Scotland Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:54 pm on 27th January 2011.

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Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie SNP Chief Whip, SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:54 pm, 27th January 2011

The arguments in favour of the reasoned amendment will be made and they will explain, I hope with some support, why there are flaws in the Bill.

The Bill contains two fundamental fiscal measures: first, the reduction in the basic higher and additional rates of income tax by 10p, and the setting of a Scottish rate to compensate for that; and secondly, the availability of limited revenue and capital borrowing powers. Revenue borrowing will fill a part of the gap left when revenue decreases and a limited increase in capital borrowing will enhance direct capital investment.

However, the income tax powers are inadequate and include an in-built, long-term deflationary bias in the Scottish budget. The borrowing powers, particularly the revenue powers, are so tightly controlled that they are unlikely to be effective in delivering the sensible outcomes that many of us want. It is also worth noting that even the devolution of the income tax, the small stamp duty land tax and the landfill tax means that the Scottish Parliament will still have direct control of only 15% of the taxes raised in Scotland, with the remaining 85% accruing directly to London. I do not intend to talk about full fiscal autonomy, which there has been some talk of, but as a comparator we can look to the Basque country, which has been mentioned. It controls around 86% of its revenue.

I want to concentrate on the specific problems with income tax provisions. Receipts are sensitive to changes in economic circumstances and might fall dramatically in a downturn, as I will explain later. That presents an instability to the budget in Scotland, because we are talking mainly about income tax and the shortfall that would not be matched by the Bill's provision of very limited borrowing powers. Growth in income tax revenue is low when compared with that of total tax revenue, and that is obviously deflationary, because only the modest growth in income tax will accrue to the Scottish Parliament, with the higher growth in total tax accruing still to London.

The figures between 2004-05 and 2008-09, for example, show that total tax revenue increased by £13.7 billion, but under the proposed plan the Scottish Government, although they control 15% of the tax, will receive only 9% of the increase. That automatically begins to squeeze the Scottish budget. Even within income tax, the most significant growth comes from the higher rates, and most of that growth will not be available to Scotland.

Historically, higher rate taxpayers account for a larger share of the growth in tax receipts, and therefore the majority of the growth in income tax receipts will accrue directly to Westminster, not to Scotland. We might, in fact, receive a declining share of Scotland's income tax yields, because we are assigned half the basic rate, one quarter of the 40% rate and only 20% of the 50% rate. The impact of that deflationary bias can best be demonstrated by assuming that the powers had been in place since 1999-2000. Since then, the impact of the shortfall against forecast departmental expenditure limits would have represented an accumulative cut of about £8 billion.