EVEL IS AS EVEL DOES

I was asked on Twitter by Carl Gardner for “a concrete example of a bill that this plan [for EVEL] would take away Scottish rights on, and an explanation of how.”

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This short post seeks to do that, with some considerable trepidation as there are countless tens of better placed devolution experts than me, but here goes. It does not offer a normative view on the soundness or otherwise of excluding MPs representing Scottish constituencies from voting on matters that concern solely the massed millions of English constituents.

It seems to me very simple that the EVEL proposals both dilute the value of Scottish MPs votes, numerically by conferring two votes on English MPs (so in numerical terms a vote by a Scottish MP is relatively worth half of an English MP’s vote, and in reality much more since that crucial second English MP vote has no Scottish equivalent, setting up as it does a one-way veto exercisable without response (since if the veto in Grand Chamber is voted on and rejected by the House in full, the ping-pong that results leads to only one winner, the English veto)

Let us assume a Parliament slightly differently constructed:

Labour 305 comprising 265 English MPs, 25 in Scotland and 15 in Wales

Conservative 275 comprising 255 English MPs, 5 in Scotland and 15 in Wales

SNP 25 MPs

LibDem 27, comprising 13 English MPs, 4 in Scotland and 10 in Wales

(along with 18 N/Irish MPs from UUP, DUP, Sinn Fein and SDLP)

and assume further a Labour/SNP coalition with a majority of 4 (330 seats).

 

An English-only Health Bill passes 2nd Reading with those SNP votes, and the Scottish Labour votes carrying the day. We can exclude from this example a Bill that fails to pass 2nd Reading since this new system leads to no change – it goes nowhere, and not even the possibility of English MP consent can save it, since it never reaches that stage. Similarly, a Bill that passes 2nd Reading but with Scottish MPs voting against will go into the new system but if the veto is exercised, that is in accordance with their wishes and if consented to there, there had been no change in result in the new EVEL system

Thus, it passes through Public Bill Committee in the usual way but then the new EVEL system triggers a legislative Grand Committee of (here) English only MPs. The 25 Scottish Labour MPs are excluded, as are the 25 SNP MPs, the few Scottish LibDems and Conservatives, as well as Welsh and Northern Irish MPs. The anti-Bill minority in the House (275 Conservatives and 27 LibDems) is now turned into a majority: against the 265 English Labour MPs there would be ranged 268 English Conservative and LibDem MPs combined. They will, we can assume, veto the Bill – they didn’t after all want it when it went to a full vote on 2nd Reading. While it will go back the House as a whole to seek compromise, eventually if that cannot be reached, the Grand Committee is reconvened and “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.”

It seems to me that it cannot be anything but a diminution, removal even, of the equal rights of Scottish MPs over the legislative output of the House. Their one chance, as part of a rump of 650, to say yea to legislation is outflanked by the later right afforded to a smaller group to say nay.

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2 Comments

Filed under devolution, Public Law

2 responses to “EVEL IS AS EVEL DOES

  1. Thanks for attempting this, David! This is the best attempt I’ve seen by anyone to explain the English votes “problem”. But you may be surprised to find I’m unconvinced.

    First, let me pick up a couple of things you say that I’m not sure are quite right or fair.

    You say you don’t

    offer a normative view on the soundness or otherwise of excluding MPs representing Scottish constituencies from voting on matters that concern solely the massed millions of English constituents

    which is fair enough of course. But no Scottish MPs will be excluded from anything, as you go on to explain. They retain every opportunity to vote that they currently have, on every bill. It’s just that English MPs are given an extra vote.

    Later on you talk of the dilution of Scottish MPs’

    one chance, as part of a rump of 650, to say yea to legislation

    but they’ll retain more than once chance. I’m not an expert on Commons procedure but as well as 2nd reading (which is the first chance all MPs get to vote on the principle of a bill, and which all will retain, in relation to every bill) there is 3rd reading if a bill gets that far. So on every bill, in principle, every MP will still have at least two chances to say yea or nay. Plus of course votes on all the amendments, programme motions and so on that often end up being just as important. Of course it’s true to say that if at the “English vote” stage a bill falls, then in a sense Scottish MPs “final vote” to assent to the bill (or reject it) will go, it’s equally true to say that English MPs’ “final vote” will go. Necessarily, if any bill fails, subsequent stages become redundant. You might as well complain that MPs took away their own right to finally say yes to the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill, which was recently defeated on 2nd reading.

    Having addressed those points, let me turn to your example. You don’t say what your bill would actually do—but this is a key part of the “concreteness” we really need for this exercise. You’re imagining a bill doing something unknown about health in England only, which is unpopular among English MPs but which for some reason Scottish MPs want to happen. Why? What is this bill? Why do Scots want it, even though it’s England only? We need this information in order to work out whether Scottish complaints about the new English veto have any fairness to them at all.

    If it’s unfair for English MPs to be able to veto (say) a sugar tax in England that Scottish MPs will also be able to vote for or against at least once, then why’s it fair for the Scottish Parliament to decide on minimum alcohol prices in Scotland without any English input at all? This example shows that the “English votes” plan does not attempt anything like English devolution.

    I also note than in your example for some reason English LibDems oppose this health plan. Why? I think the political assumptions you need raise the question of whether you can really put forward a realistic policy that would meet with the opposition you suppose. Would English LibDems really oppose some Labour health plan that would lead to higher health spending in England (and Barnett consequentials in Scotland, if that’s how Barnett consequentials work—I’m not convinced it is).

    In reality, a health bill in England really will affect only England, unless it does have Barnett consequentials—i.e., brings in unplanned new NHS spending that triggers an increase in the Scottish block grant. Contrary to the common assumption I don’t think every bill has that automatic effect, but even assuming it does, you have to explain why your LibDems oppose that extra spending.

    And don’t we also have to take into account that the more common recent complaint from the SNP has been of a “negative Barnett” effect by which English NHS “privatisation” legislation has a long-term negative spending effect in Scotland? I think it’s a totally bogus argument (there are no negative Barnett consequentials, and if the SNP is right about the madness of “privatisation” then spending ought to *increase*) but they did make it very loudly during the referendum.

    In a case like that, then if Scottish MPs’ votes against an English NHS privatisation bill failed to defeat it at 2nd reading, but they were saved from it by a veto at the “English vote” stage, why on earth would they be complaining about having no “final right” to fail to defeat it again?

    Sorry, but we still need a full explained, fully concrete example explaining what actual policy could be contained in an England-only bill, yet in practice affect Scotland; and be fairly wanted by Scottish MPs yet unfairly rejected by English ones. I doubt there is any such policy.

    The only semblance of a case I can imagine is based on the idea that *every* new English bill on a spending service would increase the Scottish Parliament’s budget, that Scottish MPs can respectably support such bills simply because of Barnett consequentals, and that therefore an English veto is a sort of unfair notional Scottish pre-emptive “cut”. That’d make a kind of sense if the Barnett formula really did work like that, but I’m not convinced it does. I think most public spending is planned in advance, so that it’s only a minority of English bills that have true Barnett consequentials.

    If I’m wrong, then you wonder why the SNP made it a point of principle, until recently, not to vote on English matters. They’ve changed their mind only because they now think they can make trouble.

  2. Carl

    Thanks for the detailed dissection. I’ll not go through your comments one by one but will be briefer. I hope we are not too far away, though I fear we will probably not convince the other! I do agree that all MPs will have more than one chance to say yeaUntitled.png or nay – it’s just that some have more than others.

    1. I agree this may well be political trouble-making by the SNP whose long-ish recent position has been either to abstain or not get involved with purely English legislation. Pete Wishart confirmed as much yesterday and that this would have been the SNP position 2015-2020. I offer no view on the rights and wrongs of a volte face, nor generally on the normative rights and wrongs of creating a parallel legislative process to reflect the different sites of legislative authority.

    2. My aim in writing the blog was much simpler – to take up your challenge of providing a concrete example trying to show how this was taking away voting rights from Scottish MPs following your tweet yesterday:

    “But the plan takes no voting rights away from Scottish MPs at all. ”

    3. This I think the blog does. I don’t see the need to set out what type of Health Bill it is, nor why the Lib Dems may object (or may support it). However, it seems to me self-evident that if the Bill were (and the blog assumes this) a Labour Bill to eliminate the internal market in the NHS, then English (Labour) MPs would support it and English (Tory) MPs almost certainly object; your response assumes a homogenous rump of English MPs voting always for the good of England, whereas the reality surely is party-affiliation?

    4. Yes, that may well attract LibDem support too, so they, or rather their English MPs, would support the Labour measure meaning on those figures the Bill would not be vetoed…but for my hypothetical example to work, that simply needs some readjustment of the figures (perhaps a LibDem wipeout, with their seats in England evenly distributed between Labour and Conservative)

    5. Yes, I agree it is hard to see why – and on what basis/for what reason – Scottish MPs where there is no consequence for Scotland (so let us remove Barnett and consequentials from the table too here) would feel they wanted to participate in the passage of the Bill, or indeed the legitimacy of their claims to continue to be allowed to do so, but that is not my point.

    6. My point is, and I think the blog ably demonstrates the possibility, that there may be occasion(s) where a Bill is introduced that Scottish MPs (or a majority of them) favour as something good for England (acknowledging your “what’s it to do with them” – my words, not yours – point) and which falls at Grand Committee stage where they are not involved, somewhere where their vote which once would have been crucial in passage is no longer decisive, and indeed can be sidetracked.

    7. In those (rare or not) cases yet to come, I fail to see how this can be seen as anything other than the removal of a right to participate in the legislative process of the House.

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