Standing Orders (Public Business) [22 October 2015]

The Leader of the House said in July 2015 that EVEL would ensure that English MPs had their voice recognised within the Union.

The perceived grievance that somehow MPs from outside England pose an insidious influence on English affairs is totally incorrect. If MPs in England want a particular piece of legislation, they have the numbers to ensure that it progresses. With 533 of the 650 Members, English votes already have the capability to win every single time.

House of Commons Library research shows that between 2010 and 2015, the majority votes of English MPs matched the majority votes of the UK as a whole in 99% of Divisions. Yet the UK Government are pressing ahead with a major constitutional change that will fundamentally change the relationship between this House, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It is next to impossible to identify all the knock-on effects of EVEL on Scotland. One piece of legislation does not lead to one direct outcome: legislation is non-linear. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said it best when he gave evidence to the Procedure Committee last month. He told it that, in taking forward EVEL proposals, the Leader of the House was using

“The most massive sledgehammer to crush the tiniest of nuts.”

The UK Government have indicated that EVEL is primarily an issue of fairness, and I fully concur that fairness should be a central principle in debating any constitutional change.

I believe, for example, that it is fair for Scotland’s decision on our membership of the European Union to be respected and that under no circumstances should we be dragged out of the EU without the consent of the people of Scotland. Scotland should also have a fair say on UK national infrastructure projects, such as the expansion of Heathrow airport. Despite Scotland’s financial contribution to such projects, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) stated that it could be deemed an English-only issue. Heathrow is an important issue to Scotland, yet our voice could be greatly weakened in the debate. Constitutional fairness should apply equally to all parts of the UK and it is worth remembering that the current UK Government did not receive an electoral mandate from the people of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

I hope that the concerns raised by SNP Members are not misconstrued. Indeed, we fully support the rights of our friends and neighbours in England to a more representative and vibrant democracy. The independence referendum campaign made Scotland the most exciting and politically engaged part of the UK, and we believe that people in England could also benefit from greater control over the issues that affect their lives and from a Parliament that is more responsive to their needs. However, the Government should not increase the rights of one group of people by decreasing the rights of others.

Ultimately, the proposals will only hasten Scottish independence, and for that I am truly grateful. EVEL is ill conceived. It will unnecessarily politicise the Speaker, and for that reason alone it should be rejected. In the meantime, I cannot argue in favour of a proposal that would decrease Scotland’s voice in this place and I hope that the proposals will be abandoned. I urge the Government to use this opportunity to move the UK towards a genuine, federal system of government, instead of the piecemeal and inadequate constitutional measures we have seen thus far. I say to the people of England: you are not too wee, you are not too poor—and on that I shall leave it.