MSP IN WARNING OVER SCOTLAND BILL

By Andy Philip, Deputy Political Editor, Press Association Scotland (ScotFile:News special)

A senior MSP has warned that time is running out for the UK Government to win support for its planned changes to Scottish devolution.

Linda Fabiani, convener of Holyrood’s Scotland Bill Committee, said she is “seriously concerned” that no response has been given to any of the
45 recommendations made to the legislation.

The committee, which is dominated by the SNP, published a report on December 15 arguing that the Bill risks damaging the country’s finances and will be opposed unless significant new powers are added.

Ms Fabiani set out her concerns in a letter to Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, a Liberal Democrat MP, arguing that the Bill is entering its final stage at the House of Lords with the end of the Westminster parliamentary year “looming”.

However, the Scotland Office said it is unlikely the Bill will reach its final stages until “well into March”.

Ms Fabiani wrote: “In light of the fact that the Bill is now entering the final revising stages in the House of Lords and that we have heard nothing formal from you in terms of how you will respond to each of the
45 recommendations made by the committee, I am now seriously concerned that you will be unable to lodge the amendments necessary to gain the Scottish Parliament’s legislative consent in time for the Bill to complete its passage before the end of the parliamentary year at Westminster.

“With the end of the parliamentary year looming in April, this provides you with very little time to respond to our report, lodge amendments and for the Scottish Parliament to timetable its debate on legislative consent required under the Sewel convention.”

The Scotland Bill proposes a new Scottish income tax rate, devolution of stamp duty and borrowing powers, among other measures.

Holyrood would be given responsibility for air gun regulations, drink-driving limits and the national speed limit.

But the financial package has proved controversial. The Bill committee, which scrutinised the proposals, split along party lines on some recommendations, with a minority report setting out the opposition’s view.

There was unanimous support for the proposed GBP500 million borrowing cap to be doubled and for air passenger duty to be devolved. The committee also wants wider power to set all speed limits and for control of the Crown Estate.

The SNP and Green Party members of the committee supported calls for control of all income tax bands, saying that the UK Government should pay for the costs of setting up the tax powers. The two parties also want revenues from excise duties on alcohol to be assigned to the Scottish Parliament.

The SNP wants control of corporation tax.

A Scotland Office spokesman said: “UK Government officials have been having discussions with Scottish Government officials about the Scotland Bill and the Scotland Bill Committee’s report. Those discussions will continue, and we will respond to the committee’s recommendations in due course.

“Amendments can be tabled at committee, report or third reading stages in the Lords. We are unlikely to reach the final stages of the Bill in the Lords until well into March.”

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