EVEL may help set the course for Cameron’s time in office, according to experts at QMUL

The government’s announcement on English Votes for English Laws, while seemingly cautious, “may help set the course for David Cameron’s time in office”, according to Michael Kenny, professor of politics and constitutional expert at Queen Mary University of London.

2 July 2015

“Today Cameron became the first Prime Minister in over a century to try and settle the English question. The government’s cautious foray into this constitutional quagmire reflects a growing sense of injured English identity – something about which all parties in England are acutely conscious and politically nervous. The quandary for the government is this: can the increasingly vocal concerns of the English be assuaged without inciting further territorial conflict in the UK?” said Professor Kenny.

On the actual proposals Professor Kenny, who is leading a major research project on EVEL with the Centre on Constitutional Change, said:

“The government’s proposals are intended to address a longstanding constitutional anomaly which has been accentuated by the provision of devolution to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. At present, for example, Scottish education policy is devolved to Holyrood, voted on by Scottish MSPs only, whereas the equivalent English education policy is set at Westminster and is open to MPs from across the UK. This change to Commons procedures would give English MPs more transparent rights over issues that primarily affect England. The introduction of Consent Motions for such Bills represents an important constitutional innovation, signalling that representatives of the English have a right to veto proposals emanating from a UK government.”  

Professor Kenny continued: “Reforms of this kind are bound to be complex and politically fraught. At a point when the Union is already under great strain, government needs to do its utmost to create a wider consensus for these changes and explain that they do not represent a first step towards an English parliament. It is important to note that the government has decided against proposals that would deny the right of all MPs to vote at the key parliamentary stages, and this will disappoint some of its own backbenchers".

Daniel Gover, EVEL researcher based at Queen Mary University of London said: “One of the most controversial aspects of how the scheme works in practice will concern the criteria for judging whether legislation exclusively affects England, or England and Wales.”

“One challenge here is that, as the independent McKay Commission observed in its report in 2013, decisions that appear to affect only one part of the UK can in fact have ‘spillover’ effects into other parts. The most high-profile example relates to funding arrangements, given that spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is adjusted by reference to spending in England through the Barnett formula. 

"For this reason, some will argue that MPs representing constituencies outside England have a direct interest in voting on some legislation that appears to apply only to England. Finding a way through these conflicts towards a position that satisfies the demands of many in England, without generating major territorial conflicts, is unlikely to be straightforward.”