The Scotland Bill 2015, which was introduced in May to the UK Parliament as a result of the cross party Smith Commission’s Report recommending the devolution of further powers to the Scottish Parliament, had its third reading in the House of Commons on 9th November.
The powers contained in the Bill, as introduced, included the full devolution of income tax bands and rates, onshore oil and gas extraction and welfare.
After detailed consideration of the Bill at Committee Stage in the Commons over the summer, the provisions of the Bill were scrutinised and, after representations were made by various political parties and other stakeholders, the UK Government tabled extensive amendments and new clauses in November.
Some of the principal amendments and new clauses introduced before the third reading in the Commons have the following effect:-
- Power to strengthen the permanence of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government by requiring a referendum to abolish these institutions.
- Power to devolve responsibility for abortion policy to Holyrood.
- Provision for various functions on the conduct of elections to be exercised by the Scottish Ministers.
- Devolution to the Scottish Parliament of power to enable the Scottish Consolidated Fund to retain fines imposed by Courts and Tribunals.
- Devolution to the Scottish Parliament of powers to create new benefits in devolved areas, charged to the Scottish Consolidated Fund.
The Bill passed its third reading in the Commons without a vote and is now being considered by the UK Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords. The text of the Bill, as brought from the Commons to the Lords, may be found here.
The Bill was given its first reading in the Lords on 10th November, and moves to its second reading on 24th November 2015. The second reading is the first opportunity for Members of the Lords to debate the key principles and the purpose of the Bill. They may also, at that time, make their concerns about the provisions of the Bill known and suggest any amendments.
After the second reading in the Lords, a committee will consider the Bill in detail. The Committee Stage generally lasts for up to eight days, but can take longer. At this stage all suggested amendments must be considered and the Government cannot restrict the subjects under discussion or impose a time limit.
Once the committee has considered the Bill in detail, it moves to what is known as ‘Report Stage’ for further scrutiny. At Report Stage all Members of the Lords have a further opportunity to examine and make amendments to the Bill, before a third reading as the Bill nears its conclusion, at which time there is a final chance for them to amend the Bill. Once the Bill has been considered and passed at third reading, it is sent back to the Commons for consideration of the Lords’ amendments. Both the Commons and Lords must agree on the wording of the Bill, and it may go back and forth between them until agreement has been reached. If there are no amendments tabled in the Lords, or once the wording and amendments are agreed by both Houses, the Bill will be sent to the Queen for Royal Assent. At the point at which Royal Assent is given, the Bill will become law.