The House of Commons Order Paper for Thursday 29 October contained a paragraph written in small font that ushered in a brand new era in British politics.
Underneath the listing for the Second Reading of the Housing and Planning Bill it was noted that the Speaker had certified certain clauses in the Bill as applying to England or England and Wales only. This was the first time that the new English Votes for English Laws had come into play.
The new rules dictate that the Speaker must certify all Bills and determine whether the whole Bill or part of the Bill applies to England and Wales only and is within “devolved legislative competence”.
English “legislative competence” is defined as covering any area of policy that is devolved to any of the other devolved nations – meaning that greater devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also grants English MPs more powers.
The process of certification is relatively opaque, given that the Speaker is instructed under law not to explain his decisions and is only allowed to consult two members of the Panel of Chairs, appointed by the Committee of Selection, in order to make his decision.
Furthermore, while considering whether to classify whether an entire Bill affects England only the Speaker is instructed not to consider clauses which would have only a “minor or consequential” impact on other nations. The precise definition of “minor or technical”, however, is entirely within the Speaker’s purview.
The Speaker must then re-certify all Bills following Report Stage to consider whether any changes have been made which affect the certification of the Bill, or if amendments have been made to portions that had previously been certified as England or England and Wales only.
In terms of the progress of a Bill, those Bills that are England only will have Committees composed entirely of English MPs and will reflect the party balance among English MPs. All other Bill stages, up to and including Report Stage, would include the whole House.
If no changes are made to the Bill in Report Stage, then it would continue as usual to Third Reading as usual. However, if changes are made to the Bill then the Legislative Grand Committee procedures that apply to Bills that only contain provisions relating specifically to England or England and Wales would follow.
This second variety of Bill would continue as it does not until Report Stage, after which Legislative Grand Committees would form depending on how the measures contained are certified.
In the case of the Housing Bill, for instance, two Legislative Grand Committees will form as some measures have been designated as affecting England and Wales only and some affect only England. It is possible to also have a third Committee for measures that affect England, Wales and Northern Ireland, although it is currently expected that this would be rare.
There will then be one debate for all of the Grand Committees, at the end of which the Grand Committees will separately vote for the relevant measures. Although they cannot introduce new clauses or make amendments, the Committees have the power to veto the relevant portions.
Clauses under dispute would then return to the whole House in what is known as Reconsideration Stage, where amendments could be made in order to achieve a compromise.
A Second Legislative Grand Committee Stage would then allow English MPs to consider the new amendments. If they reject the measures again, then the Bill will proceed without them.
In the proceeding Consequential Amendments Stage, the Government can introduce amendments to make the Bill workable in light of the changes that have been made by the Legislative Grand Committees.
Finally, the Bill will proceed to Third Reading and to the Lords.
EVEL measures will also be important in the consideration of Lords Amendments, and any amendments made by the Lords to portions of Bills or Bills that apply only to England will be subject to a double majority of both the whole House and English MPs.
Similarly, statutory instruments will also require a double majority if they are certified by the Speaker as affecting only England. Finance Bills will see similar procedures, but with additional safeguards for measures affecting devolved nations.
While the exact practical implications of this new system remain unclear, it is certainly clear that the legislative system has now become rather more complex.
However, for the Prime Minister and the Government, their numerical advantage in England means that these measures could help them advance their agenda further and with rather more ease than they could with a united Commons.
Madhav Bakshi is a Political Analyst within DeHavilland’s Editorial Team and leads on Energy policy. He is a graduate of King’s College London, where he studied International Politics.