This will cause uproar the first time it is used, for the very reason quoted in This Blog yesterday (Thursday) – that there are hardly any English-only laws because of the huge knock-on effect, elsewhere, of laws that the government may claim relate only to England.
Tories who objected to the plans ended up backing them – spineless and chinless as they are – possibly because it hands power to the Conservative Party to decide what laws will relate to England for as long as it has a majority of seats there.
It seems odd that, having just accused the Lords of provoking a constitutional crisis over tax credits, the Tories seem keen to provoke another one over democracy.
The government has pushed through plans to give English MPs the right of veto over English laws – a move that the shadow leader of the Commons described as “a charter for breaking up the union”.
Following an often angry and fractious debate, the Commons voted the measures through by 312 to 270.
Labour’s Gerald Kaufman, the longest-serving member of the house, declared “a day of shame for the House of Commons”. He decried the debate as “one of the nastiest, most unpleasant I have attended in 45 years”, prompted by “a government with no respect for the House of Commons”.
The shadow leader of the house, Chris Bryant, said the proposals would create “confusion and division in parliament while doing nothing to give any more power to English voters over the things that matter to them”.
Under the plans, English MPs will be able to block legislation deemed to solely affect England, but the bill would ultimately be subject to a full vote of the House of Commons.
The Scottish National party’s Pete Wishart expressed his frustration that the debate went on for more than an hour and half before any Scottish parliamentarian was called to speak. Dismissing the changes as “meagre, threadbare, inept and stupid”, Wishart told the chamber: “Scotland is watching this, and the mood is darkening.”
The new rules, known as English votes for English laws (Evel), have drawn criticism from a cross-party watchdog. The Commons procedure committee, chaired by the Conservative MP Charles Walker, branded the proposals “over-engineered and potentially burdensome”.
A few Conservatives objected to the complicated nature of the plans but ended up backing the government anyway.
At the heart of objections is the plan to let John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, decide what constitutes an English law. The SNP has raised concerns that many pieces of legislation that appear only to relate to England will have a huge knock-on effect in Scotland, such as any plans to build a third runway at Heathrow. Pressed on whether this could be considered English-only legislation, Grayling suggested it could if it was just a planning decision.
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