Huhne: English votes on English laws (but only once PR’s in place)

by Stephen Tall on October 30, 2007

The ‘West Lothian Question’ raised its head again this week, following the pre-announcement that the Tories want a ‘grand committee’ of English MPs to determine legislation which will affect only England.

Under the current constitutional arrangements, MPs representing Scottish and Welsh constituencies can vote on English matters, but MPs representing English constituencies cannot vote on those issues for which the devolved Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have responsibility.

Chris Huhne, Lib Dem leadership candidate, has lent his support to the proposal – but only if the ‘grand committee’ is part of a much wider constitutional shake-up, which will also see the introduction of proportional representation. This from The Scotsman:

“It is an anomaly that Scots MPs vote on matters that affect England, but English MPs do not have similar influence over Scots law because it has been devolved.”

He added: “But we must not replace this anomaly with another by building in undemocratic Conservative majorities in England. You cannot reform the UK constitution piecemeal. We need a constitutional convention reflecting not just the political class but civil society to come up with proposals fit for a modern, decentralised state.”

He continued: “The Conservatives are being self-serving by arguing for English votes for English laws in isolation, as the electoral system has often given them a majority of English MPs on a minority of English votes.”

Last night, an aide to Mr Huhne stressed he was speaking about a reformed House of Commons, elected by single transferable vote, to deny the Tories a majority in England based on first-past-the-post elections. The aide added: “That is the best way to save the Union, which Chris believes in.”

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The Tories have nowhere near a majority of seats in England.

LDs: 47
Others: 2

Chrish Huhne’s comments are all well and good but change on this scale isn’t going to happen soon. Meanwhile, the constitutional anomaly of devolution continues to grate in England.

by wit and wisdom on October 30, 2007 at 11:55 am. Reply #

Alternatively we could just bite the bullet, be brave and call for an English Parliament.

After all, we are supposed to be in favour of devolution.

This policy would appeal to devolutionists and nationalists alike.

by Cheltenham Robin on October 30, 2007 at 12:42 pm. Reply #

Hmmm… if you support EVoEM then you can’t really escape the logic of having a separate English Executive.

The factor missing from Huhne’s statement (which to be fair, he does go on about a lot elsewhere) is radical localism, thus reducing the number of English-only issues to a minimum.

by James Graham on October 30, 2007 at 12:54 pm. Reply #

It should also be remembered that not all the powers devolved to Scotland have been devolved to Wales. People regularly talk about Scottish MPs voting on laws that apply to England but not Scotland, but many of those laws also apply to Wales. English, Scottish and Welsh MPs all have a say on UK wide, English and some Welsh issues.

The only simple solution is to give Wales, England and Northern Ireland full Parliaments like Scotland’s. But there are so many knock on effects of that that I doubt it would happen.

Anyone got any better ideas?

by Kevin O'Connor on October 30, 2007 at 1:21 pm. Reply #

The problem with the idea of and English Parliament is that there is a conflict between theory and practicality. If we are in favour of Scotland and Wales exercising powers over specifically Scottish and Welsh matters then logically it makes perfect sense to give England power over specifically English matters. The problem is that England comprises about 85% of the population of the UK. However much sense it made in theory, in practice most people in England would see an English Parliament as largely simply duplicating Westminster. However much polls may show that voters support in principle the idea of England being able to decide on English matters, I suspect that support would not run to the idea of setting up an entire new level of government and bureaucracy.

by Jeremy Sanders on October 30, 2007 at 1:43 pm. Reply #

It’s worrying that any MP can talk about “English votes for English laws”. If only there was something as simple as an “English law”.

For a start, the territorial application of most major bits of legislation is particularly complicated; look at any Criminal Justice Act, and you’ll find that different bits apply in England/Scotland/Wales etc only, some bits in England and Wales, some bits to Great Britain only and some bits to the UK. Then you’ve got bits of laws that apply to the constituent parts of the UK with various modifications and/or amendments – the sheer practicalities of sorting this so the relevant MPs could vote on the relevant bits would result in some form of legislative hokey-cokey.

And this is not taking into account that the territorial application of a law is not the be-all and end-all of who it affects. Even laws on, say, the funding requirements for English and Welsh education, will have a knock-on effect on the funding in Scotland.

“English votes for English laws” is a good sound-bite, it appeals to a public who aren’t aware of the sheer complexity of law-making and appeals to the Tories as it would undermine the Labour party.

Let’s have an English parliament with the powers of the Scottish Parliament, or alternatively regional assemblies with those powers, and a proper federal structure.

by Grammar Police on October 30, 2007 at 2:18 pm. Reply #

I’m not saying that his arguments are completely without merit, but it’s not exactly going to send fireworks through the leadership contest.

by Letters From A Tory on October 30, 2007 at 1:27 pm. Reply #

My solution to the English Parliament question is that there should not be one parliament for England as it would be too doninant of the UK (England = 80% of the polulation)

Instead there should be regional parliaments say in York for the North, Birmingham for the Midlands, Bristol for the West etc.
That way the decions will be more local than a remote English Parliament in westinster telling the north what it can and can’t do

by Anonymous on October 30, 2007 at 7:37 pm. Reply #

Robin@2: An EP is the antithesis of devolution, it would take power from Westminster and give it to, well, Westminster, so would please no one that wants genuine devolution.

Anon @ 8 is much more on the mark, although I’d rather not give Bristol a huge area, the Westcountry should stop at the Somerset border thankee muchly.

by MatGB on October 30, 2007 at 11:21 pm. Reply #

And? Nothing new in any of this. The party had a sensible policy (and still has) as far as I know, on devolution: parliaments for Scotland & Wales, assemblies for the English regions & NI, elected by STV. The UK parliament (STV) would become the federal parliament.

An English parliament would be too big & too remote.

Federal Britain in a Federal Europe. Now that’s what I call a policy for constitutional change.

Say it Chris!

by ColinW on October 30, 2007 at 11:48 pm. Reply #

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