The Scotland bill had its report stage and third reading in the Commons yesterday. The Hansard report starts here (and runs on to three more web pages – it lasted for four and a quarter hours). The BBC News report is here.
The debates were as contentious, not to say rancorous, as one might expect. The low-light was probably Ian Davidson’s reference to the ‘narrow neo-fascism of the nationalists’ (col . 294). The Report stage discussion concentrated on financial issues, and David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, led for the UK Government on that. Although Stewart Hosie introduced the SNP’s amendments for devolution of alcohol and tobacco duties and corporation tax, the debate was largely taken up with spending rather than tax-raising issues. There was a good deal of debate about the effect of the Barnett formula in allocating higher levels of public spending in Scotland than England. To the extent there was such a lengthy discussion, Lord Barnett will no doubt as pleased as he was by last week’s Lords debate. However, there also seemed to be a good deal of confusion about what ‘relative need’ might be.
In the event, the bill went through much as one might expect – with the government amendments all adopted, but no back-bench ones. In the only division, the three unionist parties voted together, and the SNP was left with support only from Caroline Lucas of the Greens and tellers from Plaid Cymru. Jacob Rees-Mogg’s proposal for an early referendum was not even discussed, let alone voted on.
The bill now passes to the Lords, although it must be unlikely to get beyond second reading before the summer recess. It’s not been certified as a money bill, despite the extensive tax provisions, so Lords scrutiny can extend to all provisions – though the absence of any Nationalist peers means that current of Scottish opinion cannot figure in it at all.
Meanwhile, the new Scottish Parliament has now established its Scotland Bill Committee. Details are here: the new committee’s convener is Linda Fabiani of the SNP, and its deputy convener is Labour MSP James Kelly. As well as Ms Fabiani, two of its other SNP members are former ministers, and its Lib Dem member is Willie Rennie, now their leader in Scotland. As the bill as amended in the Commons wouldn’t have satisfied the Committee in the last Parliament, it has to be doubtful whether in its present form the bill will satisfy the successor committee in the new one.