Clause 32 — Borrowing by the Scottish Ministers

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

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Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary 9:00 pm, 14th March 2011

I propose to deal with amendments 51 to 57 first, and I recognise that, as has been said, they partly overlap with the report from the Scotland Bill Committee in the Scottish Parliament. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland set out last week, the UK Government will consider the recommendations in the Committee’s report thoroughly, alongside an assessment of the impact on the UK fiscal position.

The purpose of amendment 51 is twofold. First, it would remove the requirement for Scottish Ministers to access revenue borrowing to meet current expenditure only in accordance with rules determined by the Treasury. Secondly, it would allow such borrowing to be accessed due to a shortfall in outturn receipts against forecast receipts from devolved taxes and the Scottish rate of income tax. I will deal with each of those in turn.

On the need for borrowing by Scottish Ministers to comply with rules determined by the Treasury, I note that the report from the Scotland Bill Committee in the Scottish Parliament—where the Scottish Government voted with the motion—recognised the need for the UK Government to constrain the borrowing powers. I am delighted that there appears to be a consensus in the Committee that nobody wants to do anything silly with the public finances, as one could have been forgiven for thinking that that has not been the case over recent years.

There are important reasons for Scottish Ministers to comply with Treasury rules on borrowing. The Bill’s new borrowing powers will sit within the UK fiscal framework as a whole; interest on Scottish borrowing will be included in the total UK public sector borrowing aggregates. As overall macro-economic policy will continue to be a reserved matter, it is necessary for the UK Government to set controls and limits on the borrowing powers in order to retain overall control of UK borrowing, protect overall economic stability and minimise fiscal risks to the UK Exchequer. This Government believe that the specific terms and conditions set out in the Bill and the Command Paper strike the right balance between protecting overall levels of UK debt and increasing the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament.

On the second point, I wish to thank hon. Members for bringing an important discrepancy to the attention of the Committee. Although the Command Paper was clear that revenue borrowing would be used to meet current expenditure because of a shortfall in receipts compared with forecast in devolved taxes and the Scottish rate of income tax, the Bill was not so clear. The Government will therefore introduce their own minor and technical amendment on Report to include the Scottish rate of income tax alongside devolved taxes. In conclusion, given the continued control by the Government over the UK fiscal mandate and the fact the Government will be introducing their own amendment in respect of the second issue, I ask Stewart Hosie to withdraw the amendment.