The Scotland Bill: disappointing progress

The Scotland Bill was stitched together in a hurry, and disappointingly it seems that the Government is determined to fight off all amendments, regardless of how bad the drafting is.  Clause 19 on disability benefits is absurdly complex, a feast for lawyers: instead of using a recognised definition of disability (such as the Equality Act definition, used a few clauses later in the same Bill), the Scotland Office has tried to mint its own.  I’d question whether it’s even equivalent to the rules for Personal Independence Payment (which emphasise capacity instead of impairment and have special rules for terminal illness).  There are further problems with Clause 20, which bizarrely reserves the Social Fund (which the clause is supposedly devolving) and withdraws existing powers to make loans (the powers are only used in Social Work departments, but they are used).

Much of the controversy has focused, however, on whether the Bill implements the Smith Commission.  It doesn’t.  Paragraph 51 said

The Scottish Parliament will have complete autonomy in determining the structure and value of the benefits at paragraph 49 or any new benefits or services which might replace them.

That is in the Bill.  But Smith then went on to say, in para 54:

“The Scottish Parliament will have new powers to create new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility.”

That’s not there.

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