On 22 October 2015, the UK Parliament agreed new legislative procedures for enacting bills, or provisions in bills, that apply only to England. This has been one of the extremely controversial consequences of the Referendum on Scottish Independence.
The policy paper supporting the changes states:
English votes for English laws addresses the so-called ‘West Lothian Question’ – the position where English MPs cannot vote on matters which have been devolved to other parts of the UK, but Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs can vote on those same matters when the UK Parliament is legislating solely for England.
It goes on to say:
These proposals change the process by which legislation is considered by the House of Commons so that MPs with constituencies in England (and where relevant England and Wales) are asked to give their consent to legislation that only affects England (or England and Wales), and is on matters that are devolved elsewhere in the UK. Those MPs will therefore have the opportunity to veto such legislation.
The new process will apply to government bills introduced in the Commons after the new rules are agreed. It will then apply to all parts of government bills which are certified by the Speaker as containing English, or English and Welsh, provisions. It will not apply to routine bills that implement the House’s spending decisions contained in the Estimates. It will also apply to secondary legislation.
The following changes to the legislative process are made:
- Any bills that the Speaker has certified as England-only in their entirety will be considered by only English MPs at committee stage. The membership of this committee will reflect the numbers of MPs that parties have in England.
- After the Report Stage, for bills containing English or English and Welsh provisions, there is then a process for gaining the consent of English or English and Welsh MPs. These MPs will form a legislative Grand Committee who will consider a consent motion for any clauses that the Speaker has certified as English or English and Welsh only. This is a new stage to allow all English or English & Welsh MPs either to consent to or to veto those clauses. At this stage no amendments to the text of the bill can be made but specified clauses can be vetoed by amendments to the consent motion. In the case of a bill which is England-only, or England and Wales only, this stage allows those MPs to consent to or veto the whole bill.
- If clauses of the bill are vetoed by the legislative Grand Committee there is a reconsideration stage when further amendments can be made, to enable compromises to be reached. The whole House can participate in this stage, which is, in effect, a second report stage for disputed parts of the bill.
- This is followed by a second legislative Grand Committee at which all English or English and Welsh MPs are asked to consent to the amendments made by the whole House. If no agreement is reached at this point, the disputed parts of the bill fall.
- Following report stage and any consent motions the bill continues to third reading, in which as now all MPs can participate. It then progresses to the House of Lords.
- The legislative process in the House of Lords is unchanged.
- If the bill is amended by the House of Lords, then when it returns to the Commons the Speaker is required to certify any motions relating to Lords amendments to the bill, on the same basis as before. Any votes on amendments that have been certified as England or England and Wales only will be subject to a double majority vote. That is to say that such amendments will have to be supported by a majority of English or English and Welsh MPs as well as a majority of all MPs before they can become law.
- The process for bills that start in the House of Lords is similar, with bills being certified when they first arrive in the House of Commons.
Special rules apply to Finance Bills and to Secondary Legislation.
The changes are clearly complex. The Government plans to ask the House of Commons Procedure Committee to review the new procedures after they have been used.
The above is adapted from the Government Policy Paper, available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/english-votes-for-english-laws-proposed-changes/english-votes-for-english-laws-an-explanatory-guide-to-proposals
A more detailed guide, as well as the changes to the standing orders of the House of Commons and accompanying Explanatory Notes are available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/english-votes-for-english-laws-proposed-changes
An excellent research review prepared by Richard Kelly in the House of Commons Library, which gives a detailed account of the background to the whole issue, is at http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7339