COMMONS

EVEL proposals must be piloted, says Committee

19 October 2015

The House of Commons Procedure Committee publishes an interim report on its work on the Government’s proposals for new Standing Orders to implement its policy on English votes for English laws.

Committee’s principal findings

  • The proposals represent substantial change to the House’s practices and procedures on legislation.  They ought to be piloted on statutory instruments and no more than three Bills in the remainder of this Session.
  • The new procedures need not be implemented on every Government Bill and measure.  Where there is a political necessity to demonstrate an England or England and Wales majority on an issue, the whole House should debate and, if necessary, vote on whether the new procedures should be applied.
  • The new procedure ought to be simplified by allowing double-majority votes at Report stage on Bills or elements of Bills applying only to England or England and Wales: only those elements with a majority of votes of Members for both UK, and England or England and Wales, constituencies would pass directly to Third Reading. Legislative grand committees will be required to deal with legislation where the UK and England/England and Wales majorities disagree.
  • All Members should be able to speak in legislative grand committee proceedings in the Chamber of the House.
  • The new procedures must not result in any reduction in time or opportunities for all Members to scrutinise legislation, especially at Report stage.
  • Drafting of legislation intended to apply to England only, or England and Wales only, should be done to enable certification tests to be applied as clearly as possible. Such draft legislation should clearly and unambiguously apply to England or England and Wales and should as far as possible be clearly within the legislative competences of the devolved legislatures.
  • There is a case for the Speaker to establish and publish a protocol for how he will handle any representations made to him about certifying Bills and instruments as England only, or England and Wales only.
  • The Committee of Selection should appoint two members of the Panel of Chairs whom the Speaker may consult when deciding on certification.
  • The Committee will continue to monitor the piloting of the proposals, if they are introduced, and will undertake a technical assessment at the end of the Session.
  • In the light of the proposals, and the less than satisfactory arrangements for the House to consider changes in block grants to the devolved institutions arising from the Barnett formula, the Committee will examine the House’s procedures for approving Government expenditure plans.

Chair's comments

"Our initial review on these major proposals for change found that elements of the proposed procedures were over-engineered and potentially burdensome on the House. The Committee has recommended changes which will give the whole House a say in how it applies these procedures, and will streamline the process required to allow colleagues from constituencies in England or England and Wales to vote on legislation which affects those constituencies only.

Clearly the proposals represent a substantial change to the House's procedures, and they ought to be piloted on statutory instruments, and a small number of Bills, before they are fully implemented.

The Committee looked at the role of the Speaker in the certification process and considered how best he could be protected from being drawn into political argument when exercising his duties. Committee members thought that he should not give reasons for certification decisions to the House, but that he should be left to use his discretion as to how best to discharge the requirements.

The evidence we received demonstrated to us that the Government's policy should be implemented through changes to the House's procedures through Standing Orders, rather than through primary legislation. Legal challenges to the decisions of the Speaker and to the procedures of the House, though unlikely to succeed, cannot be ruled out.
It is important that legislation be drafted as clearly as possible to meet the tests for certifying England-only legislation.

These substantial proposals have thrown up very real concerns about how the House scrutinises the Government's plans to spend public money. The Committee will therefore be reviewing supply procedure as a matter of urgency.

In preparing the report, all members of the Committee made a positive and collaborative contribution. However, at the substantive vote to adopt the report as a Committee report to the House, we were unable to secure the endorsement of the two Committee members from the Scottish National Party."

Further information

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