Followers of this blog will know that we have been keeping a close eye on the progress of the Scotland Act 2016, which devolves significant new powers to the Scottish Parliament. We covered the grant of Royal Assent here (which includes links to all previous articles on this blog on the Act).
Two months have passed since Royal Assent was granted, and the first raft of new legislative powers has now been devolved to Holyrood. From today, the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate (and the Scottish Government to act) in the following areas of policy:
- Equal opportunities in relation to the inclusion of persons with ‘protected characteristics’ under the Equality Act 2010 on boards of public authorities – the Scottish Government has indicated that it will legislate to require boards of public authorities to be ‘gender-balanced’;
- Road signage, speed limits and parking;
- Consumer advocacy and advice;
- Policing of railways and railway property – the Scottish Government has previously stated that it plans to merge the functions of the British Transport Police north of the border into Police Scotland;
- Gambling machines on licensed betting premises; and
Additionally, the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority, which regulates the electricity and natural gas markets in the UK, is now required to provide its annual accounts and report to the Scottish Ministers, who will then lay them before the Scottish Parliament.
A full list of the sections of the Scotland Act 2016 which have come into force today can be found here.
Further tranches of legislative competencies are due to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament over the next few years, including control over income tax, air passenger duty, a number of welfare benefits (including the power to create new benefits) and elections to Holyrood and local authorities.
Sharp-eyed observers will note the reference to Holyrood elections, and wonder how the Scottish Parliament was able to extend the franchise to sixteen and seventeen year olds last year, when the Scotland Act was still just a Bill. The answer is that the UK Government issued an order under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 in 2015, which allowed the Scottish Parliament to extend the franchise in time for this year’s elections.
With the new Parliament due to be opened by the Queen on 2 July, we, and no doubt the rest of the country, will be waiting with bated breath to see what use Holyrood makes of its new powers.