Lord Steel of Aikwood (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I suspect that the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Forsyth are a substitute for what would in the House of Commons be a debate on Third Reading of the Bill, which we do not have in this place. I have four things to say about the Bill's passage.
First, I echo strongly what the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, said a few moments ago about the significance of the amendments that we have debated in this House against the relatively skimpy progress that the Bill made through the other place. He made a serious point, although he did so with his typical good humour. It demonstrates again the value of this House as a revising Chamber that has done very serious work on the Bill.
Secondly, I express my thanks and, as I am sure that the whole House agrees, I pay tribute to the Advocate-General, my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, for the skilful, attentive and good-humoured way in which he has piloted this Bill through all its stages. He has been a model of how a Minister should react and I am very grateful to him. My mind goes back to the days when I stopped him being the prospective Liberal candidate for Dumfries to make way for an SDP candidate. He was slightly cross at the time but I think it was the best thing I ever did for him as he has done extremely well since then. I thank him warmly for his role as Minister on this Bill.
Thirdly, picking up a point made by my noble friend Lord Forsyth, it is interesting that the SNP Government have given their consent to the passage of the Bill despite earlier having called it everything from a poisoned pill to a dog's breakfast. In other words, they have suddenly realised, late in the day perhaps, that this UK Government-London Government as they like to say-are doing something constructive and useful for the people of Scotland, and not just in the area of criminal law, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, referred, but in the area of taxation. Although I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Forsyth for the assiduous way in which he has tabled a whole series of amendments and enlivened our debates, I fundamentally disagree with him in his pessimistic view of the role of the Bill, shortly to be Act. First, it sets the requirements of the Scottish Parliament not only to spend money on services for the people of Scotland but to take some responsibility for raising that money. We should support that objective.
My noble friend may have a legitimate point in suggesting that the tax base is too narrow but, as I have said on previous occasions, I am quite sure that this Bill is not the end of the story. There will probably have to be other devolution measures on taxation matters in the future, but this is a substantial first step. This issue will not just affect the Parliament. In my view, it should affect the whole level of political debate in Scotland because there will not only be an obligation on each of the political parties to spell out to the electorate what they would like to do in education, health, employment and all the other things for which they are responsible, but they will also have to say how they will raise the money and how much they will ask the citizens to pay.
Far from being pessimistic about this, as my noble friend is, I am optimistic about it. I believe that it will enliven and should certainly deepen political discourse. For all those reasons I welcome the Bill and I look forward to it being an Act of Parliament very shortly.