Tommy McAvoy explains how Labour Peers are seeking meaningful improvements to the Scotland Bill
Today sees the House of Lords consideration of the Scotland Bill delve into the detail of devolution.
During the first day of Committee, like any classic first act, we undertook a comprehensive exposition of the issues. There is no doubt that, thanks to the work of Labour, the Smith Commission has been delivered, the permanency of the Scottish Parliament has been assured and the devolved legislature in Scotland will become the most powerful in the world. These constitutional arrangements underpin the very fabric of devolution, but what does it all mean in practice?
That’s where we pick things up today, as we address the nuts and bolts of the devolution settlement and focus on the issues which impact people’s daily lives.
As you would expect, there is a lot of ground to cover: from Crown Estates to the British Transport Police, rail franchising to renewable energy. Important questions remain unanswered which we aim to get to the bottom of, but three issues in particular stand out – on equalities, parking on pavements and powers for Licensing Standards Officers (LSOs). Not just because of their substance but also as they exemplify the various ways in which the Lords can bring about improvements to the Bill.
Scotland should have the freedom to do more to tackle entrenched inequality and disadvantage in public services and political life. Our equal opportunities amendment therefore, would devolve legislative competence for the Public Sector Equality Duty; along with giving the Scottish Parliament the necessary powers to introduce gender quotas for candidates standing in parliamentary and local elections. Too many barriers prevent women from reaching their full potential (in Scotland and the wider UK) and Labour wants to make sure the Scottish Parliament has more tools available to start to tackle this problem.
As well as enhancing the current legislation, we will also urge Ministers to rectify anomalies in the government’s plans. Our parking on pavements amendment, drafted in consultation with the brilliant Living Streets Scotland and their CEO Joe Irvin, is just one example of that.
At present, the Scottish Parliament has control over a significant number of transport issues. The Bill extends that scope to include full powers over speed limits and the making of road signs. But we want to ensure that offences, such as parking on pavements, can also be enforced by the Scottish Parliament. Pavement parking is dangerous for pedestrians, especially those with sight loss, wheelchair users and other people with disabilities, as well as parents with pushchairs. People with sight loss are particularly affected, as they can be forced into oncoming traffic. There is agreement to the principle of devolving these powers subject to consensus. Labour believes that such a consensus exists and so we should get on with putting the principle into practice.
It is also important that where powers are being devolved, the Scottish Parliament is given all the resources it needs to manage the additional responsibilities. We must plug those gaps, and that was our motivation for clarifying the role of LSOs. Our amendments would ensure LSOs in Scotland are recognised as authorised persons, addressing concerns that they require greater legal clarity to be confident they have full entry and enforcement powers in licensed gambling premises.
From the outset we have been clear that we want to work constructively to get the best possible deal for the Scottish people and use the Bill’s passage through the Lords to clarify any outstanding issues. All of the above typifies our approach. So, before we move on to the final day in Committee and discuss tax and welfare, Ministers have plenty of explaining to do on a wide array of policy decisions. The devil is very much in the detail.
Lord Tommy McAvoy of Rutherglen is Shadow Scotland Minister in the House of Lords
Published 19th January 2016