A round-up of parliamentary business the week beginning 15 September:
As you will know by now, with a whoping 85% turnout, the final results of the Scottish independence referendum were 55% to the No vote and 45% to the Yes vote.
Delivering a statement early this morning, the prime minister David Cameron pledged a new devolution settlement for the entire United Kingdom - this will not just include moving forward on a timetable for further powers for the Scottish Parliament, but also attempting to address the “West Lothian question” of Scottish MPs voting on English issues, as well a new powers for Wales and Northern Ireland.
Mr Cameron announced that crossbench peer Lord Smith of Kelvin would oversee the process of drawing up and publishing new devolution proposals for Scotland by January 2015. He has also appointed Conservative leader of the House of Commons William Hague to oversee proposals for England, Scotland and Wales to vote separately on tax, spending and welfare issues. These will be prepared to the same timetable as Scottish plans.
Scottish first minister Alex Salmond conceded defeat in a speech to campaign activists in Edinburgh, pledging that the SNP would play a part in constructing a new settlement for Scotland. Mr Salmond urged Westminster leaders to live up to their promises over further devolution.
So, what is devo-max? Basically no one knows. All three parties set out their proposals earlier this year that would see changes to the way Scotland raises revenues. They are all offering considerably more income tax-raising powers than Scotland currently has. There is also the potential devolution of control over housing benefit, the work programme and other taxes, including air passenger duty or capital gains tax.
Labours package arguably offers the least change, while the Tories and LibDems want to give Scotland total control over all Scottish income tax rates, as well as other taxes.
Oil would continue to be managed at a UK level, as would welfare and pensions, defence and foreign affairs. Corporation tax would also not be devolved by any of the parties.
Now follows a period of intense and extremely difficult negotiations both between the Westminster parties, and also Westminster and Scotland. A new draft Scotland bill (and a separate England bill?) will have to be debated in some detail in the House of Commons almost as soon as the House returns after the party conferences.
The timetable for devo-max, and now also proposals for the rest of the UK, was set out by Gordon Brown and looks like this:
- A ‘command paper’ would be published by the present UK government setting out all the proposals by the end of October.
- A white paper would be drawn up by the end of November, after a period of consultation.
- A new draft Scotland bill would be published by Burns night (25 January) ready for the House of Commons to vote on. BUT, with the general election in May 2015, the legislation would not be passed until the new parliament begins.
It could be a very ‘interesting’ few months…
Turning to other news, the new housing minister Brandon Lewis gave a speech to the National Housing Federation Conference this week during which he ran through the government’s various housing initiatives. Over the next nine months, Mr Lewis said he would be “driving forward” a range of new initiatives to promote custom and self build. He will be consulting and a new right-to-build and announcing “vanguards” to test how this new right should be designed. And he will be looking at how more development finance can be provided for the sector.
The Commons energy and climate change committee published a scathing report on the government’s green deal, declaring it a failure and calling for a rethink. The committee suggested that alternative financial incentives, such as stamp duty discounts and variable council tax rates, should be considered to encourage energy efficiency across wider sections of society.
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