Scotland politics

Devolution plans were rushed through, says Lords committee

smith commission report Image copyright Smith commission

UK government proposals for further devolution for Scotland were rushed through with insufficient consultation, a parliamentary report has said.

The plans also failed to give proper consideration to the rest of the United Kingdom, according to the House of Lords Constitution Committee.

All three major party leaders signed up to a "vow" to deliver further devolution last September.

The move was a bid to head off a Yes vote in the independence referendum.

The Smith Commission drew up proposals for change within three months of the vote.

In the new report, the House of Lords Constitution Committee said the party leaders' public commitment to change appeared to have "pre-empted any meaningful scrutiny" of the proposals by the public or parliaments in Westminster and Holyrood.

It voiced "deep concern" at the speed with which Lord Smith of Kelvin was told to complete his work, which did not allow "adequate time for engagement and consultation".

The committee expressed "astonishment" that the UK government "do not appear to have considered the wider implications for the United Kingdom of the proposals".

It said it was "not appropriate or sustainable" to address the issues of additional powers for Scotland alone without considering the knock-on consequences for the wider UK constitution.

'Expected standard'

The report found the process leading up to the proposals being set out "does not meet the expected standard for implementing proposals for constitutional change" and "undermines confidence in the outcome".

The UK Parliament should not "simply accept these significant constitutional changes as a fait accompli" but should "ensure they receive the detailed scrutiny they require and any amendment that may be necessary", the report continued.

Committee chairman Lord Lang of Monkton said: "The recommendations in the Smith Commission report clearly have profound constitutional implications for every part of the UK.

"However, the UK Parliament is expected to pass these proposals into law without significant amendment despite having been, in effect, excluded from the decision-making process. This is not the way to implement significant constitutional change.

"We were astonished to hear that the government have not properly considered the impact on the rest of the UK of implementing the Smith Commission proposals. Piecemeal, ad hoc changes to the Scottish devolution settlement without wider consideration of their impact could well destabilise the Union as a whole in the longer term."

Lord Lang added: "The major UK-wide political parties need urgently to devise and articulate a vision for the future shape of the Union and its devolution settlements. Without this, there cannot be any long-term constitutional stability."

'Balanced settlement'

The UK government said it was "committed to a balanced settlement for all parts of the UK".

A spokesman added: "The Smith Commission agreement was backed by all of Scotland's main parties and was underpinned by a principle the agreement would 'not cause detriment to the UK as a whole nor any of its constituent parts'.

"We do not agree with the committee's assertion that the UK and Scottish Parliaments have been excluded from the process.

"The UK Government produced draft clauses to implement the agreement, published these clauses in a Command Paper presented to both Parliaments and have since invited feedback. The Committee's report today responds to that request for feedback and we will consider the recommendations made by the Committee.

"Following the general election the three pro-UK parties in Scotland have all committed to bring forward a bill in the next session of Parliament where both the UK Parliament and Scottish Parliament will be able to consider and scrutinise the Bill in the normal way."

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