THE UK Government today made the next stage of devolution to Scotland one of its top priorities as it became one of the first two bills to be laid before parliament since the election.
Presenting the Bill, Scottish Secretary David Mundell said he hopes to fast track the next stage of devolution so that parties will be able to tell voters how they will use new powers on tax and welfare ahead of next year’s Holyrood election in May.
The Government has moved quickly on day one of the new Parliament to deliver on our commitmentScottish Secretary David Mundell
The first Tory in his post for almost two decades also promised that the Bill will enact the Smith Commission proposals agreed by his party, the SNP, Labour, Lib Dems and the Scottish Greens in the wake of the referendum in full.
He insisted that it meant the Vow made by Prime Minister David Cameron along with former Labour leader Ed Miliband and former Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at the end of the referendum has been delivered.
But the draft bill was met with anger by the Scottish Government who claimed it falls short of the Smith proposals and needs to be amended.
The Bill was laid down the day after Mr Cameron made it clear that he would not go beyond the Smith Commission unless the SNP come up with detailed proposals for further powers.
In the Commons Mr Cameron challenged the SNP saying it was time for the Nationalists to “stop talking and start acting” in using powers rather than just demanding more.
The substantial new powers contained in the Scotland Bill include enabling the Scottish Parliament to set the thresholds and rates of income tax in Scotland and keep all the money raised in Scotland.
The Bill would provide the Scottish Parliament with the first ten percentage points of VAT revenue raised in Scotland.
It will also devolve Air Passenger Duty and the Aggregates Levy to the Scottish Parliament as well as control over £2.5 billion worth of new welfare powers.
Mr Mundell said: “The Government has moved quickly on day one of the new Parliament to deliver on our commitment to make Holyrood one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world.
“Scotland will still hold on to the benefits of being part of the UK that people voted for in the referendum last September.
“Sharing risks and resources with the rest of the UK is good for everyone in the UK when it comes to vital matters such as pensions, currency, trade and national security.”
He added: “This bill will ensure we have the best of both worlds and a strong Scotland within a strong UK.
“The Government intend to prioritise this legislation and have it approved by Parliament so that in the run up to the Scottish Parliament election in May 2016 Scottish voters will be entitled to know what each party intends to do with these extensive new powers.”
However, SNP Deputy First Minister John Swinney highlighted concerns over the Bill including continued vetoes over changes to Universal Credit; restrictions on who the Scottish Government would be able to pay carers benefits to; a failure to devolve the full range of employment support services currently delivered by the Department of Work and Pensions; no explicit power to create new benefits in devolved areas; and missing or restricted powers in areas of consumer protection, energy, and the Crown Estate.
Mr Swinney said: “Less than a fortnight ago, the Prime Minister came to Edinburgh and pledged to the people of Scotland to deliver the Smith Agreement in full. Today, it’s plain to see that promise has been broken.
“Delivering the Smith Commission’s recommendations was the minimum the UK Government had to deliver.
“The Bill’s significant shortfalls will have a detrimental impact on the ability of future Scottish Governments to exercise powers, take distinct policy decisions or deliver reform.”
He added: “The UK Government has published a Scotland Bill which sells Scotland short and doesn’t deliver either the spirit or intent of the Smith Agreement. Its shortcomings must be rectified if it is to be seen as a credible reflection of the Smith Agreement and the UK Government’s commitment to Scotland.”