One of the novel aspects of the Scotland bill is that it’s receiving detailed scrutiny at Holyrood as well as at Westminster. Indeed, the readiness with which this point was accepted was one of the pleasant surprises of the bill and Command paper when they were published, though as I pointed out HERE more than a year ago, this was also inevitable. The Scottish Parliament’s Scotland Bill committee has been at work since 7 December 2010, and aims to publish its report by the end of February or early March (I’ll be appearing before it next week).
The Commons Scottish Affairs Committee has now also announced that it’s carrying out an inquiry; the call for evidence is available here. As they need written submissions by 31 January, they’re working against a very tight deadline. How detailed the inquiry will be remains to be seen. The timetable for the bill assumes that Commons second reading will be around 24 January, and the Committee stage will take three days in early March. Clearly the aim is for the Holyrood committee to have reported so that the legislative consent motion can be considered before Commons Committee stage starts; whether the Scottish Affairs Committee will be able to report by that time is less clear. It’s also clear, though, that managing the timetable is difficult – especially with the purdah that will attend the Holyrood elections in May.
One interesting question is the status of the bill. As a constitutional measure, the Commons Committee stage will be in a Committee of the Whole House, and any member will be able to take part. But the financial provisions mean it may also constitute a money bill. By convention, the Lords should not revise or delay financial legislation, and certification of a bill as a money bill is the means by which that’s given effect. But certification has to apply to a bill as a whole, not just particular provisions of it. So certification would protect the Commons’ position in relation to the financial provisions (the tax powers in Part 3), but stop the Lords from scrutinising the constitutional provisions in Parts 1 and 2. Those are of course matters in relation to which the Lords has particular expertise and interest, and full scrutiny of them in the Lords would be highly desirable. Here’s hoping the bill is not certified as a money bill, so its non-financial provisions can be fully considered in the Lords.
Thanks to the Sewel Convention and the need for Holyrood’s legislative consent, the Scottish Parliament is functioning here as a co-legislature with Westminster, rather like a third chamber of the UK Parliament. Indeed, its powers are more extensive than those of the Lords, as it is under no obligation to avoid considering the bill’s financial provisions. It’s an irony that Holyrood is as powerful as the Commons here, and more powerful than the Lords.