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Scotland Bill: Scottish powers bill backed by Commons

image captionThe bill will see new powers over areas including income tax, VAT receipts, welfare and benefits passed to the Scottish Parliament

MPs have backed the Scotland Bill on new devolved powers as it completed its final stages in the Commons.

The UK government said the bill will make the Scottish Parliament the most powerful devolved assembly in the world.

The SNP did not oppose the bill despite saying it still did not meet the Smith Commission recommendations.

The bill will now be passed to the House of Lords for further consideration.

It will also need approval from Holyrood before receiving royal assent, which is scheduled to be in the spring of next year - ahead of May's Holyrood election.

Abortion law

Under the bill, the Scottish Parliament will be given the power to set rates and bands of income tax from April 2017, keep half of all VAT receipts, and be given the ability to top up welfare benefits and create new payments.

A series of amendments tabled by the UK government aimed at clarifying and strengthening some sections of the bill were approved.

These included control over abortion law, which was opposed by Labour, and enhanced powers over welfare, including the ability to top-up any cuts to tax credits made by the UK government.

The bill will also see the Scottish government and the Scottish Parliament recognised as permanent parts of the constitution, with a referendum required before either can be abolished.

But amendments tabled by opposition parties were rejected.

image captionSNP MP Pete Wishart said the six hours that had been allocated to discussing the bill as a "slap in the face" for Scotland

Among them were SNP proposals which would have devolved full control over child and working tax credits and given the Scottish Parliament the power to decide whether and when to hold a referendum on independence.

A Labour amendment calling for an independent commission to be set up to examine whether full fiscal autonomy could work was also rejected, as was a proposal to allow Scotland to keep all of its VAT.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said the vote on the bill marked a "significant day for Scotland" as it would see "the public debate about our country's future move from questions of constitutional process and on to the real business of using power to improve people's lives".

He added: "The government's amendments will strengthen the Scotland Bill's provisions and clarify its delivery of the Smith Commission agreement. With that done, it will be time for Scotland's political parties to work together to make the new powers a success for everyone in Scotland.

"The amendments put beyond doubt the bill fully delivers the Smith Commission agreement."

  • SOURCE: Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland 2012-13, HMRC disaggregated tax receipts (for VAT), and Scottish Draft Budget 2015-16

The debate opened shortly after 16:30, with SNP MP Pete Wishart criticising the amount of time available to discuss the bill and its amendments, which had to be completed within six hours.

Mr Wishart said the lack of time was a "slap in the face" for Scotland, and added: "Scotland is watching these proceedings and it will not understand the gross disrespect shown to our nation's debate and our nation's business."

Mr Mundell said Mr Wishart was "always angry at something", adding: "Each time we have discussed this bill we have had this sort of stunt".

But the SNP said the bill continued to be a "long, long way away" from the recommendations of the Smith Commission and of the Vow, which was made by the three main UK party leaders ahead of last year's independence referendum.

There was also anger from the SNP benches about MPs for English constituencies, including Labour's Graham Allen, taking up time during the debate to discuss issues such as English local government, which the SNP's leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson, said had "absolutely nothing to do with the Scotland Bill".

image captionMr Mundell insisted that the Scotland Bill fulfilled the recommendations of the Smith Commission

The UK government had tabled more than 80 amendments which UK ministers claimed allayed criticism that the bill does not go far enough. In total, about 200 amendments and new clauses were lodged on the bill.

Mr Robertson, who criticised the lack of Conservative and Labour MPs attending the debate, said the UK government's amendments were a "welcome admission that the Scotland Bill published did not deliver Smith."

He added: "The sole purpose of the Scotland Bill has been to implement the Smith Commission in full. We welcome the government's late admission that it had failed to do that but this bill still falls far short.

"We have seen with this debate a Westminster failure to support the devolution of powers over tax credits - industrial relations and workers' rights powers and on the sovereignty of the people of Scotland.

"People should look and learn because if this is the way to bring forward legislation - we don't need it.

"The Scottish Parliament is a 21st century parliament and if ever there was a case put for the Scottish Parliament being able to exercise all issues that matter to the people of Scotland - this was it."

image captionThe SNP criticised the lack of Labour and Conservative MPs attending the debate on the Scotland Bill ahead of the vote

Among the other amendments tabled by the SNP ahead of the debate was one which would give Scotland full fiscal autonomy by handing control over all taxation, borrowing and public expenditure to Holyrood.

Mr Mundell said it would come as "no surprise" that the government was not accepting the SNP's full fiscal autonomy amendment, as he said there was "not a shred of evidence people want it".

Labour's Shadow Scottish secretary, Ian Murray, agreed with Mr Mundell that the bill delivered the Smith Commission recommendations in full.

He added: "When this bill becomes law, it will present the Scottish Parliament with the opportunity to make Scotland the fairest nation on earth.

"Significant tax powers mean that new choices will be available to the Scottish government and new welfare powers provide the opportunity to create a social security system fit for the needs of our people.

"It is now for the SNP government to tell people across Scotland how they will use these powers. In particular, whether they will restore the money lost because of the Tory's tax credit cuts.

"The UK government confirmed again tonight that the Scottish Parliament will have the power, but not a single SNP MP would make a commitment to restore the money that hard working people have lost.

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