Peers put brakes on government's plans for English votes for English laws

The government suffered a heavy setback in the House of Lords after peers rejected its plans to establish English votes for English laws (Evel), voting in favour of establishing a committee to examine and further debate its proposals.

On Tuesday, the second chamber overwhelmingly backed a call from the former head of the civil service, Lord Butler of Brockwell, to establish a joint committee of peers and MPs to discuss the plans, which would give MPs from English constituencies a “decisive say” on bills that apply exclusively to England. It is now up to the Commons to decide whether to set up that committee.

The government intends to introduce a new Commons stage for laws passing through parliament, with English MPs asked to accept or veto legislation that only affects England, before it passes to a vote of all UK MPs at the third reading. However, the Lords’ vote means that these plans will now be delayed.

Butler’s motion, which was passed by 320 votes to 139, is a further embarrassment for ministers, who were forced to abandon plans to push through the changes before the summer recess. A vote on whether to go ahead with a set of watered-down proposals has been postponed until at least September.

Butler said he backed a form of Evel to address the longstanding West Lothian question, but that there were better ways of doing it than the government plan. “Surely it is more important to get the proposals right than to rush them through,” he said. “We cannot compel the Commons to set up a joint committee, but what we can do is say we believe this is a matter for parliament as a whole, not a matter just for the House of Commons, and it is best approached by parliament as a whole.”

His motion, backed by Conservative peers including Lord Lawson and Lord Forsyth, called for a joint committee to consider the planned changes to the Commons standing orders and report next year.

Baroness Smith of Basildon described the idea as a “wise and moderate” plan and said Labour did not see the motion as a challenge to the principle of what the government was seeking to achieve. “It is our role as a revising and scrutinising chamber to consider the implications of proposed changes to how we as a parliament operate, and if changes being proposed have any implications for not just how we do business, but whether it impacts negatively on our work,” she said.

Though the government holds a majority in the House of Commons, it does not do so in the House of Lords – the first time this has happened in modern political history. The House of Lords Act 1999 removed the majority of hereditary peers, many of whom were Conservative supporters.

Lords’ Liberal Democrat leader Lord Wallace of Tankerness added: “If these internal workings have important constitutional consequences then I think it is a matter for this House to have regard to.”

Powered by article was written by Nadia Khomami, for on Tuesday 21st July 2015 22.59 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010