Commission To Hear Devolution Views

The commission charged with reaching a deal on new powers for the Scottish Parliament is to hear what reforms civic groups support when it meets in Holyrood today.

The Smith Commission, which was set up by David Cameron in the wake of the independence referendum, is to take evidence from a range of organisations about what additional responsibilities they would like to see transferred from Westminster.

All five of the political parties at Holyrood are represented on the commission, which will split into two groups this morning in a bid to hear a broader range of views.

But ahead of that Citizens Advice Scotland called for "much more detailed discussion'' of the future of welfare policy to take place, saying talks on this should continue till after May's UK general election

Chief executive Margaret Lynch stressed that such major social changes should not be "carried out quickly or without major thought and detail''.

In a letter to commission chairman Lord Smith, she said: "Alongside the major constitutional changes we may see over the coming months, we cannot forget that it is not speed that is of the essence but thought and discussion; time and perspective. It is robust and practical debate and consultation that is needed.

"As we have seen from the referendum debate in Scotland, the people have a voice they want to use, they have views they want aired and they have policies they want to debate.

"There was time and consideration given to the referendum debate - something that is lacking in the speed of which strengthening the powers of the Scottish Parliament through the Smith Commission is being carried out.''

In the run-up to the independence ballot, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg all vowed that substantial new powers - including some responsibility for tax and welfare - would be transferred to Scotland if the country voted to stay part of the UK.

The commission has been established to draw up a ''substantial and cohesive package of powers'' in a bid to bring about a ''durable but responsive democratic constitutional settlement which maintains Scotland's place in the UK".

Under the timetable already agreed for reform, an agreement on recommendations for what new powers should be transferred north has to be reached by the end of November, with draft legislation produced by the end of January 2015.

This will then be implemented by whatever party wins next year's general election.

Scottish Federation of Housing Associations chief executive Mary Taylor, who will give evidence to the commission today, argued Holyrood should get full powers over the social security system, apart from pensions.

She said: "The SFHA is pleased to have the opportunity to put forward to the Smith Commission in person important arguments for further devolution.

"Our case is to give the Scottish Parliament substantive and coherent new powers to be able to tackle poverty and inequality.

"In our submission to the commission, we argue that full powers over the social security system (excluding pensions) and of its financing are needed.

"We call on commission members to avoid any temptation to cherry-pick elements of the social security system.

"There are many complex interactions between the different welfare benefits, policies and tax allowances that pay for them, too many to separate some out on their own, and we need the Scottish Parliament to be able to exercise full control over the system to make change which will improve the lives of people living in poverty.''

Speaking ahead of this morning's meeting, Lord Smith said: "I have always been clear that this process would involve gathering the views of civic organisations and the public, and that the political nominees would have the chance to consider them.

"Our meeting will be part of that. I am hugely grateful to the Scottish Parliament - and the Presiding Officer in particular - for facilitating this event. I expect it to be an illuminating and thought-provoking session.''

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