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Experts Raise Questions About EVEL Proposals

Published: 3 July 2015
Following the announcement of the government's plans for English Votes for English Laws, fellows of the Centre made the following comments.
“EVEL addresses one democratic anomaly, that English citizens have occasionally been governed by parliamentary majorities for which they did not vote, but ignores a bigger one. Under the Westminster electoral system, the majority of citizens are almost always governed by parties for which they did not vote. In 2005, the Labour Party gained an absolute majority on 35 per cent of the vote. It came second in England but won an absolute majority of seats there, so that EVEL would not have helped. This year, the Conservatives gained an absolute majority on 37 per cent of the vote. With proportional representation, all governments would have to seek broader parliamentary support for their policies. If this included an English majority for English policies, that would enhance democracy. EVEL on its own merely tinkers with the system.” 
“Today’s announcement suggests that the government is trying to get across the finishing line without putting in the hard yards at the start of England’s devolutionary journey. Meaningful devolution means thinking about how you draft, deliver and finance legislation; it requires parties to set out plans that actually affect England alone, Whitehall departments to be organised in a manner to deliver those commitments, and a funding system – not the Barnett formula – that allows for that delivery. In short, it needs both government and opposition to think in territorial terms.”  
“One of the key questions raised by these measures is whether they manage to assuage English concerns without bringing new forms of territorial conflict into the heart of the UK’s political system. The government’s proposals are intended to address a longstanding constitutional anomaly which has been accentuated by the provision of devolution to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Reforms of this kind are bound to be complex and politically fraught. At a point when the Union is already under great strain, government needs to do its utmost to create a wider consensus for these changes and explain that they do not represent a first step towards an English parliament.” 
“David Cameron’s decision to greet the No vote in Scotland’s independence referendum by raising the banner of ‘English Votes for English Laws’ was condemned by many as opportunistic. My own view, however, is that the UK Government has little choice but to respond to the very strong sense that undoubtedly exists among English voters that their country is been unfairly treated as result of moves to devolve power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 
“Two key questions now arise. First, whether or not the proposed reforms go far enough to assuage English opinion. Secondly, how will voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respond to the fact that the UK has responded to the complications that the operation of the Barnett Formula causes for the definition of ‘English Laws’ by simply ignoring the whole issue! Thus, arguably, creating a new injustice in place of the one that David Cameron’s government is seeking to address.”

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