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Thursday, April 8, 1999 Published at 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK

Scotland's Parliament - powers and structures

The Scottish Parliament Powers Westminster's retained powers
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  • Scotland's new Parliament will not simply be a "Westminster of the north".

    For one thing, its powers will be very different from those previously concentrated with MPs in the House of Commons. The way it is run will also be a far cry from the late-night sittings and arcane practices which have been slated by Westminster's critics.

    For example, the Scottish Parliament will follow office hours and school holidays, have a presiding officer rather than a speaker, and members may even be addressed as plain Mr and Mrs or even Ms. The use of Gaelic, as well as English, has also been discussed.

    The Scottish Parliament will have about 14bn to spend annually. In addition, it will be able to increase or decrease its overall budget by varying the basic rate of income tax for residents of Scotland by up to three pence.

    Penny increase

    This would allow the raising of a maximum of 670m a year. Labour and the Conservatives have said they do not intend to use these powers at the moment, while the SNP and Lib-Dems are prepared to think about a penny increase to improve the funding of services.

    In the nationalists' case, they would not actually put up taxes. Instead, they are opposing the chancellor's tax cut announced in the March Budget.

    The date of the first sitting is likely to be 12 or 13 May. Among the Parliament's initial duties is the election of the presiding officer and deputies.

    Members of the Scottish Parliament will be paid 40,092 per annum, compared to the 45,000 Westminster MPs receive. The first minister and members of the Scottish Executive will be entitled to a higher salary.

    The leader of the main party will be appointed first minister and will possess similar powers to those of the prime minister in relation to Westminster. The first minister will appoint Scottish ministers, subject to the approval of the Parliament.

    Each minister will be responsible for the functions of a departmental area. In turn, they will form the Scottish Executive, which will be accountable to the Parliament for the development of policy and the delivery of services.

    Committees will be a central function in the Parliament, gathering evidence and considering legislation.

    Links with London

    The secretary of state for Scotland will continue to represent Scottish interests within the UK Government and Scotland's MPs will still have a part to play at Westminster although the number of seats they occupy will be reviewed.

    There is a view that in time, as the Scottish Parliament beds in, Westminster's profile in Scottish politics will reduce even though it will still have an important influence over Scotland in strategic areas such as defence and fiscal matters.

    The potential for conflict between the two will, however, remain.

    The main divisions of responsibilities are illustrated above and there will be arrangements, yet to be finalised, for resolving disagreements about whether or not legislation falls within Holyrood's power.

    The level to which any bickering reaches will depend largely on who is in control of the Scottish Parliament and who is running Westminster. If it is the same party, the likelihood is that the staking out of political boundaries will be relatively amicable (on the surface at least). The chances of disagreement increase if the parties are different.

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