English Votes for English MPs

According to a report in Scotland on Sunday, Gordon Brown and all Scottish MPs will be excluded from voting on England-only laws under radical Conservative plans to be unveiled this week.

Tory leader David Cameron is poised to back a major overhaul of the Westminster system under which all 529 English MPs would meet separately as a "grand committee" to decide on their own legislation. MPs would then be expected to sit out any full vote in the Commons.

It would be up to the Speaker to designate legislation as English-only.

I can understand why the Conservatives are supporting this move. It is clearly wrong that non-English MPs should have undue influence over English affairs that will have no effect on their own constituents.

However there are some major problems with trying to deal with the English Devolution deficit in the way that the Tories propose.

Firstly, of course the current Speaker is a Scot. I can't see many English people being pleased if the decision to designate any issue as an UK or an English one was to be in the hands of a single Scot! (Although I understand that Speaker Martin is standing down at the next election).

More importantly is the position of Wales. Unlike Scotland, Wales doesn’t have legislative devolution - we only have executive devolution. All the Assembly can do is implement and modify laws passed for the whole of England and Wales.

Those things that have, quite understandably, upset English people such as the Assembly voting to abolish prescription charges in Wales at the same time as Welsh Labour MPs were voting to increase prescription charges in England don’t happen by the Assembly passing a Welsh Law. They happen when the Assembly decides to modify the implementation of an England and Wales Law. If the English law didn't exist, the Welsh modification couldn't happen.

So under the Conservative proposal how do the England and Wales Acts that include clauses that allow the Assembly to go its own way get passed? Clearly such laws would not be England only laws so the idea that Welsh MP's should be excluded from voting on them is unacceptable. But if Welsh MPs do take part in passing them we would still have a situation where Welsh MPs would be voting on laws that will be implemented in different ways in both countries, which will not resolve the devolution deficit in England.

Laws passed in Westminster have to be passed by both the Commons and the Lords. Defining what an English MP is is easy, but what is an English Lord? Is Rowan Williams, the Welsh born Primate of all England, an English or a Welsh member of the House of Lords? Or will Scottish Lords still be able to vote on English or England and Wales only laws?

Will English MPs be prohibited from passing reserved power Wales only laws? If not it will be clearly unfair if English MPs can vote on Welsh Laws but English laws can't voted on by Welsh MPs. On the other hand if only Welsh MPs can only vote on Welsh Laws then Wales will end up with two devolved bodies the Assembly and the Welsh Grand Committee, where as the English will only have one again unfair.

The Conservatives are to be congratulated on realising that the devolution deficit in England is a real problem that urgently needs to be address, it’s a shame that they have decided to go for a dog's breakfast of an answer. Surely the sensible answer to the problem would be for England to have its own devolved parliament or assembly.


  1. Good points. I've made similar but from a more English perspective over at the CEP Blog.

  2. It will remain a legislative nightmare for so long as the three devolved assemblies each have different powers and responsibilities.The only way the present system could work fairly would be for MPs only to be able to vote on matters reserved to Westminster in respect of their own individual constituencies.

  3. Basically it is another case of politics first and practical solution second. Labour began the current constitutional mess with the intoduction of asymmetrical devolution. With the current arrangement designed to apease the various factions of the Labour party and not the countries they are supposed to govern. The Conservatives are simply continuing this trend. The idea of English votes for English MPs is very palatable to the Tory party and probably the "middle England" voters they aim to woe. But does little practically to solve the current mess and probably complicates it even more.

  4. MOF: "Is Rowan Williams, the Welsh born Primate of all England, an English or a Welsh member of the House of Lords?"

    Rowan Williams is an 'Englishman' in this context as he represents an English constituency. His ethnicity (and the ethnicity of all representatives of English constituencies) is irreletant and should not be an issue.

    This whole 'project' is about democracy and also creating a civic English identity. It's the Brit Nats who want to keep English an ethnic and not civic identity.

  5. if the tory party wants devolution in England then why aren't they talking about a Federal UK, with full economic and justice powers devolved to Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

    Simple answer its not, its all about scoring cheap party political points designed to make Labour squirm and its working, devolution has made the PM of the UK a lesser position, David Cameron doesn't want to be not PM of England.

  6. This kind of constitutional car crash was is going to happen under the current devolution settlement. Our politicians should seriously be considering a federal solution. What should excite supporters of independence is that sovereignty should be transferred from the British Parliament to the devolved legislatures as a consequence of federalism.

    On the question of the Rt. Rev. Rowan Williams, he represents the Church of England in parliament rather than a Welsh constituency of the Church in Wales.

  7. On the one hand I suppose the English might be less keen on yet another layer of politicians than the Welsh and Scots are, but, on the other hand, if there was a devolved English parliament, where would that leave Westminster? More or less as a rump to deal with defence and foreign affairs I suppose. Maybe that would be no bad thing, but I can't imagine any occupant of 10 Downing Street thinking that such a diminution of his powers was a good idea.