William Hague: How English votes for English laws can work

0
Have your say

IT is only the Conservatives who will ensure fairness for the voters of England and make certain that English MPs can have the final say on laws and decisions that only affect England.

This is a clear dividing line between the parties, that is at the heart of the future of the United Kingdom. Labour have refused to face up to this issue and the more they know any Labour government would have to rely on Scottish Nationalist support, the less willing they are to confront it.

We want to give people more control over their lives – not just in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but in England as well.

That is why on top of more decentralisation and localism in the next Parliament, the completion of the Northern Powerhouse, growth deals and the empowerment of neighbourhoods and parishes in England, a Conservative government would go further to ensure fairness and accountability for the voters of England.

We are making clear that our commitment to fairness for the voters of England will have very rapid effect. We can do that because such fairness will not require legislation. It will need changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and we have now published the changes to the Parliamentary Procedures that would make English Votes for English Laws a reality.

This is not a vague promise to make this change some time in the future, this is a plan ready to be implemented. We will table our proposals within the first hundred days after the General Election. And after consultation with the Procedure Committee of the House of Commons and running a pilot test of the new rules, we will fully implement our plan within the first year of the new Parliament and apply it to the Budget of 2016.

People in all parts of the UK want a bigger say over the way decisions affecting them are made. A new Scotland Bill will be in the first Queen’s Speech of a Conservative Government, and will be introduced in the first session of a new Parliament. We will devolve more powers to the Welsh Assembly, and we will enable devolution to function more effectively in Northern Ireland.

All of these commitments are in our manifesto and we will keep our devolution promises to the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but we are also clear that this cannot be done at the expense of the people of England. Left unchanged, the way in which English laws are made will become steadily less democratic and accountable.

It is no longer fair or just for Scotland to be able to decide its own laws in devolved areas, only for Scottish MPs also to be able to have the potentially decisive say on similar matters which affect only England.

The current situation is manifestly unfair, undemocratic and unsustainable. How could it possibly be right for the Scottish Parliament for example, to vote for a reduction in Air Passenger Duty in Scotland and then for Scottish MPs in Westminster and be able to impose an increase in Air Passenger Duty in England, or to do the same on income tax?

Labour’s view seems to be that this would be perfectly acceptable. And means that this election is a watershed moment for England. A Labour government would be not only intent on raising taxes but under daily pressure from the SNP to ensure the burden of higher taxes would fall disproportionately on England.

Day by day the SNP would be using its leverage in the House of Commons to demand higher taxes, less welfare reform, more debt and weaker defences for the United Kingdom, and they would not shrink from using that leverage on matters that only concerned England.

The only way to prevent that is for a Conservative majority government to be elected at this election. For the next five years the threat of Labour-SNP chaos would be averted. But by putting the right rules in place we would also be able to reduce the risk of such chaos in the future.

Our changes will give an effective veto to English MPs over matters only affecting England, or England and Wales, while maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom Parliament, to prevent the wishes of the English or English and Welsh being overridden by Scottish MPs.

Our policy is built on the fundamental principle, derived from the 2013 McKay Commission Report, that all “decisions at the United Kingdom level with a separate and distinct effect for England, or for England and Wales, should normally be taken only with consent of a majority of MPs for constituencies for England, or for England and Wales”.