UK government publishes draft bill on powers to be devolved to Holyrood

The UK government has published a draft bill detailing the powers to be transferred to the Scottish parliament following the recommendations made by the Smith Commission.

It comprises: constitutional matters, fiscal framework, tax, welfare, public bodies, executive agencies and the crown estate, civil protections and advice, transport and energy.

The draft bill states: “The clauses published here are draft constitutional legislation and will not cause any change in powers at this immediate point.

“These draft clauses will be brought forward as a Bill in the UK Parliament following the General Election in May 2015.”

The first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, criticised the fact that the UK government will hold a veto over a number of the devolved powers.

She said aspects of the legislation represented progress but proposals in areas such as welfare, employment support and capital borrowing appeared to be a “significant watering down” of what was promised by the Smith Commission.

Ms Sturgeon highlighted three key areas that must be addressed immediately by the UK Government if the legislation is to meet the spirit and the content of the agreement set out by Lord Smith:

  • The welfare provisions do not enable the Scottish Parliament to create new benefit entitlements across devolved areas and require the approval of UK ministers for any changes to Universal Credit – including the action needed to end the bedroom tax.
  • Proposals for the full devolution of unemployment support fall well short of what was promised, hampering efforts to address joblessness by devolving only a section of the current support network and leaving important levers in the hands of UK ministers.
  • Scotland would be tied to the UK’s current austerity fiscal framework, and under the plans set out could see capital borrowing powers replace - and not augment - the existing capital grant.
  • She said: “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.

    “The support for unemployed people also falls short of what Lord Smith recommended, with the provisions set out today narrowly focused on existing schemes.

    “And the paper confirms that the Scottish Government will still have to work within the framework of austerity being imposed by the UK Government. It also suggests that Scotland’s capital grant could be replaced by borrowing powers and not augmented by them as was clearly the intention of the Smith proposals.

    “In these crucial areas the clauses set out today appear to be a significant watering down of what was promised by the Smith Commission and need an urgent rethink by the UK government.”

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