Westminster committee raises concerns draft Scotland bill does not meet Smith brief and falls short of credibility

The draft clauses of a new Scotland bill have been criticised by a House of Commons committee as not meeting the Smith Commission brief, lacking credibility and being a “bit of a guddle”.

The political and constitutional reform committee said the draft clauses for legislation intended to transfer additional powers from the UK parliament to Holyrood fell well short of being credible.

The committee also raised concerns the draft clauses did not even meet theSmith Commission brief and noted a “legally vacuous” and “potentially contradictory” commitment to make the Scottish parliament a permanent institution in law given as this would contradict the principle that the UK parliament is the UK’s supreme legislative authority.

However, it noted such a commitment did “constitute a further political (if not a legal) obstacle to any attempted abolition of those institutions” making the abolition of the parliament “inconceivable”.

The committee also raised concerns about the speed with which the draft legislation was being prepared and said this seemed to be at the expense of considering the implications of the new powers for the rest of the UK.

The report stated: “The timetable for drawing up legislative plans for the devolution of further powers, which all the three main UK parties signed up to during the referendum campaign, can be seen in retrospect to have been somewhat over-ambitious and impractical.

“The result is a set of draft clauses which clearly fall far short of a credible draft bill and require far more work. Some of them are, as we were told by one witness, ‘a bit of a guddle’.”

Stephen Tierney, professor of constitutional theory at the University of Edinburgh (pictured right) said: “The report of the House of Commons political and constitutional reform select committee is the first major review of the proposed draft clauses to be published by a parliamentary committee at either Holyrood or Westminster.

“Its reflections and recommendations raise serious questions about the process behind, and the substance of, the current proposals.

“Clearly a major challenge for any incoming government after 7 May will be how best to effect constitutional change that is in the best interests of Scotland and the wider UK.”

A spokesman for the UK government said it had “delivered the next chapter in devolution for Scotland by publishing draft clauses in January”.

He added: “We welcome this report on the draft clauses by the committee and will consider the points raised.”

Deputy first minister John Swinney (pictured right) said: “We believe that the proposed Scotland Bill should be introduced to Westminster as soon as possible after the UK general election, in line with commitments made to the people of Scotland.

“It is for the UK parliament to then decide arrangements for scrutiny of the bill at Westminster.

“The Scottish government supports some of the committee’s specific recommendations, notably the need for amendments to strengthen the clause concerning the Sewel convention and the added protection that a written constitution would give to the permanence of the Scottish parliament.

“We have also put forward to the UK government a number of proposals to improve the clauses, including the removal of any Westminster vetos.”

Share icon
Share this article: