Westminster Notes: I was proud to serve on Smith commission

Since my last column the cross party Smith Agreement has been reached which will see substantial new powers transferred to the Scottish Parliament, while retaining Scotland’s place very firmly in the United Kingdom.

I was proud to serve on the Commission which produced the Agreement and in doing so to argue for additional tax powers and social security powers, too. As far as benefits relating to housing, disabilities and care are concerned, it will be for the Scottish Parliament to make the decisions in the future

We will also see 16 and 17 year olds voting at Scottish Parliament elections. And Scotland will make the decisions about our coastline as the decision making over the Crown Estate is devolved, too. This is a substantial package.

It is important to remember that the SNP were part of the agreement - sadly, the negative reaction from them afterwards sought to undermine it. But let’s not forget, Scotland voted no to independence and that has been respected in the Agreement.

Nobody should doubt the importance of the powers now to be devolved.

Fresh from the Smith Commission, I was back in Westminster to steer my Private Member’s Bill on International Development through its final stages in the House of Commons.

I am extremely pleased to say that, despite attempts by Conservatives to derail it using every procedural trick in the book, my Bill to enshrine UK spending on aid at the UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income passed with strong support.

International Development is an issue which many people write to me about as local MP, expressing their concern about poverty and conflict across the globe. I am proud to say that the UK has finally, under the Coalition, hit the target set by the UN in 1970, the first of the wealthy G7 nations to do so.

My Bill will ensure that this level of support continues for the future. It will now pass to the Lords and I will be working very closely with my good friend Archy Kirkwood to ensure the Bill reaches Royal Assent before next May.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement last week contained a number of measures which will make a real difference for people here in the Borders.

Firstly, he announced a further cut in income tax for working people by increasing the personal tax allowance from £10,000 to 10,600. This move gives 2 million Scots a further tax cut and means people will pay £825 less in income tax in 2015/16 compared to 2010/11.

It will also take 38,000 more Scots out of income tax altogether.

Other moves such as the fuel duty freeze and the abolition of air taxes for the under 12s will further cut bills for Borderers and make getting around by car and plane that bit cheaper.

Finally, I was extremely pleased that the UK Government has pledged to dual the A1 much closer to the border - it would be good to see that matched by the Scottish Government.

It is great to hear that the re-opening of Reston station has been written into the next ScotRail franchise and that we could see trains stopping at the station by the end of 2016.

The campaign group RAGES has worked so hard over the years to make the case for the re-opening of the station and I have been glad to support them as local MP. I am so pleased that their campaign is beginning to reap rewards and I know that the re-opening of the station will bring huge benefits to the local area.

Last week I repeated my call to the Scottish Government to change their approach to the new Common Agricultural Policy as a matter of urgency.

I have held a series of meetings with local farmers recently to discuss their concerns about slow decision making by the Scottish Government and worries about the choices they have made about implementation

There are significant fears that as a result of this failure, some farm businesses will not have the information they need to make the right decisions for the year ahead.

Many farmers will also face a significant immediate fall in support thanks to the method chosen by the Scottish Government to implement the changes.