Clause 32 — Borrowing by the Scottish Ministers

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:00 pm on 14th March 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland 9:00 pm, 14th March 2011

That marks a first. I cannot recall the Scottish Government asking for less money. I seem to remember that when Labour was in government, they kept asking for more money and saying that they did not have enough.

The hon. Gentleman made a comment about the deficit. Before 2007 it was about 2%, which was perfectly manageable within the fiscal settlement. The increase in the deficit was primarily caused by the banking crisis, which was an international crisis as the hon. Gentleman accepts, and by the fact that we stimulated the economy, which he also accepts, although he said we should have stimulated it even more. He cannot have his Dundee cake and eat it, however. He either accepts one interpretation of what happened, or he accepts the interpretation of the coalition Government, which we believe to be false.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of queries about the Holyrood Committee recommendations, particularly in respect of the requirement that the first £120 million of any tax shortfall must be met by spending reductions in the year in question. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain the rationale for imposing that. I think that measure is in the Command Paper—it is not in the Bill itself, of course. This issue is of particular concern in the light of the Government’s decision to abolish the end-of-year flexibility scheme at very short notice this year, which will cost the Scottish budget an estimated £23 million.

When the Minister gave evidence to the LCM Committee, he drew a distinction in respect of end-of-year finance arrangements, but at no point did he intimate that the Government or Chief Secretary to the Treasury had decided that they would be gobbling up the £23 million as part of the deficit reduction plan. That raises concerns about the nature of the relationship between the UK Government and the Scottish Government in the so-called respect agenda. Will the Minister confirm at what point this issue was raised with the Joint Ministerial Committee and the Scottish Government? Why was no mention made of this when he and the Chief Secretary were giving evidence to the LCM Committee? Again, this is about trust and the maintaining of good governmental relationships. As I have mentioned before, it is key that that is maintained to the highest degree in these clauses.

There have been issues to do with the Government’s criterion of setting a limit of £2.2 billion for capital expenditure. There are some very good suggestions in the Committee’s report about increasing borrowing capacity, which we think are worthy of consideration.

Finally, as the Minister will be aware, my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament have called for the borrowing powers to be brought forward from the proposed implementation date of April 2013 to April 2012. Given that we anticipate that this legislation will be on the statute book by the end of this year and before the next financial year, I can see no good reason why the power cannot be advanced to April 2012, which, as the Minister will be aware, is within the current comprehensive spending review period. That would assist the Scottish Government —of whatever political hue—in making appropriate planning decisions after the election. If the Minister could give an early indication that the Government are minded to bring forward the introduction of this power to 2012, that would be widely welcomed. I therefore hope he can give the Committee one positive piece of news tonight.