House of Commons Library

The English Question

Published Tuesday, November 18, 2014

This Note explores the technical issues involved in identifying “England-only” legislation and gives some analysis of bills and divisions in the current session. It also gives a brief account of proposals for further devolution in England.

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Politicians and voters in England have turned their attention to constitutional issues following the Scottish independence referendum and the offer to devolve significant additional powers to the Scottish Parliament. Two main strands have been addressed: the House of Commons voting arrangements on laws affecting only England, and the governance of England.

The day after the referendum, the Prime Minister said that “The question of English votes for English laws … requires a definitive answer” and announced a Cabinet Committee on devolution to consider this question. The Government and Opposition have each proposed changes in governance structures for England. Neither of these issues is new: each has a long history marked by commissions and proposals, but new urgency has been brought to the discussion by the emphasis given to Scottish devolution during the last two weeks of the referendum campaign in September 2014. The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have suggested that the issues be considered by a constitutional convention. Some voices across the UK have gone further, and have argued for a written constitution entrenching and calibrating the relationships between the different levels of governance. Additional devolution is planned for Wales, with a Wales Bill currently in passage through the UK Parliament.

There is further detail on the history of the so-called West Lothian Question, and efforts to address it, in Standard Note 2586, The West Lothian Question, 18 January 2012. The most recent effort to tackle the matter prior to the current phase is covered in Standard Note 6821, The McKay Commission: report of the Commission on the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons, 17 February 2014.

This Note explores the technical issues involved in identifying “England-only” legislation and gives some analysis of bills and divisions in the current session. It highlights differences between the territorial extent of legislation and its effects. Although territorial extent is specified on the face of a bill, territorial effect may be of more interest politically.

This Note also gives a brief account of proposals for further devolution in England.

Commons Briefing papers SN07027

Authors: Paul Bowers; Richard Kelly

Topics: Devolution, House of Commons, Parliamentary procedure

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