EVEL Debate In Commons

Controversial plans to create a system of English votes for English laws will be defended by ministers today in a tense debate overshadowed by rows and claims the Government is a "shambles''.

Commons Leader Chris Grayling had hoped to force through major changes to how the Commons scrutinises new laws to ensure an English, or English and Welsh, veto on measures which do not apply in Scotland.

But following an emergency Commons debate last week, coordinated opposition from Labour and the SNP and significant unease on his own benches, Mr Grayling offered a two stage debate which will not finish until at least September.

Today's first debate will be overshadowed by fox hunting after an SNP pledge to vote against Government moves to water down the hunting ban in England and Wales forced the Tories to shelve their plans.

MPs had been due to vote on hunting immediately before the Evel debate but the SNP decision to break its normal rule of not taking part in issues which do not effect Scotland ensured almost certain defeat.

Cancelling the debate yesterday led to chaotic scenes in the Commons as Mr Grayling announced the U-turn in a point of order hours after the news was reported in the media - only to have Speaker John Bercow force the Commons Leader into a 20 minutes question and answer session with MPs on the change.

It provoked Pete Wishart, the SNP's spokesman on Commons business, to tell Mr Grayling: "What an utter and absolute shambles.

"We need these (Evel) plans to be withdrawn from the House, absolutely and totally, they are a complete and utter mess. What you have to bring back is a proper approach to dealing with this, which is a piece of legislation.''

Ahead of the debate, Mr Grayling has published a tweaked version of his Evel proposals, clarifying rules that will allow all MPs to continue voting on the Budget and other financial matters.

Under the plans, a new Commons stage will be introduced for laws passing through Parliament when English, or English and Welsh, MPs will be asked to accept or veto legislation only affecting their constituents before it passes to third reading.

There will be a separate committee stage for English, or English and Welsh, MPs for Bills not affecting Scotland and Northern Ireland, meaning legislation can be amended without the consent of all MPs in the Commons, although there will be further opportunities to overturn any changes.

The Speaker will be responsible for declaring which legislation is English, or English and Welsh, only.

Secondary legislation - such as that which would have implemented the change to fox hunting rules - would still be voted on by all MPs under the current version of the plans.

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