The English Question

The independence referendum result was hardly in, and David Cameron’s first reaction was to link greater powers for the Scottish Parliament to a solution to the West Lothian question or English votes for English laws (EVEL) as it seems to be now phrased as. He did it again last week following the launch of the Smith Commission.

But what exactly are these English laws that Scottish MPs shouldn’t be allowed to vote on?

Screenshot 2014-12-01 at 11.03.40

It was a good question, and one that I put to my local MSP. It was passed onto a researcher in the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) and from there onto a researcher in the House of Commons Library. The House of Commons Library have been asked a lot about this , and fortunately they’ve produced the following paper on the “English Question”:

http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN07027/the-english-question

and

http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN07027.pdf

This paper finds four bills in this UK Parliament (ie since May 2010) that might be seen as “England-only” in terms of their legislative reach. These are:
  • The Academies Act 2010 which extends only to England and Wales, and creates arrangements only in England;
  • The Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 which extends only to England and Wales, and creates arrangements only in England;
  • The Local Government Act 2010 which extends only to England and Wales. Its effect was in England, and in practice it was restricted to certain areas of England only since it stopped the proposed restructuring of councils in Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk; and
  • The Mobile Homes Act 2013 which was a Private Members’ Bill which became an Act. It extends only to England and Wales, and in Wales it made no changes to the law. Its substantive provisions are all couched in terms of “In England such-and-such shall happen”.

and that’s all folks; four in four years.

However, even these four are not completely clear cut and potentially open to debate. For example, in relation to the Academies Act 2010, an MP in a constituency near the border might argue that their own school leavers are impacted by the academy school leaves who are competing in the same local job market (Carlisle and Dumfries springs to mind)

Also, two of the four Bills listed above create the potential for Government costs, which could impact on the size of the Scottish block grant coming through the Barnett formula.

The Water Act describes financial assistance that the Secretary of State may give to an English water or sewerage company in order to reduce charges to customers. It is an amendment of Part 5 of the Water Industry Act 1991, which envisages financial assistance, so it appears to be a modification of an existing regime. The assistance can be in any form, but in particular can be a grant, a loan or a guarantee.

The Academies Act allows the Secretary of State to enter into academy arrangements with whoever is going to run the school. Under s1(2) – (4) this may be by an agreement or by financial assistance. I think this distinction is technical: they each relate to money being given to a school that complies with the terms set out in the Act. Money under an agreement is per this Act, money as financial assistance is per the Education Act 2002. In respect of capital funding, there can also be provision for the money to be paid back, so it becomes effectively a loan. But either way, it comes from the UK Government spending.

Now given that education and water are both devolved to the Scottish Government, these two Acts at least have the potential to have implications for the size of the Scottish block in the future.

So, see when I said four it wisnae really four; it’s actually only two clear cut English laws in this parliament.

And so there it is. Future devolution to the Scottish Parliament could be placed on hold until Westminster works out a way to stop Scottish MPs voting on restructuring Councils in southern England (don’t remember that cropping up during the indyref but mibby I wasn’t paying enough attention). And of course who will ever forgot that critical speech by Gordon Brown in the final days of the referendum on that issue that lies at the heart of the matter: how often caravan parks in England are inspected.

 

References & Credits

Thanks to Colin and Ross for providing this information

The opening paragraph is almost poached from ‘Editorial’, The National, Monday December 1, 2014, p.24

TM4974 : Camping and caravan site, Walberswick, by Evelyn Simak, geograph, http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2077312, accessed 04/12/14, CC-BY-SA 2.0

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