Holyrood needs to clearly define its scrutiny role in response to Brexit, says expert panel

12.02.2021

Holyrood needs to define more clearly its scrutiny role in response to Brexit, according to a new report published today.

A panel of fiscal, economic and constitutional experts says devolution is now much more complex, with its recent fiscal powers and post-Brexit changes, that the Scottish Parliament must change its approach to scrutiny after the 2021 election.

The panel recommends that to support this work a short, tightly focused independent review of the committee structure should be established, to report back to Parliament as soon as possible. 

The focus of the review should be on committee remits in the next Parliament and should include consideration of the fiscal and Brexit-related issues raised by the experts, along with the legacy reports of other committees.  

Holyrood’s Finance & Constitution Committee, who commissioned the expert panel’s analysis, will consider the findings next week.

Expert panel member Professor James Mitchell, University of Edinburgh said:

“Devolution is now much more complex and challenging to understand with the powers of Scottish Ministers shared with UK Ministers in many significant policy areas.  For example, in relation to income tax and in many policy areas previously within the competence of the EU.  This means that the Parliament will need to be much more aware of how UK legislation impacts on devolved areas including the extent to which it constrains the powers of Scottish Ministers.

“At the same time the Parliament will need to continue to scrutinise policy developments at an EU level.  Both in terms of the on-going impact of the UK-EU trade agreement on devolved areas and the extent to which the keeping pace power is used.”

Setting out the expert panel’s recommendations, Charlotte Barbour, Director of Taxation, The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland said:

“The Panel’s view is that if there is to be meaningful scrutiny of Brexit-related developments, the Parliament cannot merely continue with the existing approach to its scrutiny function.  The future scrutiny burden arising from Brexit is so great that if it is carried out in an ad-hoc manner it is unlikely that it will be done effectively.

“Instead, a more systematic and carefully planned approach is required, albeit with a need for flexibility in order to react to changing circumstances.  The Panel, therefore, recommends that Parliament in consultation with the Scottish Government needs to clearly define its scrutiny role in response to Brexit.

“To support this work, we propose that a short and tightly focused independent review of the committee structure should be established forthwith and report to the Parliament as soon as practically possible.  

“The focus of the review should be on committee remits in the next Parliament and should include consideration of the issues raised in this report and the legacy reports of other committees.

“The review findings should help to inform the agreement of the committee structure and committee remits for Session 6.”

The expert panel also made recommendations for the committee that will succeed the Finance & Constitution Committee after the May 2021 election:

• The Panel’s view is that there is likely to be an increased demand for parliamentary time to consider tax legislation and therefore the ongoing work of the Devolved Taxes Legislative Working Group should be an early priority in Session 6.

• The Panel agreed the successor committee should explore how COVID-19 has impacted the taxation system and consider options for a restructuring of the taxes which are devolved including a human-rights based approach. The Panel recommends that this inquiry should be a priority for the successor committee.

Finance & Constitution Committee Convener Bruce Crawford MSP said:

“The calibre of our expert panel speaks volumes. I welcome this insightful, authoritative analysis. There is much for our committee and the rest of the Parliament to consider. I am sure it will be influential on the establishment of committees in the new Parliament.”  

Read the expert panel’s full report here.

The expert panel was asked to consider:

• The devolution of further powers through the Scotland Act 2016, following the recommendations of the Smith Commission.
• The operation of the UK/Scottish Government’s Fiscal Framework including in response to COVID-19.
• The constitutional impact of Brexit on devolution.

The panel members, in alphabetical order, are:

• Charlotte Barbour, Director of Taxation, The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland
• Douglas Fraser, Business & Economy Editor, BBC Scotland
• Professor Michael Keating, Centre on Constitutional Change
• Professor James Mitchell, University of Edinburgh
• Christine O’Neill QC, Chairman, Brodies LLP
• Mairi Spowage, Deputy Director, Fraser of Allander Institute
• Mark Taylor, Audit Director Audit Scotland
• Dr Hannah White, Deputy Director, Institute of Government.

They were joined by Professor Tom Mullen, Professor Kenneth Armstrong and David Phillips who are Advisers to the Finance & Constitution Committee.  Dr Jim Johnston Clerk to the Committee chaired the panel.  Support was provided by parliament officials. 

Find more information about the Finance & Constitution Committee here.

Media contact
Eric MacLeod

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