Skip to main content
Civil Service

English Votes for English Laws

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Leaders
Richard Heaton, Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary and First Parliamentary Counsel
Richard Heaton, Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary and First Parliamentary Counsel

Legislating is frequently at the heart of what we do, as civil servants working in a democracy.

New laws are very often (but not always) needed to turn policy ideas into reality. And civil servants play an important role in designing, preparing, publicising, implementing and enforcing legislation. So, we need to be expert in making good laws.

The Government has just announced its plans for ‘English Votes for English Laws’ which, subject to approval by the House of Commons, will change the way in which Parliament looks at Bills and secondary legislation. The proposals would be implemented through changes to the internal rules of the House of Commons – the Standing Orders. They will affect how we plan for and design legislation, and how we help ministers take it through Parliament.

So, English Votes for English Laws is something all of us working on legislation will need to master – and quickly.

How will it work?

Photo of the Houses of ParliamentThe proposed new procedure will work like this.

The first new principle is that there will be a double veto in the House of Commons.

Legislation affecting England (or England and Wales), on a matter that is devolved elsewhere, can only pass if it is approved by both the whole House and by MPs representing constituencies in England or England and Wales.

Whether these tests apply to any particular piece of legislation will be a question for the Speaker to decide.

To allow for the double veto, an extra stage will be added to the familiar legislative process, after Report stage and before Third Reading. And for England-only Bills, the committee stage will be only for MPs representing English constituencies.

Note that the new rules apply not just to whole Bills, but to provisions within Bills. So, English MPs will have an opportunity to give or withhold approval to any England-only clause in a bigger Bill that may have broader application. If they don’t approve the clause, it will be removed from the Bill.

There are similar proposals for secondary legislation. Statutory instruments that entirely relate to England, or England and Wales, will be subject to a new process. Again, MPs for those constituencies will be able to give or withhold their approval.

Procedure in the House of Lords is unchanged. And legislation that is entirely UK-wide will proceed through both Houses exactly as now.

A fuller explanation of the new process can be found here. Subject to approval of the proposals by the House of Commons, the Cabinet Office will circulate guidance to departments.

What does this mean for us?

The Cabinet Office will be working closely with teams that will be most directly affected by the proposals, to ensure they fully understand what’s involved. We will run workshops for policy and legal professionals, and for Bill teams. We will update learning material available through Civil Service Learning. Please take time to become familiar with the new process.

Anyone working on legislation that has been, or is about to be, introduced into the Commons should already have been contacted. But if you have any concerns or questions, please speak to the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Secretariat in the Cabinet Office for primary legislation, or the Statutory Instrument Hub (also in the Cabinet Office) for secondary legislation.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by John Taylor posted on

    Has anybody thought about the costs of all these additional layers of government being purported above.
    English votes for English Laws is a simple enough concept if left as originally propsed.

  2. Comment by Ciaran O'Sullivan posted on

    Couldn't this all be achieved in a much neater way if we agreed to a more federal model with each state incharge of its own devolved matters and a federal body for matters involving the whole UK. This feels like a slap-dash measure that is only a stop gap until a real solution is formed.

  3. Comment by George Jeffreys posted on

    it's about time Britain as a whole put together some sort of decent constitution, like every other country in the world does. So far any 'reform' has procceded by dribs and drabs (Scotland will run its own Income tax and company tax, Wales will run its own land tax; Manchester and Cornwall will run their own health services). We're bound to make a pig's ear of it!
    What is need is a bold initiative on decentralisation as in Germany with its Lande and Free Cities or Switzerland (what about English cantons?) or USA's emphasis on states' rights. Also bare in mind many other federated countries eg. Spain, Canada, Australia, India, South Africa, Nigeria.
    Though i wouldn't ever want to prescribe how others should run their country, I would propose, at a basic level; declaring what are demarcated as a national (defence, overall economic policy) and local issues- to be decided by Regional parliaments (suggestion put an English Parliament at Manchester, independence from Westminster/Whitehall being the real issue rather than Scotland vs England), decentralise further to City, Municipality and Parish; replace the Lords (appointed by patronage) with a National Senate elected by the regions to provide checks and balances, link this into a British Bill of Rights, introduce a good cgernance clasue to allow local and regional governments to take over functions if they have a proven capacity and the resources to do so, seperate church and state and uphold the rights of all religions and cultures and introduce a charter to protect regional diversity thus ending the democratic defecit whereby some regions have more say than others.
    There are many historic examples we can quote and learn from; USA introduced a system of checks and balances (Congress, president, Senate, Supreme court, constitution, state governments) to prevent domination by a tyrant and it seems to work, South africa designed a post-aparthied system to deliver justice to the majority and protection for the minorities (they wrote a constituion in Plaln English, not legalise, so ordinary folks could understand it). We just need imagination. After all, we gave constitutions to all our ex-colonies.
    Of course, locally controlled and provided services will require local offices employing local people with local knowledge- good governance.

    • Replies to George Jeffreys>

      Comment by Michael posted on

      "local offices employing local people with local knowledge - good governance". If this is what EVEL is going to entail - bring it on! Since I joined the CS my large home town has lost its DSS and (then) MAFF office, HMP, Army Div and Regional Brigade HQ. I now work in a larger town over 20 miles away.

  4. Comment by Myles Cochrane posted on

    Having a look at the some comments, I feel this needs to be broken down a bit:

    What is EVEL?
    In short EVEL is being put in place to stop Devolved areas voting on matters that Affect England and Wales only.
    This was first raised after the Independence Referendum in Scotland, as the promise of more powers would be devolved under the Smith Commision.
    This means Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be able to affect laws/bills that are England/Wales only.

    The Current matters that are designated (at time of writing) as follows are:
    a) England Only - Education
    b) England and Wales Only - Local Government Finance, Charities, Local Government, Police (Detention and Bail), Sunday Trading, Water Industry, Defamation, Mental Health, Criminal Justice and Courts, Local Audit and Accountability, Rehabilitation and Modern Slavery
    Some may perceive these issues affect Scotland and Northern Ireland, but the bill is still in its early stages. There is due to be another debate on this in the House of Commons.

    I have tried to keep the party politics out of this one as there is a lot of disagreement on these matters at the moment.

  5. Comment by Brendan Berry posted on

    I don't see the fuss over this.

    Just like the Scottish parliament would be fuming if English MP's tried to interfere in Scottish-only issues, why do they feel it okay to interfere in English-only matters?

    The perfect example of this was when Tony Blair relied on Scottish MP's voting in favour of University Fees DESPITE Scottish MP's making Scottish students exempt from payment, thus not caring if their votes ensured everyone else in the UK paid, as long as Scottish people didn't.

    So, putting aside the party politics, I feel the time is long overdue that each region independently votes on what applies to them only, whilst retaining national votes for national issues.

    • Replies to Brendan Berry>

      Comment by Myles Cochrane posted on

      Hi Brendan,
      Little bit of info of what’s going on at the moment.
      At current there are very few Scottish-Only matters devolved, and the Scotland bill is going through parliament. This is being discussed with English and Scottish MP’s. So they are dealing with Scottish-Only affairs already
      As a rule, the current Scotland Govt., have never voted on English-only matters and the EVEL Bill is kind of a reinforcement for that.
      As for The University fees, I don’t condone what they did, can see why though as they were part of a UK party at the time. In my view that wasn’t right. The reason Scotland doesn’t pay those fees as it is already recouped in tax as Scotland pays a higher amount of tax per head (over the entire population), and this pays for the Bedroom Tax, Education & Healthcare Fees. Saying that there is only 1 WM MP for Labour in Scotland now, you’ll be glad to hear. 

      Totally agree with you on that each region should vote on what affects them. In my eyes, local governments deal with local issues much faster. Which is a good thing!

      • Replies to Myles Cochrane>

        Comment by Brendan Berry posted on

        Hi Myles,

        Thanks for that clarification and yes, I agree that local matters should be dealt with and agreed by "locals". Whether we ever see that I doubt, but going back to the Scottish subject just once more.... I accept that at present there are few powers totally controlled by or devolved to the Scots, but I find it inappropraite that they complain about English votes for English matters when, in truth, they are seeking as much of that as possible for Scotland. Surely what is good for the Goose, is good for the Gander?

        • Replies to Brendan Berry>

          Comment by Myles Cochrane posted on

          The way I see it I dont think its a case of they want to vote on English laws, just things that affect Scotland. From what I have been reading its matters that do affect Scotland that MP's have been crowing about. Which is fair enough really. They can't really represent their electorate if they cannot have a say on matters that affect them. As far as I know its all Quid Pro Quo though, many things that affect either Scotland or England will have a knock on affect.
          Saying that, why not have a SVSL or NIVNIL? Why limit it? We live in a democracy and it should only be fair that the whole of the UK be fairly represented 🙂 You're right though, it should work both ways.
          Just my opinion. George hit the nail right on the head with his comments.

  6. Comment by Jeremy McKenzie posted on

    So does this affect private members bills or 10 minute rule bills, all of which can be "England" only or not?
    If there is legislation that affects England & Wales then you could have the situation were every Welsh MP votes against the measure yet it can still be imposed by an English majority. You only have to look back at a certain bill promoted by Liverpool in the 1960's to see the problems that can arise.
    The final problem is funding, a measure may appear to impact only on England but it can have direct affects for the funding settlement to all the devolved administrations, so what is the definition of an England only law? If the Speaker gets it wrong does that open the law to challenge in the courts.

  7. Comment by Calum Proctor posted on

    My understanding is that it is not being passed as a 'new law', but as an amendment to standing orders.

  8. Comment by Ken Rennoldson posted on

    Is this really called "English votes for English laws"? What about Wales? I know the article makes it clear it covers Wales as well but England/English is being used to encompass Wales/Welsh as well, with the implication that Wales doesn't matter...

  9. Comment by Andy Gibbons posted on

    I would like Northern England laws for Northern England. We're poles apart from Southern England.

  10. Comment by Gaby Perrott posted on

    Thanks Richard - very useful. Looking forward to you (re)joining us in MoJ soon!

  11. Comment by J King posted on

    So is this not just Scottish Independence by another name? Or the Government annexing Scotland just because they didn't vote for them?