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Update: Government amendments November 2015

The Government published New Clauses and a large number of amendments to the Bill on 2 November 2015, in preparation for Report Stage which will take place on 9 November 2015. New Clause 12 will strengthen the permanence of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government, by requiring a referendum to abolish these institutions. New Clause 14 devolves responsibility for welfare foods and New Clause 15 for abortion policy to the Scottish Parliament. New Clause 13 makes provision for various functions on the conduct of elections to be exercised by Scottish Ministers. New Clause 17 will give enabling powers on retention of fines imposed by courts and tribunals to Scotland. Other amendments will allow the Scottish Parliament to vary assistance to some benefit recipients. New Clause 34, tabled on 4 November, creates new powers to create new benefits in devolved areas, charged to the Scottish consolidated fund.

A full text of the Government amendments and new clauses is available here.

The Written Statement on these amendments made by the Secretary of State on 2 November 2015 is available here.

The Bill

The Scotland Bill 2015-16 had its second reading on 8 June 2015, starting at HC Deb c916.

Commons Briefing Paper 7205, Scotland Bill 2015-16, 4 June 2015, gives an account of the Bill as introduced. It includes links to other supporting documents such as the Smith Commission report.

Committee stage

The Committee stage lasted for four days, a day each on Parts 1 – 3, and a day on the remainder. As a constitutional bill, this stage was taken on the floor of the House, in a Committee of the Whole House.

The Government tabled various technical amendments; these were all made, and no other amendments were made. The Government intends to introduce substantive amendments at the Report stage, the date of which has not been announced as of 22 October 2015.

The fate of the various amendments and new clauses can be seen in the Proceedings of the Committee of the Whole House published for each day:

A version of the Bill showing the changes made in Committee is available here.

What was discussed?

The first day in Committee took place on 15 June 2015, starting at HC Deb c24. It covered Part 1 of the Bill, clauses 1 – 11. These deal with constitutional arrangements such as the permanency of the Scottish Parliament and Government, elections to the Scottish Parliament, and the use of a “super-majority” provision for changes to the franchise, electoral system or composition of the Parliament.

Notable amendments included:

  • SNP Amendment 58, negatived on division 271 – 302, HC Deb 15 June 2015, c92. This sought to replace the statement in clause 1 that a Scottish Parliament is recognised as a permanent part of the UK’s constitutional arrangements with a statement that “the Scottish Parliament is a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitution”. The Amendment also sought to make repeal of this provision subject to consent by the Scottish Parliament and majority support in a referendum in Scotland.
  • Government amendment 101, made without a vote, HC Deb 15 June 2015, c120. This removes the provision preventing an ordinary general election to the Scottish Parliament from being held in the two months before a UK or European Parliament general election, although such election could not be held on the same day as a UK or European Parliament general election.
  • Labour amendment 43, negatived on division 269 – 305, HC Deb 15 June 2015, c120. This would have prevented a Scottish Parliament general election from being held on the same day as a referendum called under reserved powers. It was aimed at preventing the combination of a planned EU referendum with elections to the Scottish Parliament, part of a wider aim of ensuring the EU referendum was not combined with any other polls.
  • SNP amendment 67, not called, debated at HC Deb 15 June 2015, cc128-33. This would have removed the Human Rights Act 1998 from the list of “protected enactments” in Schedule 4 to the Scotland Act 1998. It would have allowed the Scottish Parliament to legislate to amend the Human Rights Act, and thereby to create its own human rights regime to offset potential repeal of the Human Rights Act in favour of a British Bill of Rights. It would also have made it clearer that a repeal of the Human Rights Act would trigger the Sewel Convention, leading the UK Government to await consent from the Scottish Parliament before seeking UK legislation. For the Government, the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Therese Coffey, said that the Secretary of State was “engaging with the devolved Administration as we develop the proposals” (HC Deb 15 June 2015, c133).
  • SNP amendment 89, negatived on division 60 – 309, HC Deb 15 June 2015, c134. This would have removed the protection from amendment by the Scottish Parliament of some parts of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998. The effect would have been to allow the Scottish Parliament to remove the reservation on taxation, borrowing and public expenditure in Scotland. It would have paved the way for full fiscal autonomy.

In addition, some new clauses were voted on, but none was added. New Clause 2 provided for a Constitutional Convention to consider a range of matters concerning governance of the UK. New Clause 3 would have devolved everything other than the constitution, foreign affairs, public service, defence and treason. Treasury consent would have been needed for certain changes in pensions. New Clause 5 provided that the Human Rights Act could not be repealed in respect of Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. New Clause 10 took a different approach to that in clause 2 of the Bill to putting the Sewel Convention on a statutory footing.

The second day took place on 29 June 2015, starting at HC c1231.

It covered Part 2 of the Bill, clauses 12-18. These clauses provide for the devolution of further income tax powers (specifically, to set the rates and thresholds of tax paid by Scottish taxpayers, excepting income taxpayers receive from savings and dividends), the devolution of air passenger duty and aggregates levy, and the assignment of one part of Scottish VAT revenues. These clauses were agreed without amendment and without a division. On this occasion the Secretary of State, David Mundell, observed, “the clauses on income tax … are often overlooked, meriting only a few lines in the comments received on the Bill … because, as has been said, they command widespread support as delivering the central aspect of the Smith agreement in full” (c1247).

Four new clauses, tabled by Labour and by the SNP, were debated, and voted on; all four were negatived:

  • New Clause 1 (Labour) – would have established an independent commission, appointed by the Secretary of State, to analyse the potential impact of the Scottish Parliament having ‘full fiscal autonomy’.
  • New Clause 21 (Labour) – would have established a Scottish Office for Budget Responsibility.
  • New Clause 33 (SNP) – would have required the UK & Scottish Government to agree a plan to establish ‘full fiscal autonomy’
  • New Clause 54 (SNP) – would have devolved income tax in its entirety to the Scottish Parliament.

Details of the vote on each of these new clauses is set out in the Votes & Proceedings for this day’s debate.

The third day took place on 30 June 2015, starting at HC c1339. It covered Part 3 of the Bill, clauses 19-30. These clauses provide for the devolution of some aspects of welfare policy and delivery in Scotland.  

SNP amendment 118 sought to remove the requirement from clause 24 (Universal Credit: costs of claimants who rent accommodation) for the Scottish Government to obtain consent from a UK Secretary of State before exercising powers under this clause (this requirement has been referred to by the SNP as a ‘veto’). The amendment was considered alongside:

  • SNP amendment 119 which would have had the same effect in relation to clause 25 (Universal Credit: persons to whom, and time when, paid). 
  • Labour amendments 5, 6 and 7 to clauses 24 and 25 to provide for consultation only in regard to when any change might take effect.
  • New clause 28 (Labour) – to provide for full devolution of powers in relation to Housing Benefit to Scottish Ministers.

The Committee divided on amendment 118 (negatived by 313 votes to 261) and on New Clause 28 (negatived by 317 votes to 259).

The fourth day took place on 6 July 2015, starting at HC Deb c62. It covered all other aspects of the Bill, prompting a large number of amendments and new clauses on a range of subjects.

The debate covered, among other things:

  • The Crown Estate, on which Alistair Carmichael spoke to Amendment 57, devolving control of relevant parts of the Estate to the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland. Angus MacNeill opposed the amendment, arguing that it was more appropriate to devolved control of the Crown Estate in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament, and then allow it to create further devolution to the local level in discussion with those communties.
  • There was discussion of a wider devolution of employment and industrial relations in New Clause 47, which Chris Stephens characterised as a basis to tackle inequality, poverty and poor working conditions. Labour opposed this on the basis of a need for a unified national approach. Jack Dromey spoke to New Clause 63, which provided for an assessment to be made of the effects of devolving the minimum wage, expressing concerns about a potential loss of solidarity and the scope for a two-tier system to evolve.
  • There was discussion of abortion, which several Members argued should be devolved, although Ian Murray for Labour spoke against the idea until a process of discussion, as recommended by the Smith Commission, had taken place. Sir Edward Leigh spoke to his New Clause 66, which sought to devolve those health and medicine issues that are currently reserved. This includes abortion, embryology and genetics. John Pugh spoke to New Clause 56, which sought to devolve abortion alone. The SNP supported the devolution of abortion, although it would take a different approach to the details of policy on that issue than would those proposing the amendments. David Mundell, the Secretary of State, argued that the Smith Commission had identified abortion as a subject for further consideration, that a process had been set up between the UK and Scottish Governments to do this, and that it was therefore too early to legislate. However, he did not see a reason in principle why the Scottish Parliament should not decide an issue of this significance (see below for update).
  • Wayne David introduced amendments 157 and 158, which were aimed allowing a not-for-profit operator to bid for the ScotRail franchise.
  • Graham Allen spoke to New Clauses 50 and 51. NC 50 would have established a Commission on social and economic rights, to monitor compliance with international standards and to report on the consequences of Scottish devolution for such rights across the UK. NC 51 would have established an Office of Wellbeing to monitor the impact of fiscal and macro-economic policy on wellbeing and inequality. Mr Allen also raised the question of further devolution to local government rather than to the Scottish Parliament.

There were divisions on three amendments.

  • SNP amendment 162 concerned equalities, and would have devolved equal opportunities in respect of public bodies in Scotland, in particular allowing devolved control of gender quotas. The amendment was negatived on division by 312 votes to 249.
  • Labour amendment 123 was aimed at moving towards gender balance in the Scottish Parliament and on the boards of Scottish public authorities. It was negatived on division by 313 votes to 193.
  • SNP amendment 154, on renewable electricity, would have removed the exemption of consulting on levies for renewable incentive schemes. During debate the Minister, Andrea Leadsom, explained that the point of the exemption was to make the consultation process less burdensome on both sets of Ministers (HC Deb 6 July 2015, c143).

Government amendments: more to come

A number of Government technical amendments were made throughout the Committee stage.

The Government did not accept any opposition amendments, although it did acknowledge that discussions were ongoing with the Scottish Government, and that opposition amendments would be reflected upon. The SNP called for assurances that any changes would be subject to debate in the House of Commons, and that the Bill would not be amended substantively in the House of Lords. David Mundell said that “it is my intention to make substantive amendments in the House of Commons when the Bill comes back on Report” (HC Deb 15 July 2015, c877).

On 14 October 2015 Mr Mundell told the Scottish Affairs Committee that the Government would table an amendment at Report stage to devolve abortion law to the Scottish Parliament.

Commons Library Briefing Papers

CBP 7205, Scotland Bill 2015-16 (Bill 3), 4 June 2015, prepared for Second Reading

CBP 7207, Scotland Bill: Welfare & Employment Support (Bill 3 of 2015-16), 4 June 2015

CBP 7707, Devolution of financial powers to the Scottish Parliament: recent developments, 11 June 2015

See also the Bill’s page on the parliamentary website.

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