Betty Boothroyd, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, has launched a stinging critique of the government’s proposals on English votes for English laws, saying it was a “recipe for discord” that threatens to undermine the union and both houses of parliament.
She was one of a number of parliamentary experts in the Lords who raised serious concerns about the proposals, which would give English MPs a veto over laws that relate only to England.
Robin Butler, the former head of the civil service, led calls for a joint committee of both houses of parliament, saying it was a matter of major constitutional reform that should not be rushed.
His calls for greater consideration of the proposals were supported by Boothroyd, along with Michael Forsyth, a Conservative former Scotland secretary, Philip Norton, the Tory peer and world renowned constitutional expert, and Robert Rogers, the former clerk of the House of Commons.
The government has already been forced to delay a vote on its proposals for English votes for English laws until the autumn, because of fears David Cameron did not have enough support to get them through the Commons.
The SNP have condemned the proposals, arguing Scotland’s MPs would be treated as second class members. Labour has also criticised the manner of implementation, saying it has descended into farce.
Norton pointed out potential problems with the legislation, saying the proposals were not in fact English votes for English laws, but an English veto for English laws. He said there might be a case for a constitutional convention or convocation to work out if it fitted in with other parts of the law.
Speaking in a short debate, Boothroyd took particular issue with the government’s decision not to bother with legislation to to implement the changes.
“It is not a run of the mill controversy,” she said. “It is a hybrid form of English devolution new to our constitution and it is being done by bypassing the statute book and amending the standing orders of the House of Commons.
“It simply will not do. The claim is none of this affects the Lords and we can carry on just as we are. Well, we can’t. In a Commons debate, the leader, Mr Chris Grayling, said those with long experience of the workings of this House, including members of the other place who have worked in positions of authority in this one, are all united in the view that standing orders is the right way to proceed. Mr Grayling must have misplaced my telephone number.
“Magna Carta gave us the right to oppose the arbitrary exercise of power, and we must not shirk in our responsibility. If we fail, we say goodbye to our bicameral parliament and undermine the union.”
She also said it was the “worst possible idea” to give the Speaker the right to determine which bits of legislation are English-only or English- and Welsh-only.
Forsyth said there was danger the proposals could end “up playing into the hands of the nationalists, fragmenting the union and ruining the United Kingdom parliament”.
Rogers, who left his role as clerk of the Commons last year, said there were a number of possible hazards and he “thoroughly agreed” with the idea of a joint committee.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 16th July 2015 18.15 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010