Westminster issues Bill to boost Scots powers

22 Jan 15
Draft legislation to increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament, including retention of income tax receipts, has been published by Westminster today.

By Richard Johnstone | 22 January 2015

Draft legislation to increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament, including retention of income tax receipts, has been published by Westminster today.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael published the command paper to implement the proposals put forward by the cross-party Smith Commission. It includes power over benefits relating to devolved areas such as Housing Benefit and disability benefits.

The Smith Commission was formed after unionist parties promised to set out plans for more powers if Scotland voted no in last year’s independence referendum, and Carmichael said the new settlement was ‘built to last’.

He added: ‘The UK government has kept its end of this historic bargain and delivered the next chapter in devolution for Scotland. For the first time, it has backing across the political spectrum with all of Scotland’s main parties committed to the package of new powers for Scotland.
‘It also strikes the right balance of powers for Scotland as part of the UK. That is what the majority of people want to see and these new powers will create a stronger Scotland and a stronger UK.’

During the independence campaign, the pro-union parties pledged to publish the command paper before Burns Night on January 25. However, there is not time before May’s election to pass the legislation, so it will fall to the next government to implement it.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander added that the legislation would make the Scottish Government one of the most powerful devolved administrations among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries.

‘The next steps are clear: the Scottish Government and Parliament will soon have these powers, and it needs to ensure that it implements them in a way that works for Scotland, including by looking at further devolution within the country, as recommended by Lord Smith,’ he said.

‘Devolution doesn’t just mean the flow of powers from one parliament to another. Devolution is about empowering our regions and our communities across Scotland and the UK.’

Responding to the announcement, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the clauses would still give Westminster a veto over key areas of policy, including Holyrood’s ability to abolish the so-called bedroom tax.

She said that this was needed to meet the spirit and the content of the agreement set out by Lord Smith.

‘The legislation published today does not represent the views of the Scottish Government, but it does represent some progress. However, too much of what the prime minister has set out imposes restrictions on the recommended devolved powers and would hand a veto to UK ministers in key areas.

‘For example, the proposals on welfare do not allow us to vary Universal Credit without the permission of the UK Government. That means – under the current proposals – we will not have the independence to take action to abolish the bedroom tax.

‘At the same time, the power argued for by stakeholders to create new benefit entitlements in any devolved area has simply not been delivered, while the command paper makes clear that, pending devolution of disability support, the roll-out of personal independence payments and the cut to spending on disability benefits will continue.’

Sturgeon said that the command paper indicated that the proposed additional capital borrowing powers for Holyrood would be offset by a reduction in capital grant, and not in addition to them.

‘We remain committed to this process, despite the difficulties we have experienced in getting information in a timely fashion and we will continue to work with the UK Government and other stakeholders to ensure that the changes are made ahead of the bill being taken through Westminster.’


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