Matching majorities: examining proposals for English Votes for English Laws

Future bills (including finance bills) and secondary legislation introduced to the Commons and certified as being English only will require a double majority before being passed into law, according to plans announced by Leader of the House Chris Grayling this morning. A new system will produce two results: one for all MPs, another just for English MPs.

What impact will these proposals have on the passage of legislation? To what proportion of legislation will they apply – and how many divisions may conclude differently as a result? This blog uses the House of Commons Library’s divisions database (2001 – present) to address these questions using historic data.

Today’s proposals will require the Speaker to certify the geographic extent of future bills. Historically, it is difficult to specify “England only” bills as there are relatively few that unambiguously impact solely upon England. One study of bills from 2010 to November 2014 identified four that extended to England and Wales and had their principal impact in England only.

The side on which the majority of English MPs voted has matched that for the majority of UK MPs for 99% of all divisions (including divisions on matters other than bills) of the House of Commons since 2001. In other words: if a double majority had been required in all divisions since 2001, 99% would have met this criteria.

See the Library briefing papers England, Scotland, Wales: MPs & voting in the House of Commons and The English Question for further analysis.
When the House of Commons votes MPs divide between two groups, the Ayes and the Noes. This is known as a division.  
“English MPs” refers to MPs who represent seats in England. 

How many England-only bills are there?

The future number of bills to which today’s proposals apply will depend on the application of the Speaker’s judgement and on the nature of legislation proposed.

Historically, it is difficult to specify “England only” bills as there are relatively few bills that unambiguously impact solely upon England. Though bills usually include a clause stating their territorial extent – the legal jurisdiction to which they apply – this is not necessarily a statement of the area over which the effects of a bill (or amendments to it) will be felt. See the Library briefing paper The English Question for further discussion of these complexities.

Between 2010 and November 2014 the House of Commons Library identified four major bills whose principal effect was on England alone: the Mobile Homes Act 2013, the Water Industry (Financial Assistance Act 2012, the Academies Act 2010 and the Local Government Act 2010. (This is of all Government Bills, and Private Members Bills, which became law).

How often is the opinion of English MPs overruled by a UK majority?

Analysis of the House of Commons Library’s divisions database shows how English MPs voted in every division since 26 June 2001. This includes roughly 3,800 divisions.

The following chart examines the percentage of times in which the majority of English, Welsh and Scottish MPs has agreed with all UK MPs. Note that this includes all divisions of the House – such as divisions on amendments and procedure, for example, as well as on bills.

Commons majority per country per division compared to UK majority per division 2001-02 to 2014-15

By Parliamentary session
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Source: House of Commons Library divisions database

Under the Labour Government of 2001-05 the majority for English MPs matched with the decision of the UK majority for 99% of divisions; in 2005-10 these majorities matched for 98% of divisions.

Under the Coalition Government of 2010-15 the majority of English MPs matched the majority of UK MPs for 99% of divisions.

In both the 2001-05 and 2005-10 Parliaments the majority of Scottish MPs matched the majority of UK MPs voting for 98% of divisions. The majority of Welsh MPs matched the UK majority for 99% of divisions during both Parliaments.

In the 2010-15 Parliament the majority of Scottish MPs voting matched the majority of UK MPs voting for 26% of occasions. Over the same period, Welsh MPs voting matched the majority of UK MPs for 28% of divisions.

Commons divisions – majority per country compared to UK majorities

% of total divisions
Image 1
Source: House of Commons Library divisions database

The majority of MPs representing Scottish seats opposed the UK majority in 74% of divisions 2010-15; the majority of MPs representing Welsh seats opposed the UK majority in 72% of divisions over the same period.

This reflects the changing composition of Parliament at general elections and the change in government in 2010.

Following the 2005 General Election 55% of all MPs were Labour. This included 54% of English MPs, 73% of Welsh MPs and 68% of Scottish MPs.

Following the 2010 Election 56% of all MPs were either Conservative or Liberal Democrat, including 64% of English MPs, 28% of Welsh MPs and 20% of Scottish MPs.

Following the May 2015 General Election, 51% (330) of UK MPs are Conservative – including 60% (318) of English MPs, 28% (11) of Welsh MPs and 2% (1) of Scottish MPs.

Richard Keen