How might the hung Parliament result impact on ‘English votes for English laws’ (EVEL)?
What is EVEL?
On 22 October 2015, the House of Commons approved Standing Order changes that introduced EVEL. In simple terms, the EVEL process allows MPs who represent a certain part of the UK to veto certain legislation that only applies in their part of the UK.
Although the name EVEL suggests this is only a process for English MPs, there are actually three EVEL ‘constituencies’:
– England and Wales
– England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Whilst a governing party or coalition may have a majority of seats at a UK level, the introduction of EVEL means that without a corresponding majority in the relevant ‘constituencies’, they may find that certain aspects of their legislative agenda can be blocked. Votes on relevant legislation require approval of both the UK Parliament as a whole, and of the relevant EVEL constituencies, in order to pass.
What does this mean for the forthcoming Parliament?
The 2017 General Election resulted in a hung Parliament, with no party able to command a majority by themselves. The Conservatives were the largest party, with 317 seats (excluding the Speaker), 9 short of the 326 required for a majority.
Although the Conservatives did not win a majority at UK level, they did win enough seats to form a majority in all three EVEL ‘constituencies’. This is largely due to Scotland’s absence from these constituencies, where the Conservatives hold only 22% of the 59 seats.
This could have implications in this Parliament, if for example there are instances where all other parties wish to put forward amendments to Conservative-supported legislation that applies only in EVEL constituencies. In these circumstances, although the Commons as a whole may support particular amendments, the Conservative Party could block these through their EVEL majorities.
In addition, Conservative-supported legislation in EVEL constituencies could also be blocked by the other parties. For example, the Conservative Party could theoretically be blocked from passing legislation on education in England, if all the other parties chose to vote against it at a UK level. This is despite the fact that education is devolved to the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly.
In the previous Parliament, the SNP suggested that it may vote against plans to introduce grammar schools and fox hunting, despite the votes only applying to England. If all the parties combine against the Conservatives in this Parliament, they could find their legislative agenda in England, England & Wales and England, Wales & Northern Ireland blocked, despite there being an overall Conservative majority in these EVEL constituencies.
What is the make-up of each EVEL constituency?
There are 533 English MPs, and therefore a majority requires 267. The 2017 General Election returned 296 Conservative MPs in England, giving the party a notional majority of 60 (excluding the Speaker, who does not vote).
England and Wales
There are 573 English and Welsh MPs, and therefore a majority requires 287. The 2017 General Election returned 304 Conservative MPs in England and Wales, giving the party a notional majority of 36 (excluding the Speaker).
The Conservative working majority in England and in England and Wales is likely to be one larger. This is because two of the Deputy Speakers, who do not vote, are likely to be Labour MPs, with only one from the Conservative Party. However, this will be dependent on which nations are represented by the Deputy Speakers.
England, Wales and Northern Ireland
There are 591 English, Welsh and Northern Irish (EWNI) MPs, and therefore a notional majority requires 296. The 2017 General Election returned 304 Conservative MPs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, giving the party a majority of 18 (excluding the Speaker).
In practice, the Conservative working majority in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be larger. Sinn Féin MPs will most likely not take their 7 seats at Westminster, meaning there will only be 584 sitting EWNI MPs. Additionally, the 10 DUP MPs are currently negotiating a confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservatives, meaning they may often vote on the same side.
The possibility of England, Wales and Northern Ireland EVEL votes is limited to financial resolutions and Finance Bills, following the partial devolution of income tax setting powers to Scotland.
The total distribution of seats won by EVEL constituency is set out below:
This post is a very simplified explanation of a complex process. More detailed information can be found in our paper, English votes for English laws.
Picture credit: House of Commons Chamber by UK Parliament – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)