Tommy McAvoy on the Scotland Bill as it concludes its debates in the House of Lords
Today sees Peers debate the Third Reading of the Scotland Bill following which it will return to the Commons, giving MPs a final opportunity to consider changes made in the Lords. Although largely minor and technical, these have been necessary in order to clarify the Bill’s intent. The detailed exploration and debate, particularly on the constitutional and financial implications, has been unparalleled.
It has also forced all sides, ourselves included, to refine our arguments. Colleagues who took part in the debates never shied away from forcibly advocating their views, while proving when necessary to be flexible and adaptable. Striking such a balance has helped get the Bill into its current shape. In addition, the work of Robert Smith, Lord Smith of Kelvin and the Economic Affairs Committee have helped focus our discussions on the Fiscal Framework – illustrating how the Lords has contributed to the process of devolution.
We have come a long way since last year when the Bill first entered the Commons when it failed to fulfill the commitments made to the Scottish people. But following tireless efforts from parliamentary colleagues, the government accepted our arguments and we can now say with certainty that the Smith Commission agreements have been delivered in full.
Scotland will have the most powerful devolved parliament in the world – its permanency beyond doubt – with the ability to raise half of all its own expenditure. And on social security, we pushed to ensure that Scotland has the powers it needs to design a new system, with the ability to create new benefits. It is a huge achievement and also a huge opportunity.
Following the passage of the Legislative Consent Motion in the Scottish Parliament last week, we now move into a new phase in the devolution settlement. From discussions to implementation, thoughts to deeds, and words to action. Standing at this juncture however, it is important to reflect on what has gone before and to identify what we can learn from our collective experiences. In particular, on the transparency and accountability of future inter-governmental relations.
The outcome of the Fiscal Framework negotiations were welcome but the process leading up to it left much to be desired. Over the coming five years, before the next round of financial talks, we must consider ways to conduct more effective engagement with public and parliaments alike. It is also encouraging that Ministers accepted John McFall’s suggestion to deliver annual reports on the progress of the Framework and devolution in general. But this measure needs to be part of a solution to improve inter-governmentalism between the UK and Scottish governments.
Our attention now must turn to how we can put these new powers into practice. If the same level of commitment displayed during the progress of this Bill can be funneled into the process of making Scotland a fairer, more equally society then I’m certain the results will speak for themselves. That is the Labour Party’s mission, and once this Bill receives Royal Assent that will then become possible.
Lord Tommy McAvoy of Rutherglen is Shadow Minister for Scotland in the House of Lords
Published 21st March 2016