‘Ball in UK court’ as committee says Scotland Bill is not fit for purpose

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By Martin Kelly
 
The Scotland Bill will not be recommended to the Scottish Parliament after a committee set up to scrutinise its proposals admitted that they could not endorse it in its present form.
 
The committee of SNP(6), Green(1), Labour,(2) Lib Dem(1) and Conservative(1) members issued an official report describing the Bill as “not yet fit for purpose” and urged the UK coalition to re-think ‘damaging’ tax proposals.

The 11 member committee instead voted by 7 to 4 for full devolution of tax powers in order to give the Scottish Parliament greater economic teeth to boost economic growth and jobs. The committee also decided to seek controls over welfare and benefits

Although there was no unanimity over the extent of fiscal powers to be devolved, all members of the committee agreed that control over Crown Estate should be handed to Scotland.

The committee’s convener, Linda Fabiani, said that there were elements of the bill which the “whole committee can welcome”.

She added: “However, overall, we believe that the bill does not go far enough and its provisions, if enacted, represent a significant risk to public finances in Scotland.

“Our report concludes that whilst the bill delivers a very limited amount of financial accountability, it does not deliver what Scotland needs – which is full fiscal autonomy.”

The report also makes clear that the bill must not harm the Scottish economy and that to ensure it does not, the Scottish Parliament should have joint approval over the timing of any tax powers the bill contains.

The SNP responded to today’s report by saying that the Scotland Bill was back in the UK Government’s court.  The party also insisted that the Westminster coalition should return to the respect agenda and reflect on the Holyrood report.
 
Speaking at the report’s launch committee member Stewart Maxwell said:
 
“The ball is now back in the UK Government’s court, and I trust that they will respond positively to this constructive report.  This is their legislation, and they now have an opportunity to act on Michael Moore’s promise to consider its findings ‘with great care’, and giving it ‘due care and attention’.
 
“The UK Government must now decide if it respects the views of this Parliament, and the verdict of the Scottish people in May’s election.”
 
The Committee’s decision to unanimously call for further devolution of the Crown Estate followed remarks yesterday by Michael Moore in which the Lib Dem MP said that the body would remain under the control of Westminster.

Addressing Mr Moore’s comments, Mr Maxwell added:

“ … but today his own party and his Tory partners have joined the SNP, Greens and Labour in calling for further devolution of the Crown Estate.  Michael Moore must reflect long and hard on that.
 
“And this Bill must have real economic teeth.  At present the Scotland Bill contains tax powers that risk doing economic harm instead of bringing economic growth.  When we are working hard to deal with the cuts coming from London, it is the powers to generate growth that we need most.
 
“The Scotland Bill as it stands simply tweaks the edges of devolution.  The people of Scotland and this Parliament have moved on since it was introduced, and it is time for the UK Government to catch up.  The priority now for the UK Government must be considering this Committee’s report and bringing their bill up to the aspirations of the people and parliament of Scotland.”
 
Today Mr Moore promised to carefully consider the report and said: “”The report introduces new issues which are being presented for the first time as potential amendments to the Scotland Bill and for which we have not seen or been given supporting evidence.”

Labour’s James Kelly claimed that demands for more powers risked turning Scotland into a tax haven that would “allow top rate taxpayers to dodge tax”.  The Labour spokesman also claimed that there was no evidence to back the devolution of welfare.

Despite accepting that borrowing powers should have gone further Mr Kelly also said:  “If the SNP throw the baby out with the bathwater and block this powerful package of additional powers, the SNP will be turning down crucial job-creating powers and will be guilty of putting party politics before the interests of the people of Scotland.”

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, who this week claimed that seeking powers beyond the Scotland Bill was “Lib Dem policy”, insisted today that his party supported the bill.