Scotland politics

Scottish Affairs Committee says Smith Commission veto claims are 'ludicrous'

Lord Smith Image copyright Getty Images

Claims that UK ministers have written a right of veto into the Smith Commission settlement are "ludicrous", a committee of MPs has said.

The Scottish government has argued the draft law transferring new powers to Scotland contained "12 vetoes" where the UK government could stifle the will of Holyrood.

The Scottish Affairs Committee dismissed that argument in a report.

The SNP said the committee was unaware of the mood for power in Scotland.

In January, following publication of the Command Paper on new powers for Scotland, the Scottish government complained that the Smith proposals had been "watered down" by clauses that required Scottish ministers to consult the UK government before making decisions.

These included a requirement to consult the Scottish secretary on devolved benefit changes and secure his agreement before changes can take effect.

Urgent rethink

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that, under the proposals, the UK government would hold a veto over key devolved powers, including the ability to "abolish the bedroom tax", and called for an urgent rethink of what was on offer.

But Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael have both said there are no such vetoes.

And the report by the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee claimed the Scottish government had "conflated the need for consultation between governments.. with the idea that the UK government could impose restrictions."

The report said: "The idea that the draft clauses contain '12 vetoes' is a ludicrous one and it is disappointing that the UK government failed adequately to rebut such claims.

"We hope that a good working relationship between the two governments will mean that consultation will be routine, agreement a formality, and that dispute will not arise.

"On such a basis some might question why requirements to consult are included in the draft clauses at all.

"In the interests of good governance and good legislation it is right that they are there, but we remain of the view that the UK government should have been better able to explain the clauses and to have avoided the unnecessary conflict and confusion which was used to detract from the real substance of this legislative package."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Smith Commission comprised members of all five Holyrood parties
Image copyright PA
Image caption First Minister Nicola Sturgeon believes Westminster politicians would have the power to veto decisions made in Holyrood

The Scottish Affairs Committee is made up of five Labour MPs, three Conservatives, two Liberal Democrats and one SNP representative.

But Dr Eilidh Whiteford, the SNP member, has boycotted the committee since October 2011 after accusing the committee's chair, Glasgow Labour MP Ian Davidson, of threatening to give her "a doing" during a private hearing of the committee.

Mr Davidson later apologised but insisted any remarks he had made had not been threatening.

Responding to the committee's report, the SNP's Westminster leader Angus Robertson said: "The limited powers recommended by the Smith Commission do not live up to the pre-referendum rhetoric of the 'Vow' from the Westminster parties.

"Now the Scottish Affairs Committee is saying that Scotland cannot be trusted even with those. Labour and Tory members of the committee say that we shouldn't even have the Smith proposals without Westminster having the final say - in other words a veto.

"That is exactly the kind of arrogant, out of touch approach that is doing such damage to all of the Westminster parties and which they may pay a very heavy price for at the general election. It does not even live up to the Smith Commission, never mind the 'Vow'."

A Scotland Office spokesman said: "The Smith Commission delivered a package of new powers for Scotland backed by all of Scotland's main parties.

"This report from the Scottish Affairs Committee confirms the UK government has delivered the next chapter in devolution for Scotland.

"The emphasis is now with the Scottish government to detail how they will use the new powers, in addition to the significant ones for which it already has responsibility."

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