Commons Library briefing paper outlines the effect of changes made to Standing Orders on 22 October 2015 to implement the Government's plans for English votes for English laws. This paper outlines the effect of the new Standing Orders on Government bills. It also provides some background on the debate on and scrutiny of the proposals.Jump to full report >>
On 22 October 2015, the House of Commons agreed to changes to its Standing Orders to allow members from England or England and Wales to give their consent to legislation that affected only England, or England and Wales and that was within devolved legislative competence. The new procedures apply to Government bills. They are outlined in section 1 of this briefing paper.
The remainder of the paper provides some background information to the debate on 22 October 2015.
The Conservative Party’s UK manifesto for the 2015 General Election included a commitment to “introduce English votes for English laws, answering the longstanding West Lothian Question in our democracy”. The way in which EVEL would be implemented was detailed in the Party’s English manifesto.
On 2 July 2015, Chris Grayling, the Leader of the House of Commons, announced the publication of proposed Standing Order changes to implement EVEL. He told the House that decisions would be taken on 15 July.
Unlike the plans in the English manifesto, the changes were to be implemented in full at the outset, not piloted. The Government’s proposals required the Speaker to certify bills in their entirety or provisions within bills and statutory instruments that relate exclusively to England or to England and Wales and is within devolved legislative competence. Different arrangements would apply to legislation that was certified. For bills there would be additional stages in the legislative process so that the consent of Members representing countries affected could be obtained. If a bill applied exclusively to England, the committee considering it at committee stage would only include Members representing seats in England. For motions relating to Lords amendments, a double majority would be required, of all Members and those Members representing countries affected. Votes on delegated legislation and other instruments would also be subject to double majorities, when the instruments related entirely to England or England and Wales matters.
Concerns were expressed about the limited time Members had to consider the proposed changes; that the proposals would create two classes of Member; that Standing Orders were being used to bring about significant constitutional change; and that the Speaker’s role would be politicised as he was required to certify legislation.
On 6 July 2015, Alistair Carmichael’s request for an emergency debate, on the process the Government proposed to use to introduce procedures to provide for English votes for English laws, was granted. The debate took place on 7 July.
At Business Questions on 9 July, Chris Grayling announced that although the debate on EVEL would go ahead on 15 July, it would be a general debate, with a further day’s debate – when decisions on the proposed Standing Order changes would be taken – after the Recess. On 15 October, he announced that decisions would be taken on 22 October.
The Procedure Committee, which Chris Grayling said would contribute to a review of the new procedures, announced that it would examine the likely practical operation of the Government’s proposals. It took evidence on 8 and 9 September 2015, and the Chair wrote to the Leader of the House on 10 September. He suggested that the new procedures be piloted by express application rather than be introduced in full and then subject to review. The Committee also suggested that bills and statutory instruments be subject to the EVEL procedures only when the House so decided; suggested that consent be given to amendments, new clauses and new schedules at Report stage (through double majorities, rather than in a legislative grand committee (or committees) considering consent motions); and that Standing Orders should specify that all Members could participate in the deliberations but not decisions of Legislative Grand Committees.
The Committee told the Leader of the House that it expected to publish a fuller report in the week of 12 October 2015. In the event, the report was agreed on 14 October 2015 and published on 19 October. The Government tabled motions to implement the Standing Order changes on 19 October. On 20 October, Chris Grayling made a written statement in which he set out the Government’s response to the Procedure Committee’s report. He noted that the Government had made amendments to the proposed Standing Order changes published in July, which the Committee had reviewed, in line with some of the recommendations from the Committee. He said that the Government did not wish to pilot the changes in the way the Committee recommended nor would the Government agree to the Committee’s recommendation that the House should decide whether or not bills and instruments should be subject to the EVEL procedure.
The Government did not accept the Committee’s recommendation that double majority voting be used at Report stage – it noted that certified amendments made before Report stage would still need consent.
Commons Briefing papers CBP-7339
Author: Richard Kelly