THE SMITH Commission has announced recommendations that devolution be strengthened, with new powers for the Scottish Parliament to set income tax rates, benefits and the power to allow the voting age to drop to 16.
Its findings will form the basis of legislation on more Scottish powers to be put in place as soon as the May 2014 election.
The commission was set up by Tory Prime Minister Cameron in the wake of the crisis over the vote for Scottish independence.
Simultaneously, Cameron wants more powers for an ‘English Parliament’ where only English MP’s would be allowed to vote on ‘English laws’.
Cameron said: ‘I think the report today also makes the case of English votes for English laws unanswerable. We will be taking action on that shortly. I think taking together this extra devolution for Scotland and dealing with all the issues in the United Kingdom will make our United Kingdom stronger.’
‘This is a good day for the UK,’ he said. ‘Before Christmas I will bring forward proposals on English votes on English laws.’
Labour had said it would boycott the Smith Commission, opposing tax-raising powers to the Scottish Parliament. Labour said they favoured more devolution within England but also insisted that any decisions should be delayed until after the 2015.
Labour leader Miliband has now said he agrees with all the proposals of the Smith Commission. Miliband said: ‘This delivers on the promise that Labour made to the people of Scotland, that we will deliver on our vow for stronger powers for a Scottish parliament.
‘But we also need to see this as a first step, because we need to have more control over people’s lives in England and Wales as well, and that is what we will deliver.’
However in a debate in parliament last month ex-Labour PM Gordon Brown said the idea of English votes for English laws had been ‘imposed’ by David Cameron after the referendum result and Scottish MPs must sit in the UK Parliament on ‘equal terms’.
Warning that ‘nations can collapse by accident’, Brown, whose Kirkcaldy constituency is in Scotland, said excluding MPs from non-English constituencies from some votes would erode the ‘stability and harmony of the British constitution’.
‘You cannot have one UK if you have two separate classes of MP,’ he said. ‘You cannot have representatives elected by the people who are half in and half out of the law-making process.’
The Smith Commission took forward its recommendations in consultation with the Scottish parliament’s five parties, the SNP, Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Greens, and recommended that:
• The parliament should be given the power to set income tax rates and bands on earned income and will retain all of the income tax raised in Scotland.
• The parliament should be given powers to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in Scottish elections.
• The parliament should be given powers to create new benefits in devolved areas and make discretionary payments in any area of welfare.
• A range of other benefits that support older people, carers, disabled people and those who are ill should also be fully devolved.