Belfast Telegraph

Leaders vow joint devolution push

Political leaders from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have pledged to work together to ensure further devolved powers are secured for all their administrations.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and Stormont's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Finance Minister Simon Hamilton vowed to co-operate in pursuing enhanced devolution throughout the UK.

The politicians held their first joint discussions since yesterday's publication of the Smith report that recommended beefed-up powers for the Scottish government, including the ability to set income tax rates.

After the exchanges at the British Irish Council meeting on the Isle of Man, Ms Sturgeon said: "I think the discussion we have had this morning does underline the fact that although the proposals of the Smith Commission are highly relevant to Scotland and will be intensely debated in Scotland they have got a relevance for all of us across the UK as well."

The Scottish First Minister, who has welcomed the powers outlined by the commission but has insisted the report does not go far enough, added: "I am very supportive of the calls that Wales and Northern Ireland would make for further devolution."

Mr Jones said the Smith recommendations should be offered to other devolved administrations.

"We are supportive of what the Smith Commission has proposed for Scotland," he said.

"It's important that those powers are moved forward as quickly as possible for the people Scotland, we would like the same offer made to Wales.

"There is no justification for treating nations of the UK differently in that sense."

He said there was no reason that Wales should not have the power of air passenger duty or controls over its electoral system.

However, he said income tax powers could not be transferred to Wales until what he described as historic "underfunding" from the Treasury was addressed.

"Until the issue of our underfunding is addressed we could not take powers over income tax as that would simply lock in the underfunding that is in the system," he said.

Mr McGuinness said he predicted prior to the Scottish referendum that, whatever the result, it would have "profound implications" for devolution.

"I think that has turned out to be the case," he said.

He added: "We have all given a commitment that we are all going to work very closely together throughout this period."

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland politicians joined Irish prime minister, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the political leaders from the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey at what was the 23rd BIC summit.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers represented the UK government at the meeting in Douglas on the Isle of Man.

Representatives from the five parties at Holyrood - the SNP, Labour, the Tories, Liberal Democrats and the Greens - worked together to produce the Smith report, which will now form the basis for draft legislation to be published in January.

The leaders of the Westminster parties have already pledged that this will be put into law regardless of the outcome of next May's general election.

The commission called for the Scottish Parliament to get new powers to set income tax rates and bands, with all the cash raised in Scotland to go to Holyrood and not Westminster.

All other aspects of income tax will remain reserved, including the threshold at which people have to pay the charge.

Scotland could be granted control over certain benefits - including attendance allowance, carer's allowance, disability living allowance, and the personal independence payment which will replace it - but other welfare payments and power over the state pension will remain with the UK Government.

While the commission backed the devolution of air passenger duty, a range of other taxes, including corporation tax and inheritance tax, will continue to be decided in London.

Government of Guernsey chief minister Jonathan Le Tocq, Isle of Man chief minister Allan Bell and Government of Jersey chief minister Ian Gorst all attended the summit meeting.

While Scotland looks set to miss out on gaining corporation tax powers, Northern Ireland may yet land that responsibility, with a decision by the Treasury imminent.

Ms Sturgeon said she would welcome Northern Ireland getting the powers but at the same time would question why Scotland was not granted them.

"In the case of Northern Ireland and the hope an announcement on corporation tax is forthcoming very soon, I hope very much that is the case," she said.

"I think if that is the case there will be some eyebrows raised in Scotland as to why that was a power that was not agreed to in the Smith Commission.

"It was and certainly is a power we have argued in the past should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament but, nevertheless, let's see what happens."

The Government has previously claimed that Northern Ireland was a special case in regard to corporation tax because it shared a land border, and was therefore in direct competition with, the Republic of Ireland, where business taxes are significantly lower.

Ms Villiers said today: "I think there is broad recognition that the devolution settlements need not be identical in different parts of the UK."

With the potential of both the Scottish and Northern Ireland administrations implementing welfare policies that differ somewhat from the wider UK model, both Ms Sturgeon and Mr McGuinness said they were open to explore the potential of future co-operation with their respective systems.

The BIC meeting focused on issues such as the economy and digital inclusion.

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